Having Trouble Exercising & Other Health Habits

October 4, 2012

Using the 80/20 principle (#16 of mental models), I’ve been trying to instill healthy habits that can change my life for infinitely better.

My #1 life goal is health & fitness: to lose 50+ lbs & build muscle. And not just to lose weight, but to be super healthy inside & out.

To accomplish this, I’ve set up some small things I need to do daily or weekly that will eventually get me where I want to go.

The idea that 20% of the things I can do will result in 80% of the results I’m looking for in health & fitness.

For fitness, my habits are:

– take all my supplements daily (cod liver oil, digestive enzymes, probiotics, vitamin)
– drink 6qt water daily
– follow paleo way of eating
– exercise at least 20 mins 3-4x/week

Some mental hacks I use to make my above habits stick:
– meditation (2x/day)
– visit therapist/energy work at least 2x/month
– use float tanks for stress relief & relaxation (no specific amount)
light box therapy 30min/daily to ward off seasonal affective disorder in the winter (fall & winter typically when I eat the most & gain weight)
– use accountability factor to keep me on the path of healthy eating via blogging my weight results weekly here

How I keep track:

So I keep track of all of this via the iphone/ipad notes app. I have one note w/ all the habits I need to track listed – then I put an X as I do them. Then at night, I transfer all of them into a big spreadsheet. (seems like a lot of work? I have a lot of free time!)

Some habits are sticking while others aren’t.

The one’s that are working:
-Take all 4 supplements: near 100% compliance for 80 days
-Eating paleo: 100% for 56 days
-Water: near 80% for 80 days (I get up to 5qt out of my 6qt goal)
-Lightbox: 100% for 8 days
-Keep accountable via blog: 100%
-See therapist at least 2x/month: 80-100%. High cost + long drive a factor.
-Float tanks: didn’t have a goal, so I go 1-2x a month. Cost & long drive a factor.

Side effect: as a result of some of the things I am doing, my creativity is on overload. I post a lot on this blog, make audio podcasts, videos etc. All of which are super rewarding for my mind.

The troublesome ones:
Exercise: 0-10% compliance
Meditation: 0-10% compliance

As I’m writing this out, I can see that I’ve made tremendous strides towards health & fitness since there are more habits I’m actually doing than the ones that I’m not. 4 months ago, I was doing none of these.

Golden nugget: So just the simple act of having a written goal & tracking it seems to help A LOT in its compliance.

I’ve been trying hard to figure out how to make myself exercise & meditate.

Regarding exercise:
I’ve tried a lot of methods. In the past, I’ve hired trainers. I usually get sick of their personality or their types of workouts or the fact that I have to prebuy a large block of sessions instead of pay as you go. ie: If you want a trainer, you have to buy an 8-week session package costing x number of dollars, pay it all up front, no refunds.

I’ve bought countless gym memberships which all fizzle out after a few weeks/months of use. Usually there’s the barrier of being a newbie at a busy gym full of good looking people.

Once I overcome that, there’s the barrier of actually going. I have to put on clothes, look presentable, drive, park, go inside, deal with people, etc.

Then I gotta work out – deal with others using the machines I want to use, making sure I’m working out correctly, social pressure of being watched by others, dealing with lack of results, etc. Then of course the drive back (which is usually very pleasant). In the winter time, going out of the house just to work out (a double negative) is nearly impossible.

I’ve also tried at home workouts: p90x, ddp yoga, wii fit, netflix yoga, going for walks, hacker’s diet workouts, trainer coming to my apt, etc. These I’ll do for a while, then quit also.

Nothing so far seems to stick.

But there are people who enjoy working out and look forward to it daily. These freaks of nature really do exist! I’ve seen them.

So exercising regularly & enjoying it IS something that’s possible. I just haven’t figured out how to tweak my incentives to get my inner self to want to work out.

Regarding meditation:
Compared to working out, meditating is way easier. I don’t have to go anywhere or even get dressed. No need for a partner/trainer. It’s physically easy – involves just sitting there eyes closed. And best of all, its FREE!

Reason to meditate: quieting the mind is the #1 way we can become happier & relieve stress. Ideas, creativity, peace of mind, success, clarity, awareness, concentration etc comes thru a quiet mind. Things like yoga & exercise help relieve stress mostly because the physical strenuosity of working out forces our mind to be quiet.

Optimally, I would do a mantra meditation 2x a day for 20 mins at a time. While meditating, it feels great. I almost always get insights during the process – something to improve, a new idea, etc. And when the timer goes off, I’m always surprised and a little sad at ending this enjoyable process.

I was 70% compliant for up to 17 days, then it trailed off to around 5-10% now.

