Today is the six year anniversary of my daily Fitness First ritual, a practice in which I create space to do my daily workout before checking email or social media or going online.
My daily workout streak actually started in mid-August (naturally), but I designated September 1 as my anniversary date.
Over the last six years I have done my morning workout in gyms around the world, on beaches, in hotel rooms, airport lounges, basements, and city streets. I’ve done it on 2 hours sleep and 13 hours sleep (average is about 5), and have spent from 10 minutes to 4 hours.
Along the way I’ve learned a lot about myself, fitness, and how to create sustainable daily practices.
As I contemplated this milestone during a recent workout (naturally), I had some “quick thoughts” that I wanted to share with you. Then I started to write them and the lessons poured out of me. That’s what happens when I fuel my work with a workout (consider this a bonus tip)!
So this will be a series.
For Part 1, I’m sharing six lessons I have learned about creating and sustaining a daily practice.
(1) The Hardest Part
The other day I overheard a man at the gym say that the hardest part of getting to the gym is walking through the doors of the gym.
I found that amusing. Maybe he’s never stood for three hours inside his front door with his jacket on, responding to emails and commenting on social media.
In my experience, the hardest step is the step out my door. Once I’m out on the street the rest is easy.
The big question is: how do you get out the door?
Spoiler alert: it’s a combination of tactics and inner work. This is something I teach in depth in The Ritual Revolution.
(2) Daily Exercise Isn’t a Habit
One month in, someone asked me how long it takes to become a habit. It’s a question I receive often. Early on, my response was “I’ll let you know when it becomes habit.”
That’s still the response.
Given that I have a program where I teach clients how to create sustainable daily practices, it would be in my interest to claim that I could teach you how to make it a habit. But that wouldn’t be in integrity with my values.
I’m going to tell you the truth.
It is not a habit. It never will be.
A habit is an action done unconsciously, automatically, in response to a trigger.
This has never been that. That’s not the goal. (I’ll get to goals shortly.)
(3) It’s Not a Function of Discipline (at least not in the way you think)
People also comment about my apparent “discipline.” But this is not about discipline either, at least not in the sense that most people use it.
When people comment on my apparent discipline, they mean it in the sense of overcoming big obstacles to do something I’d rather not do.
That’s not really what discipline means. Discipline is about learning.
The roots of discipline relate to learning.
In that sense, sometimes what gets me to the gym is a function of discipline. My workouts are an opportunity for me to learn about myself.
Also, the practice began as an experiment, a way of testing and learning what would happen if I didn’t respond to email or check social media for the first hour or two of my day. (Spoiler alert: nobody died!)
So yes, I owe part of this to discipline, but not in the way that most people use the word.
(4) Willpower Won’t Get You There
Another thing people assume is that I have immense willpower.
I’d like to tell you that this is the case, but…no.
If I had good willpower then I expect that I likely wouldn’t have gotten sucked into email or social media for three hours while standing next to the door of my apartment with my jacket on and one hand on the door. That was the place I often found myself before I started my Fitness First practice.
That said, here’s what I’ve learned about willpower.
First, to the extent we have it, is in very short supply.
Second, to the extent willpower works, it only does so for what’s conscious. Most of our behaviors are driven by out unconscious.
Third, willpower may work once in a while, but it’s not reliable as a force to sustain a daily practice for an extended period of time.
(5) Commitment is Key… But Not Only to Results
What keeps me going is commitment. But it’s not just commitment to the result. My commitment is to the process.
3 reasons why commitment to the process is more important than commitment to the result:
(a) You May Not Know Your Desired Result
First, you may not know the result you want. Although it helps to know the results you want before you start doing something, we can sometimes receive a knowing — an intuitive calling — to proceed down a certain path.
(b) Target Results Change
Second, the reason you start to do something isn’t always the reason you continue with it. Sometimes the result you think you want from a particular endeavor changes over time, or you discover other results that you are getting.
In a world that tells us to have a target outcome for every endeavor, some may see this as “unfocused.” But this is a feature, not a bug.
My daily fitness practice brings me results across several areas of my life beyond the physical. It helps me find focus and clarity, process my emotions, connect with myself, access creativity. Different results pull me depending on what season of life I’m in on any given day.
(c) Results Aren’t Immediate
Third, in any long endeavor there are times when you don’t see progress. Progress comes in small spurts. Sometimes it looks like regression. If I was only motivated by results, I would have quit in the first month.
If I don’t create and hold space for the process, I don’t even give the results a chance to manifest.
(6) The Power of Streaks
One of the most powerful forces in my arsenal is the concept of the streak. At a certain point, the streak feeds itself.
Six years in, I’m sure nothing would happen if I skipped a day. But I’m not tempting fate. The streak does a lot of heavy lifting.
Of course, you have to get to that tipping point where the streak will keep you going. Unfortunately most people quit way before then.
If you want to learn more about how to get to the place where the streak feeds itself, that is what I teach in The Ritual Revolution.