Every day for the last 300 days I have followed a 25-minute exercise routine. It has been a goal of mine for some time to establish such a habit. There have been numerous attempts over the years with plenty of tinkering along the way to get it right. Early routines were dotted with painful episodes because I overdid things. I pushed myself too hard, in too much of a hurry to make progress. Back problems have littered all previous attempts, enticing me each time to throw in the towel. And I did give up. But I came back to it again and again. This current run is my most successful ever.
In the past I used to give myself a day off as a reward for an unbroken series. Unfortunately, one day easily became two, three or four, making it more and more difficult to find my way back. In the end, the best thing I did for myself was to give myself no choice but to do them every day.
Those who know me well, and all of my clients at some point, have listened to me speak of my exercises because they are such an integral part of my life. More importantly, they are an example of procedures and routine, as well as highlighting the benefit of using even the most rudimentary exercise plan as a motivational tool. This is a summary of what I have learnt and gained from the last 300 days:
- The key (in the beginning at least) is to establish a simple, short and achievable routine which can be repeated over and over again. Mine has barely changed in 300 days.
- That means I never have to push myself too far, which can so easily demotivate. The fact that I exercise every day is more important than the exercises themselves. In any case, the effort involved increases naturally because I find myself doing the exercises more intensely, more deliberately and with greater focus. I have also added small parts to the routine in recent months.
- I keep a simple record of the days I have exercised and I set goals (100 days, 200, 300, 365…) The combination of the two makes it easier to do the exercises than not, because even after only ten days it’s easier to do day 11 than miss a day and have to start again.
- Practising every day strengthens the procedure, making it easier to establish a routine.
- Once it becomes routine, the internal dialogues and debates lose their power and become less frequent. I still have them, because there are days when I don’t want to do the exercises. But I have given myself no choice. No choice means less background noise.
- They say that if you want to make something a routine, the best way is to attach it to an existing routine. Exercising every day allows me to attach others aspects to that routine. I have always done a 20-minute meditation after the exercises and, since January, my day begins with a 30-minute walk.
- The routine sets me up for the day. It gives me a structure for the first two hours, and gets me out of bed when there is no other reason to do so. Also, it means I have already achieved before I even sit down to breakfast.
- After four knee operations, emergency back surgery and a full hip replacement, my body is now in better shape than it has been for 27 years. I have built a foundation of strength and flexibility which makes my life more comfortable physically and more composed mentally.
- I have a greater appreciation of my body. (I fell off my bike quite heavily a few months ago and was surprised the following day when I realised how well my body had coped with the fall.)
- My body is more balanced than it has been for almost three decades.
- The routine is a source of discipline which has helped me to push my boundaries and achieve results beyond what I thought possible.
- It fortifies my Parent ego state; quietens my Child ego state (which rarely wants to exercise); and challenges my script by reinforcing good habits.
- It has strengthened my resolve. When there was a flicker of back trouble in November last year I thought about stopping, but I carried on and eventually the pain went away. In April this year I lay in bed for three days with a fever, but I still managed to get up and exercise. I was determined to keep the run going.
- My back is no longer an issue for me. I still have to be careful and will never forget the pain I have known in the past, but when people ask me how my back is – it happened again two days ago – my immediate thought is: ‘Why are you asking?’ (I never thought that would happen.)
Note to self: Don’t get cocky, and remember: this is just the meat and potatoes for what comes next.