It’s no secret that I want to get all Americans, especially children, off the couch and into the habit of regular exercise. I’ve spoken to all kinds of experts about this—athletes, trainers, psychologists, coaches, physical therapists, you name it—and what I’ve come away with is this simple fact: Within 30 days you can lay the foundation for change.
I know it’s not easy to change our ways—our brains are hardwired to stay in the ruts we dig—but it’s easier to add a positive habit than focus on a negative one. For example, you might not be able to break that ice cream habit at first, but you can start by doing 20 burpees before you dig in. Over time, you could reduce the ice cream and increase the burpees until you reach the point where you don’t want the good results from the burpees to be undone by the fat and sugar bomb in a cone.
Keep in mind that 30 days is only a starting point. According to a study at the University College of London, some people need longer to get the changes to stick. But you can do anything for 30 days and that’s enough to begin changing your life. So how do you begin? Here are a few tips:
1. Take baby steps
One of the best ways to self-sabotage your decision to change is to overdo it, hurt yourself, then quit. Want to get in shape for a Spartan race? Start with 10 burpees and a five-minute walk. As it gets easier, challenge yourself to do more. Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to your own progress.
2. Don’t bite off too much
Trying to clean up your life is great, but like I said above, taking on too much can lead to failure. Sure, you might want to run a Spartan race, drop 25 pounds, give up smoking, and start cooking all your meals at home—but pick just one and keep it up for 30 days, then you can start adding other goals.
3. Track your progress
Nothing inspires like seeing how far you’ve come. Keep track of where you started and how you’re progressing. Every time you look at your improvements you’ll be inspired to push on.
4. Set a reminder
When a behavior is new, you’re not used to making room in your life to do it. Reminders will help you make it a habit.
5. Forgive yourself if you have a bad day
Here’s another place to watch for self-sabotage. Everyone has a bad day every once in awhile. If you do, just keep going. Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
6. Add, don’t subtract
As I discussed earlier, it’s easier to add a good habit than to break a bad one. This is also a good time to figure out how the old habit became so hard to give up. If binge-watching your favorite television show is helping you forget the day’s stresses, it’s better to add something else that will help relieve it instead of just quitting.
7. Make it fun
How about adding on something that might shift your thinking or open up your life for 30 days? Former Navy Seal Jeff Boss has some great ideas here.