You Can Do Anything For 30 Minutes
On Monday last week I decided that I would be going to the gym at 6AM. It wasn’t something I’d extensively planned. It wasn’t a ‘new year, new me’ move. It wasn’t even a habit I intended on creating.
I just wanted to go to the gym that morning, for 30 minutes, and then get out of there.
After emotionally eating and sleeping my way through law school, I’d put on more than a few pounds (40 – I’ve lost 10 so far) that I still haven’t been able to shed almost 3 years later. Adding a desk job and a two hour round-trip commute didn’t help. For years, the last thing I wanted to do with my precious free time was go outside or exercise.
Around my 30th birthday, I knew something had to change or I’d be headed for an early grave. I’m navigating a family history minefield of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions linked to obesity. I couldn’t keep deferring my health to next week or next month. I couldn’t risk prolonging the cycle of trying and failing – I needed to make consistent, sustainable changes and I needed to make them now. I also wasn’t in a great place mentally and needed to get my confidence back.
I’ve turned my relationship with money around, but I hadn’t had much success in doing the same with my health. Probably because I hadn’t been following one of the main strategies that helped me pay off debt last year – start small. I’d get motivated, develop a thorough exercise and meal plan, go hard for a few days, and then inevitably face a roadblock like illness, scheduling conflicts, or just lagging motivation. The next thing I knew I was back to mainlining Netflix and Ben & Jerry’s.
I’m done with that kind of plan. It never worked for paying off debt, and it never worked for getting fit.
Instead, I started with just 30 minutes on the elliptical.
No detailed workout routines or finding the most efficient exercises, no meal plans with the perfect macros, no 30 day challenges, no pressure.
Miraculously, by the time I was fully awake I only had 10 minutes of my workout remaining. I left the gym with a spring in my step, and even my vision seemed sharper on the way to work that morning. The best part? I didn’t have to wake up and do it all over again the next day if I didn’t want to. I wasn’t signing myself up for a lifetime of 6AM workouts.
As of today I’ve gone to the gym for 10 days in a row, plus weekday walks during lunch and the occasional strength training exercises at home. I haven’t noticed a difference on the scale, but honestly I’m done with that because I feel too amazing to risk being discouraged by a number. Weight is the credit score of fitness metrics. Occasionally useful, mostly meaningless. Measurements and ability and energy level and happiness. That’s how I want to track my progress. So far, it’s working.
The best part of this plan is that it’s simple and the barrier to entry is relatively low. Set a timer for 30 minutes and go for it. No pressure to continue after that or to do the same thing tomorrow. Just focus on the next 30 minutes. If you have limitations that would keep you from hitting this target, set your own standard and follow that. The key isn’t in a specific time limit or activity, just in starting small and breaking through the initial reluctance so that you get a taste of the real benefits that will motivate you to keep going.
What are you going to do for 30 minutes this week?