I recently signed up for an online fitness program called Athlean-X. It’s a 3-month plan that requires 5 days of workouts with 2 days of rest and recovery. I haven’t been able to keep up day-for-day with the plan, especially as I like to fit in basketball and running on some of the days, but I’ve tried my best to fit the 5 workouts every 8-9 days.
The workouts themselves are not overly difficult or long. If I’m efficient, I can get some of the workouts done in 30 minutes. I’m lucky that my gym is literally across the street from the apartment, which means 30 seconds to and fro in addition to the 30 minutes, perfect for a session before or after work.
What I’ve found is that the power of a program like this is the fact that it gets me exercising almost daily. I’m hitting various muscle groups and doing all kinds of movements day in and day out, and this starts to build up–the “gains” that programs like this advertise really do start to show.
I thought about the last time I put my body through such varied daily exercises and it was probably during the summer before my senior year of high school when I had two full months of daily lifting, running, and skills work in preparation for football season. That was nearly half a lifetime ago! The intensity and duration of my workouts are nowhere near what it was back then, but the fact that it happens daily makes it that much more impactful.
Daily Commitments Are a Superpower
I hesitate to call my exercise routine a daily habit. I’ve started to think of the term “habit” as an activity that, with repetition and the right trigger & reward incentive, becomes a near-automatic behavior, like drinking a glass of water in the morning or flossing before sleep.
For an activity like working out, I like to think of it as a daily commitment. It requires overcoming various forms of resistance–fatigue, distractions, dread–and going through the necessary motions to make it happen (e.g. changing, going to the gym, warming up, etc.). When seen through this lens and knowing that daily commitments lead to progress that eventually compound over time, it’s easy to see that the ability to have productive daily commitments are a superpower. The potential to achieve great things is quite amazing. Here are just a few things:
- Learning a new language (e.g. 10+ straight weeks of daily language study for 30-45 minutes)
- Writing a book (e.g. 30-40 straight weeks of writing for 45-60 minutes a day and another 10 or so weeks of editing for 30-40 minutes a day)
- Building a side online business (e.g. 20-30 straight weeks of carrying out various tasks for 45-60 minutes a day)
- Becoming a triathlete (e.g. 12 straight weeks of 45-60 minute daily workouts)
Of course, there’s so much more. It’s possible to pick up new topics and gain some degree of mastery, like math, physics, carpentry, drawing, playing an instrument, and investing. Sure, committing to more than an hour will accelerate the learning and deepen the mastery, but given that many of us have full-time jobs, relationships, and other obligations, I’d imagine a daily commitment of more than an hour on one thing may be challenging (although not impossible if you really want it).
The sad truth is that even with this clear understanding in the power of daily commitments, I know that there are just too many entrenched habits and resistance factors that get in the way. The desire to relax and veg out after work, an alcoholic beverage in hand. The mindless tendency to scroll through YouTube videos and social media feeds. The insatiable curiosity to consume empty calorie content like news, sports scores, and celebrity gossip. Even when it comes to work, I find myself refreshing my email and filling my time with work that can easily wait, like responding to a non-critical inquiry.
Breaking Down the Resistance
When I reflect on the multiple times that my daily commitment to writing has failed, it’s been because a few stressful days at work made me immediately averse to the idea of sitting down and reflecting deeply about anything. Usually, I would want to go out or engage in a mindless activity that would require very little brainpower. Luckily for me, I’ve categorized working out as a distraction from work-related stress, so I welcome the opportunity to go lift weights or run as a way to relieve the stress. This got me thinking about how certain commitments need the right conditions in order to succeed.
When I think about an activity such as writing, I think it needs to happen when my mind is clearest. If I were to commit to writing daily every morning for 30-45 minutes, it would mean waking up early enough and giving my mind the space to focus. The biggest resistance at this point would be the grogginess I feel in the morning, which can be overcome with a better sleeping habit–going to bed earlier and avoiding excessive eating and drinking. A good night’s sleep, waking up early, and a clear mind–if I can string 4 to 5 of these a week and get my writing sessions in, then the results will start to pile up quickly.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to explore. I’d like to think that I can develop a framework in which I identify a concrete goal (e.g. learn a language, write 100 blog posts, pick up Python, etc.) and then design the conditions that will lower resistance and allow a daily commitment to flourish.