I’ve said it before that something that motivates me to run and work out is a regimented schedule. For running I tend to use Hal Higdon’s programs, and for lifting I’m a fan of Strong Lifts. Once I’ve followed the program for about a week, I start to feel great about sticking to it, and don’t want to break the streak. Obviously this is a simple concept, but a powerful one. Jerry Seinfeld popularized it by describing it as “not breaking the chain”:
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.
Funnily enough, he was talking about writing, which is another aspect of my life that calls for growth and motivation. But let’s stick to fitness, shall we?
Earlier this year, I was doing a really good job at sticking to the StrongLifts program. I was regularly going into the gym and following the plan to a tee. Even when I really didn’t want to work out on a certain day, I really really didn’t want to break the streak. So I toughened up and did it.
But then as always, life gets in the way. I got a new job, went to Atlanta for a month, and completely fell out of habit of working out (and fitness in general). The streak was broken, and I then discovered the downside to this practice: while a chain/streak/schedule is a great way to keep you going, it’s not at all going to help you start. In fact, it can even hurt. I remembered how much effort it took to go to the gym regularly, and thought “Well, I can wait another week before I start. It’ll help me to settle into my job first.” Excuses like that and many more kept me from getting back on track (really, it was just me trying to justify being lazy).
So I’m trying something new. And it doesn’t involve throwing schedules out entirely. I still love the structure and guidance, and I’ll probably still use both of the programs I like. But I won’t treat a streak like gospel. If it breaks, it breaks. And when it does, I won’t think of going back to the gym as a whole new ordeal I’m getting myself into. It’s just…going to the gym. Once. If I go back (I probably will, once I get started), great. If not, no big deal.
So here’s to trying to actually enjoy fitness in and of itself, and not just being beholden to calendar.