Original question from Quora:

How can I ‘kick the blanket’ and start exercising in the morning?

My Answer:

There is one trick I used to easily and reliably exercise every morning for months and months. It was one of the best periods of fitness in my life. And then…

Well here’s what happened.

My friend and I have for a long time been in a semi-contiguous discussion about how to eat right, exercise, and be healthy in a way that works for us. We’re both professionals in the software industry and our in our 30’s. He’s a few years older than me.

Anyhow, we’ve tried many different diet and exercise programs over the years. Everything from The Abs Diet, P90X, Slow Carb Diet, Intermittent Fasting, Keto (or Atkins if you prefer), running, interval training, weight lifting, DDP Yoga, and all kinds of things in-between.

Like many people, we keep trying stuff until we find what works for us. And, like many people, we haven’t quite “nailed it”. Some stuff works and some doesn’t.

We experiment quite a bit, which leads us to one particular story.

Many years ago, we worked together at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (GO BIG RED!) As UNL employees, we had inexpensive access to the university rec center.

The rec center is a great facility. That is, if you use it. Otherwise, it’s just a fancy building filled with torture equipment where skinny people go to hang out and muscle bound roid ragers go to throw weights on the ground and grunt loudly.

And, when you are working full time just getting to the gym can seem mostly impossible.

So, what we did is my friend and I found a very simple weight lifting program. It was a 5x5 program which focused on squat, deadlift, and bench press. If you can do a weight at five sets of five, you get to add 10 pounds to the lift next week.

It was a workable plan and we enjoyed doing it. We would show up, work out, spot each other, and then head in to the day job.

As it turns out, it was a very good plan and we stuck to it for quite a few months. The simple act of showing up with someone else expecting you to be there made both of us show up.

Funny how that works right?

However, it didn’t last forever. In fact, what started as a good plan turned into a bad plan because we ran into a real nasty buzz saw.

What went wrong seems so simple and obvious in retrospect. I kick myself when I think about it and only imagine what kind of shape I’d be in if I had kept at it for the last five years.

So here is what went wrong…

We both got burned out. The plan did have a notion of resetting every ten weeks or so, but after we took a week off to reset, one week became two, and two became four, and we soon realized that we were out of the habit.

Well crap.

It just goes to show that there is more to this than just “kicking the blanket” in the morning and starting a new routine. To start a new routine is pretty easy. You tell yourself “today is the first day of the rest of my life, I’m going to hit the gym every day” or something cheesy like that. And hey, don’t knock cheesy, cheesy slogans work!

But, you can’t just make a pact with your buddy to hit the gym. What you do has to be something you can show up and do every day. It has to be easy enough that you can keep it up and won’t get burnt out.

Here is how I would do it again if I could go back. I would start at 20-50% effort. If I could run 5 miles a day, I’d run one mile a day. Yes, one mile.

That sounds lame, but hear me out. The goal isn’t to max out today, it’s to show up tomorrow. In that system, every time you do anything, you win.

Think about that, the goal isn’t maximum effort, it’s maximum compliance.

The best way to kick the blanket and exercise every morning is to make exercise so easy that you can do it without thinking. So easy you don’t have to convince yourself to do it.

After all, you don’t have to convince yourself to use the bathroom every morning do you?

-Brian

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