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Do the minimum.

Yesterday we looked at Holly's struggle with getting herself start a workout routine. She wasn't. She wanted to, but would constantly find something better to do, get distracted or even just watch the workout videos from the comfort of her couch.

There isn't anything wrong with her, or those of us who find ourselves "stuck" in a similar loop of planning to do the thing but not. It's a product of our human mind. And more specifically, a product of planning using a perfectionist mindset. (If you skipped that read, Breaking the stuck cycle, check it out)

The key to flipping the switch is to lower the standards for what you consider a light (that's assuming our hypothetical "switch" operates a light).  I'll explain...

Planning for less.

The most effective workout is one you will actually do. In the book, Atomic Habits, James Clear drove home a point to that I've picked up and applied for myself. He used the example of pushups. If you want to start doing pushups, then start doing 5 a day. That's all. It's not going to feel like much, your brain will argue they are pointless, but in reality if you did 5 pushups a day that's 35 pushups a week. One thousand seven hundred and fifty a year. Done consistently for a few weeks you could work your way up to 6 a day: 42 a week and 2,100 a year. 

Why do only 5? If you are currently doing zero, then it's 5 more than you were doing.

It's easy to do, but it's still easier not to do. So you have to keep your eye on the prize.. which, is a bit of a moving target, so I'll explain in a minute.

For Holly, I recommended she follow these basic rules to start her routine: 

  1. Pick 3 days a week she can realistically plan to workout.
  2. Plan a specific set of activities that she will do during those 3 days for only 3 minutes at a time. No more. No less.
  3. Put the appointments on the calendar ideally 24 to 12 hours ahead of time. Show up dressed, with shoes on and ready to be focused and get sweaty. No matter what. No matter if she has company, doesn't feel like it, whatever -  she is to do the routine.  Even if the dog pukes in the floor, someone comes to the door, or her phone rings - she 's not to answer it, address it or otherwise distract herself from the 3 minutes she's committed to showing up for during this workout. It is the MOST important thing in this 3 minute window. The only valid reason she to exempt herself not doing it has to involve blood or fire.  Period. 

This may feel like too little to make a difference, however, the result we want here isn't about the difference working out will make in her body, it's about training herself to do this consistently and with focus. We're building her MIND. 

Higher brain thinking and functioning

Your higher brain is the decision maker, and more advanced, disciplined thinker in charge of higher level functioning. For the most part it's the part of your brain that is most devoted to evolving and growing as a human. So, with this plan we are prioritizing making neural pathways in and around that more evolved and "intentional" part of her brain stronger, rather than booty strength.

The frequency of workouts per week was based on what I know about her previous frequency while working with a trainer, and also the intensity I recommended - which was that she pick a routine that had her sweating and working pretty hard, but for a brief period (3 minutes) was because she simply wants to sweat and has a moderate activity level (I should mention we're pretty good friends so I know her health levels - she also walks her dogs daily and generally does not sit still for long so this felt like a good fit). A 3 minute sweat fest is something she will now need to start mentally considering an acceptable workout.  At her fitness level she could go more, but, again, we're more interested in building the integrity and higher brain decision making muscles.

If you are applying this to your workout routine, you might want to start with much less intensity and/or fewer days of the week. You may even go as far as just putting on your tennis shoes, getting dressed and stretching for 10 minutes, or less. Tailor those variables according to where you are now.

What is the minimum to plan for? Well, if you are writing a book, want to start eating Paleo or drinking more water, do something similar. Write one day per week for 20 minutes. Eat one paleo meal a week. Drink one extra intentional glass of water a day - say 8 ounces right when you get up. Whatever the routine is has to important to you to stay motivated to build the habit from this level and then possibly beyond it later. If you've spent time drudging though the stuck cycle with it, I'd guess it probably is. Your "why" or purpose is probably there, you just need to rethink about building the regimen a bit intentionally. 

Put the schedule on the calendar in advance. Show up for it and be focused on it while you are doing it. 