What I mean by compliance percent: I keep track on a 10 day basis on my spreadsheet. Only reason I picked 10 days is to get round percentage numbers – easier to divide by 10. So for the 10 days, I track the percent of times I’ve actually done the certain habit. If goal is to meditate 2x/day for 10 days = 20 total times. If I do it 2x, compliance = 2/20 = 10%. Piece of cake.

The issue comes in actually just doing it. The actual act of turning off the computer/tv/ipad/iphone and walking over to the chair and just sitting there seems to be a big hurdle.

My mind likes noise. Or it thinks it likes noise, even though it would be better off in its absence.

The chatter of life is so loud that my mind kinda freaks at the thought of meditation. I’m an addict to information, chatter & distractions.

If I’m surfing online, I usually have multiple tabs open in a browser taking up 80% of the left side of the screen. Another browser window on the right, taking up 20% of space, will also have multiple tabs open – usually with youtube videos or podcasts playing. I’m multitasking while multitasking.

You probably do the same, right?

Even if I’m just walking from my apt down the stairs to my car, I pop open my iphone to fiddle with it. Sometimes, I’m looking at my email, responding to a text or opening a podcast. Most of the time, I’m just doing it to avoid making eye contact or small talk with the people I’ll pass.

It actually feels weird to just walk with no distractions. Kinda weird, eh?

I’m not alone – the reason for this post: The Lift App Data

I was checking my twitter feed right after waking from a nap (addict!) & caught this post.

It was tweeted by Tim Ferriss regarding an app he’s associated with called Lift. It’s used by people to keep track of their daily habits & goals socially – so everyone sees your goals, you can join other peoples goals, give props, etc.

If you take a look at that link, the 10 most popular habits we want to do are:

1. Exercise
2. Drink more water
3. Read
4. Pushups
5. Floss
6. Sleep by midnight
7. Run
8. Eat breakfast
9. Meditate
10. Go to gym

4/10 habits are exercise related!
9/10 are physical health related! (only exception is reading, which fuels the mind of course)

So…..I’m not alone!

You are not alone!

Seems like we as a society all have the same goals and are having trouble achieving them.

The app is smartly using intent, accountability factor, removing friction & social proofing to see if we can keep motivated.

The idea being if we post our goals (intent), keep track of them publicly (accountability), using an easy mobile app (removing friction), and make it social by having profiles + giving each other props & compliments (social proof) = we will stick to them.

Is it working?

I’m sure it works for some and for others it doesn’t.

I as a matter of fact downloaded the app when it was released & never used it after first time. Didn’t really want to get into another thing I have to keep track of. I have more than enough apps, podcasts, email, twitter & other distractions I do daily anyways and find my own tracking method easier to do.

If you scroll down that page, the next section shows the most active habits out of all (check-in rate vs average).

These are the habits people are actually following thru on:

1. Take the stairs
2. No alcohol
3. Make bed
4. Take vitamins
5. Brush teeth in the morning (people have trouble with this???!)
6. Don’t smoke
7. Eat lunch
8. Wash dishes
9. Wake up early
10. Eat vegetables

The most active ones are ALL different from the top 10 popular habits above. So these are the ones, out of all the habits people want to create, that they find easiest to stick with.

Interesting, right?

I’m in the same boat – also eating more vegetables & taking all my vitamins. A lot of us find these easier to do than exercising. I’ve also given up alcohol for the most part since it wrecks my body & fogs my mind.

I’ll assume “brush teeth in morning” is for people working from home or those that don’t have a job. If that’s the case, that applies to me also! I don’t work anymore & am looking to build my own passive income streams.

Otherwise, I find it hard to believe people have trouble brushing their teeth before going to work or school since there are enormous social pressures in our society to be perfect.

Final Thoughts:

I don’t know – there’s probably some type of golden nugget we can extract from what I’ve experienced & the two data sets from Lift which we can use to hack our system for positive results.

Seems like everyone is trying to figure out the solution to better fitness. It’s not that a certain exercise program does or doesn’t work – the issue seems to be sticking to it.

Charlie Munger, my new hero, always tells us to look at the idea of incentives (#62) to figure out why people behave the way they do.

What type of incentive can you & I install for ourselves to make exercising more enjoyable?

Whoever figures that out will be super rich (and healthy)!

Bonus: 43 Things

There’s a site called 43things that’s been around for a while. This link shows the most popular goals: listed by daily, all time and popular achieved goals.

People go there to list their most desired goals (travel the world, exercise, fall in love) and then talk about how they did it. Others can join your goal, comment, etc.

I had forgotten about that site until I finished writing this post – I should go there more often to remind myself that I’m not alone in my struggles.

Now that I think about it, looks like Lift is just using the same idea as 43things and made it into an app!

“Good artists copy, great artists steal” – Steve Jobs