Today’s article is by my friend and colleague, Jeremy McCarthy. Jeremy is a former personal trainer who started to study psychology over 20 years ago. Just like we do here at SaS, he always recognized that mood and exercise are intimately connected. He spent the bulk of his career opening and operating spas in luxury resort hotels – I can think of worse topics to discuss during our work hours! His unique perspective looks at the mental, physical and spiritual aspects of wellbeing, using scientific as well as experiential methods. Jeremy’s blog, PsychologyOfWellbeing.com, is simply fabulous, and so from time to time I borrow some of his articles. The following post is an example, taken directly from it.Since having a son 8 months ago, I’ve had a hard time going to the gym. In order to accommodate my newly hectic “daddy” schedule, I decided to change things up a bit. Rather than going to my plush sports club 3 x a week, and spending at least an hour there (more if I do a yoga class,) I decided to join the small gym in my corporate office . . . and go there almost every day for twenty minutes.
There is not much you can do in a twenty minute workout. But I focus on quality over quantity, and since Iam a fan of “high intensity training,” I believe in shorter more intense workouts as a key to fitness. Hitting the gym almost every day, even if it is for a short workout, is really yielding good results in terms of the way I look and feel.
I’ve always believed in the power of daily practice as a key to success towards any goal. Picking up the guitar every day for 5 minutes will get you playing better than practicing for two hours once a week. Writing a little bit every day will get the great American novel inside of you onto paper faster than marathon writing sessions once a week. There is something about the momentum of taking tiny daily steps towards a goal that is cumulatively better than taking big steps with less frequency.
Here are 5 reasons why I think working out every day is easier than doing the recommended three times a week:
- It becomes habitual. Habits are developed from repetition “by the carving of neural pathways” (as William James said.) When a daily practice becomes habitual, that means it becomes automatic, “taking the effort out of effortful control” (Mischel & Ayduk, 2004).
- Self control is like a muscle. Practicing your willpower every day by going to the gym can develop it, making it stronger over time.
- It focuses you on “implementation” rather than “intention.” We all have good intentions. But Gollwitzer’s research on goal attainment shows that most people set the “good intentions” of their goals, but they fail to set the “implementation intentions” i.e. goals around the how and when they will take action on their goals.
- It keeps you in the “action” stage. According to James Prochaska, most people spend their time in “precontemplation,” “contemplation,” and “preparation” for their behavior change goals. The action is sometimes the hardest part, but once you get to creating action towards a goal, it helps to keep the momentum going.
- Striving towards the minimum just doesn’t work. Most people set their workout schedule around the suggested minimum guidelines: at least three times a week for 30 minutes each. But then life happens, and they miss a day here or there (or often) and they find themselves exercising way below the minimum. If you really want optimal health you should set a goal that reflects that. I like the recommendations of Chris Crowley in Younger Next Year: “Work out hard, six days a week, every week for the rest of your life.”
In fact, a new chain of health clubs under the brand “Anytime Fitness” is spreading across the country to help meet this need. Like my corporate health club, Anytime Fitness are smaller clubs that are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, generally in locations close to where people live and work. The convenient location and flexible hours allow their members to come in more regularly, even if they only have a smaller window of time.
So if you’ve been challenged with trying to get to the gym three times a week, try going six times a week. Even with a busy schedule, you might be surprised to find that when momentum kicks in, the universe will flex to make room for your new habit.
References and recommended reading:
Crowley, C. & Lodge, H. S. (2007). Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond. Workman Publishing.
Prochaska, J. O. , Norcross, J. C., & Diclemente, C. C. (1994). Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. Quill.
Vohs, K. D. & Baumeister, R. F. (2010). Handbook of Self-Regulation, Second Edition: Research, Theory, and Applications. Guilford Press.