It’s cold out. The days have finally stopped getting longer. The holidays are mostly behind us.
At the end of every year, it sometimes feels like we’re coming out of a different world. The entire month of December is a ramp-up to the holidays, and in the final weeks of the year everything seems…quiet.
And then the year changes, and all of a sudden we’re thrust away from quiet and back into the noise of our day-to-day lives.
As I wrote in last year’s round-up article on achieving your fitness resolutions, most people don’t. Part of that is because of how quickly our lives go from calm to active.
Fitness resolutions aren’t just the most popular New Year’s resolutions; they are the TWO most popular (according to surveys by Nielsen, a market research company). The two most common resolutions are “stay fit and healthy” and “lose weight.”
But only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s Resolutions.
Especially as the New Year approaches, it’s worth taking a few moments to plan ahead. Before you wake up on January 1st and realize “wait, my resolution means I actually need to work out today,” figure out just what you should do on your first day at the gym. Figure out how you’re going to build a lasting habit.
Last year’s article recapped the best advice on Routine Excellence from 2016. This year brought with it a few more articles that you might find useful. These are the top articles and advice from 2017. You’ll learn:
- How to build habits, based on psychology research, that actually last
- Why exercise makes you happy, and how that can keep you motivated
- How to learn new exercises at the gym
- How to cut down on eating unhealthy foods
Stay tuned for 2018. There are some big plans for Routine Excellence in the works.
The Psychology of Habits: How to Form Habits (and Make Them Stick)
Have you ever started a workout routine, then quit after a few days or weeks?
Most people have (I know I have). But some people eventually learn to stick with it. If there’s a “secret” to consistent workouts, it’s this: turning your workout routine into a habit. This article is a detailed breakdown of the psychology behind habits, so that you can work exercise into your everyday life.
“Man, I can’t wait to finish this workout so I can get home and eat dinner.”
I think that often in the hour-long trip from work to the gym. Lunch was six hours ago by the time I get to the locker room, and it’s going to take me two more hours to work out, sauna, shower, and walk home.
At first, it might seem like I’m complaining, or like the workout is a chore. But take a closer look; the statement is important because of what it isn’t.
It could very easily be “I’m tired and hungry. I’m just going to go straight home.”
For the most part I love working out, and being fit feels amazing. But like anyone, there are days I feel tired, hungry, grumpy, and generally lazy.
And I still work out on those days.
Here’s that first statement again: “I can’t wait to finish this workout so I can get home and eat dinner.” Even though it can seem like a complaint, it assumes that I’ll be working out. The idea of skipping the workout never even enters my mind.
I wasn’t always this way. I used to use every excuse in the book to get out of going to the gym. I was too hungry, I was too tired, or I totally, definitely, suddenly had a new debilitating injury.
The shift towards automatically working out took time, but it happened. It happened because I grew to appreciate the psychology of habits. It happened because I did more research on how to make something a habit over the long term.
And then applied it to build habits.
Before I knew it, I found myself in the gym. In this article, I want to break down the psychology of habits—using research and real-world examples that demonstrate how to make something a habit that lasts.
By the end, you’ll understand the key components of how to make something a habit. You’ll also have real, everyday examples of principles from the psychology of habits, and everything you need to build habits of your own.
The Science of Why Exercise Makes You Happy: Barbells, Treadmills, and Bliss
This article started because of a simple question: why does exercise make people happy?
It turns out that there isn’t a simple answer. And the answers I found already written were a bit simplified for my taste. So I dove into the psychology and neuroscience behind exercise to come up with a real answer on the physiological effects of exercise.
Why read this article? I’m biased, but I think the topic is at least interesting. Even if you don’t, really appreciating the effects exercise has on your well-being (instead of just hand-waving and thinking “oh yeah, I’m sure it’s ok”) can help keep you motivated to work out.
On Fridays, I eat Qdoba.
The gym is quiet on Friday evenings. The power racks are empty, bars and plates neatly slotted in their places. The artificial turf is open, the yoga mats that crowd the floor on Mondays nowhere to be seen.
There are people, a few dudes benching or curling or pressing or shrugging, by the dumbbells. Maybe there’s a lone lifter cycling through the machines.
There are more people downstairs, in the cardio room. But the sound is not the endless blended “thunk” of 50 ellipticals. If you closed your eyes, you could count the number of machines by the noise.