Keys here:

  1. You must plan the appointment 24-12 hours in advance
  2. Be specific as to what is going down during that planned time. Write it all down. 
  3. Show up to do the thing, no matter what. Unless there is blood or fire, do the thing.

We are gradually going to increase the frequency and/or duration after the initial minimum becomes easy. But before we consider doing more, we have to handle the mind drama sure to arise from doing less.  

Show up.

As Holly implements this basic plan she is going to face a plethora of BS from the self critical and lower or "lizard" part of her brain. The reason we are planning ahead of time is to keep the higher brain engaged. We have variables figured out and written down, so there is no need to come to the scheduled time having to think about or make a decision - you are following through with the plan. Period.

If Holly can't show up and stay focused with this 3 days/3 minutes routine for a month, then she'll need to take the frequency &/or intensity down. For instance instead of 3 minutes sweating, do 3 minutes of stretching, or do only one day a week. For the writer, instead of 1 day/ 20 minutes writing, go to 1 day/ 10 minutes of writing. One paleo meal becomes one paleo side dish a week. Eight ounces of water a day to 4 ounces of water, or add one 8 ounce glass of water for a week. 

If you have to reschedule a workout because of blood and fire, then I recommend doing it ASAP. Or in a time frame that intrudes on downtime. 

When you can do the minimum routine consistently for a month, up it - either in frequency or duration or a little of both.

Rewiring your brain.

The reason I have such a dogmatic tone around following through, is because Holly's brain (and your brain) will urge you to do something different than what is on schedule. And you cannot give into it. Remember, we're focused on building neural pathways and integrity with ourselves. We do not care about building biceps and booty yet.

Her brain will want to do more than 3 minutes once she gets going. Or it will minimize doing it at all because it "isn't enough" to  produce as much of a physical result as quickly. Those are perfectionist fantasies creeping in that when you give into are then strengthened with each pass. As I said, we want to strengthen the planning, elevated, more disciplined, "highest good" thinking instead.

Think of your brain like like a pristine sand dune with a point at the top. Holly has been repeatedly planning to workout and then NOT showing up and doing what she planned to do.  Think of the first time she did this behavior/ feeling cycle as a marble being dropped down the sand dune. It leaves a trail, right? 

The second time she does this same thing, she sends the marble down the same path, and makes it a little deeper. Third, even deeper. Her neural pathways around this "stuck cycle" are getting "deeper" or stronger, more familiar and automatic with every pass of the marble.

Not what she wants.

Our brain is wired to make repeated behaviors automatic. Which is really cool for a lot of things, but it gets all in a tizzy when we decide to stop rolling our marble down that familiar path. Find yourself reaching for a snack at 2:30 every day even though you're not hungry? Craving a glass of wine at 5:00? Marble rolls you've repeated and feel automatic. That's all. You don't have to take the action. 

The marbles can work for us or against us.

This sucks for bad habits, but is great for building new ones, because the new behavior, in this case the minimum baseline workout, is basically equivalent to putting the marble down another place on the sand dune.  Your brain will really really want to take the familiar path, but being dedicated to the higher purpose of why you're doing this new activity and not giving in are key to getting the new path to become "sticky", or "deeply ingrained". 

What to do with the urge?

This strong, sort of urgent, desire to go the "old marble path", or to approach the workout as you have, distracted, half ass or avoid all together is what I call an "urge". Your brain wants to let you know you are veering off the familiar and "safe" path. And it really wants you to take the old action.

You've had urges.  Maybe it's to eat a cookie that's sitting out, have another glass of wine, punch someone who is being a jerk, laugh inappropriately, interrupt someone... so many urges. But if the actions the urges are encouraging aren't in line with your goals or how you want to show up, then they are a problem.

Tomorrow I'll talk about what to do with the urges around your minimum baseline activity when they arise. How you handle this feeling will determine how easily and quickly you'll be able to apply the minimum baseline activity to your life. It's also really the secret to achieving many of your goals: from loosing weight to just following through with a plan.

If you need help with creating your minimum baseline plan, I'm your girl! Schedule a discovery call today!


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