"Are you ready to W-A-L-K?" I spelled out in a hushed tone to my husband in an effort not to spark a frenzied response from my dog, Ollie. Ollie knows what 'walk' means, it's his favorite part of the day. He shook his collar, raised his ears and cautiously stood up from his regular spot on the hardwood floors under the air conditioning vent. He walks over to my running shoes as if he suddenly learned to spell. Is my dog an exceptional freak of nature who can S-P-E-L-L now? My mind immediately goes to an image of Ollie standing on a spelling bee stage spelling out words only a fourth grade academic phenom could master.
Like any good dog mom, of course I think Ollie is the smartest, most handsome, loyal (and not-an asshole-at-all) dog I have ever met. But can he spell? Probably not. Ollie has mastered a brain hack on motivation that would serve us all well. He hears the word 'walk' and he knows what immediately follows is a lap around the neighborhood to visit all his friends behind fences, the highlight of his day. He is starting to learn that spelled-out W-A-L-K also means the same thing.
So what can we learn from my dog Ollie? When we make brain associations, we can develop healthy habits for life. Making good nutrition choices and exercising can be triggered automatically in our brains rather than having to rely on motivation and will-power to meet our goals. Lord knows if I had to rely on motivation to exercise, I would probably never do it.
Seriously. I'm just like you. More often than not, I don't feel like exercising. If I only did what I felt like doing I would never go to my corporate job, clean the toilet or wash my hair. Adulting is hard, y'all (there I go with my fake Texas accent again). My point is if you put exercise on auto-pilot it becomes less like a chore, like cleaning the toilet, and more like something you just do, like brushing your teeth.
I know what you are thinking, "Brushing my teeth takes 30 seconds, Lea. Exercising takes much longer." I won't tell your dentist you are only brushing for 30 seconds (we'll keep that between us). The key is to commit to two minutes of brushing your teeth and then two minutes of exercise. As soon as you're done brushing your teeth do bodyweight exercises for two minutes.
Here's an idea, you don't even have to leave the bathroom.
30 seconds bodyweight squats
30 seconds pushups
30 seconds alternating lunges
30 seconds jumping jacks
So, sounds good, right? But how do I do this magic brain thing that just makes me exercise on auto-pilot?
Start to train your brain to build the habit by connecting your new habit with something you do everyday anyway. Brush your teeth then do the exercises. Commit to two minutes every day. That's it. Do it every single day without fail until it becomes a habit, then double that $hit. Go for four whole minutes. Crazy, I know. Do that for awhile (as long as it takes), then double it again. Sooner or later you'll be exercising 30 minutes a day. You'll probably want to move it out of the bathroom at this point. Hah. It's not all-or-nothing. Do what you can.
When you build up to exercising 30 minutes a day and you have one of those days where everything goes wrong and you don't have the time? Then go back to a four minute exercise session that day. Something is always better than nothing. A consistent four minute a day workout is much better than an hour long workout that you planned out perfectly but never got around to doing at all.
It's fine to start small. It's fine to move forward slowly. Success happens with consistency. If you are not exercising at all, then your only goal to start is consistency. Just do it. Every day. No matter what. Something. Anything.
Remembering to exercise is sometimes the first step. We don't forget to exercise because we're stupid, lazy or in early stages of completely losing our minds. We forget to exercise because we are busy doing other important things in our lives, like scrolling our Instagram feeds. Just kidding, I mean the real important things like earning a living and spending time with our families. The key is to associate exercise with something you are doing everyday anyway to build a habit. You need a trigger, just like my super-smart-not-an-asshole-at-all dog who learned to spell.
The same goes for nutrition. Want to eat more fruits and veggies? Put the banana next to the coffee maker. You'd never dare to forget your coffee, right? How about if you make your coffee, then make a protein shake loaded with spinach while it's brewing. Every day. Build a habit.
Pack your lunch for the next day every night after dinner. Build associations in your brain. When you do this (insert thing you do everyday) then that means it's time to do this (insert a new healthy habit). It takes time to build a habit, so write post-it notes, tell your family to remind you or set reminders on your phone until it starts to become second nature.
I do a strength for runners workout in the ShredShed on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday I go there and foam roll, stretch or do a quick four minute ab workout. Why? Because I want my brain to know it's time to go out to the ShredShed at the same time every day. It doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) an all-out workout every time, In fact, rest days are necessary. The habit is more important than the workout at first.
Think about what kinds of associations you can make. What healthy habit do you want to build? What are you doing everyday anyway? Find ways to connect them.
We can learn a lot from our dogs, like living in the moment and running for the pure joy of it. Ollie is so smart. Now only if he would scoop up his own P-O-O-P he really would be the best dog in the world.
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