It’s Friday night. Of course most people don’t want to work out. But Friday nights are my favorite.
On Fridays, there’s no waiting for equipment. There’s no asking to work in. There’s no maneuvering around people during farmer’s walks, or standing in line at the water fountain.
When I finish my workout, I set aside extra time to stretch and foam roll. I sit back and relax in the empty sauna. I stand under the showerhead and let the water wash away my sweat.
And as I stand in Qdoba, ordering a steak burrito with queso and extra guac, skin still warm to the touch, I feel an incredible lightness that can only mean the week is over.
That’s how exercise makes me feel, but you don’t have to take my word for it.
The effects of exercise on happiness and mood are well established by everyone from lifestyle bloggers to MD/PhD psychiatrists, and (spoiler alert) they’re good.
If you doubt the power of exercise, or even just want to know why it makes you feel the way it does, read on.
How to Learn New Exercises at the Gym Using Training Days
When you’re starting to work out, a long list of exercises can be intimidating. I know it intimidated me.
Instead of going in and trying to have the perfect workout on day one, then forgetting one of your 20 exercises the next time you’re in the gym, put together a strategy that helps you learn over time.
Training days are that strategy. Remember: results come from consistency. The perfect program doesn’t matter if you quiet after two weeks. Training days can help make the gym more enjoyable and less intimidating, and can set you up to learn new exercises and have long-term success.
“Alright let’s GOOO…oh”
I walked into the gym energized and ready to work out, but that didn’t last for long. True, I was over my first day at the gym jitters, but I still didn’t really know what I was doing.
Today was supposed to be the first day of my new program. But when I looked down at the piece of paper I had printed off 15 minutes ago, I realized I had a problem.
I had no idea what any of these exercises were.
According to the program, I was supposed to do something called a “renegade push-up.” How was that different from a regular push-up? What makes it a “renegade?” Am I supposed to somehow become a “renegade” by doing it?
(Side note: As you might have guessed, I think a lot of exercises have dumb names)
I had conquered the problem of how to go to the gym, at least for now. But now I had a new problem. How do I learn new exercises?
How to Stop Eating Dessert for 6 Years—Without Constantly Craving Sweets
Alone on this list, this article tackles diet and nutrition.
I haven’t written a whole lot about diet or nutrition, but it’s a crucial part of most fitness resolutions. In this article, I cover (in what some might call excruciating detail) what it takes to stop eating dessert.
As I hope I made clear, I don’t think that you need to totally quit dessert to reach your goals. But the strategies I describe here can help you cut back your consumption of dessert or any other junk food.
I haven’t eaten a dessert in over six years.
One day, I decided to quit—cold turkey. Over six years later, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the day exactly, or even tell you why I gave it up.
That decision to stop eating dessert wasn’t made overnight, and it was very nearly un-made on quite a few different occasions. Just a few short weeks after I decided to stop eating dessert, some new friends invited me over to bake brownies. The new habit was tested quickly.
Since then there have been quite a few similar decision points, moments where it would have been easy to break my rule and give in to dessert addiction.
But I never did. Outside of accidentally eating some poorly labeled granola that turned out to be laced with dark chocolate, the decision to stop eating dessert has stuck—I haven’t eaten a dessert in more than six years.
That includes birthdays and holidays, donut Fridays in the office, and road trips where every gas station protein bar seems to be flavored “double chocolate fudge.”
I want to start this off by saying that this is extreme. You don’t need to totally stop eating sweets if you don’t want to. Whether you count calories or use intuitive eating, there are other ways to adjust your diet.
But if you do want to know how to stop eating sugar cold turkey, this article will show you exactly how I did it. It includes:
- How to avoid desserts by avoiding situations where you’re always craving sugar
- The biggest challenges I faced (and that you will also face) to stop eating sugar
- How to respond when people offer you dessert
- How to respond when people hold dessert in front of your face (yes, it happens)
- How to use “rescue foods” to avoid constantly craving sweets—and giving in to dessert addiction
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: fitness goals are achieved through consistency.
Specific workout routines can be helpful. Following a specific diet can be helpful. But nothing you do matters unless you can do it over the long term.
Fitness is a long-term goal, and staying fit means structuring your lifestyle to encourage health. That’s the focus of these articles. It was the focus of last year’s articles. And it will be the focus of Routine Excellence in 2018 as well.