I read a lot of articles on nutrition, health, finance, education etc. I always have a biased view because of my belief in the systems and habits approach to improve. The bad thing is that this could shift the way I take in new information.
But the good thing is that I can pick out techniques and principles that come directly from the systems and habits approach to improvement. It could be that someone stumbled onto something that just seems to work without seeing the full system at play, or it could be that they learned it from someone that is using these techniques to improve.
The other day I was reading an article called Jennifer Aniston’s diet and workout is… shockingly sensible, actually. In the article the author discusses Jennifer Aniston’s habits around healthy eating and exercise. One paragraph particularly caught my attention.
It said, “Like anyone, she’s not always motivated to exercise. On those days, she tricks herself into working out by making a deal that she only has to do it for 10 minutes – typically enough time for endorphins to kick in and spur her to keep moving.”
The systems and habits technique that she is using is called setting the minimum. Basically it entails making a commitment to do something small regularly, like committing to do 10 minutes of exercise every day. This focuses on consistently doing a behavior in order to turn it into habit.
The key is that this small process goal is helping us to get over the hardest part of sticking with an exercise routine. For most of us once we get started and get our heart rate up we start to feel better and can easily get a decent workout in. But I think we all struggle from time to time to have enough motivation to just go to the gym or jump on the treadmill in the basement. This small step overcomes that hard part.
Once we complete the initial 10 minutes, it becomes easy to keep going. But tomorrow, when you are tired and don’t feel like exercising, most of us feel we have to outdo what we did today. It adds to the resistance because we really don’t want to have to do all of that work.
So we change the narrative. We tell ourselves that we only have to do this small portion. Then, after that we can quit and still feel good that we exercised today. Or if we feel up to it we can keep going and get a better workout in.
This isn’t just helpful for a celebrity known for her incredible dieting and exercise habits. It is even more helpful for the person who has neglected those areas for years and now wants to start to focus on improvement.
Starting a new exercise habit can be extremely difficult if we try to do too much too quickly. This technique of setting the minimum allows us to ease into the exercise and focus first on building a recurring, positive behavior (habit) that we can then use as leverage to continue growing our daily exercise. It may not be instant, but over time we can really begin to see a very positive difference and the confidence we gain from sticking with it will only add more fuel to the desire to improve our health.