How to begin a workout routine to last: start with joy

January 31, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Fitness, Tips

[This post is part of a series on my daily exercise and starting and keeping challenging habits. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

This post covers how I’m putting myself in better shape with minimal effort, but don’t be distracted. That’s a secondary point, a side effect.

This post is about joy, fun, and friendship. And how I create them with the Method.

The seed

Over dinner with a friend I mentioned how I read a New York Times article about fitness experts speculating on a “single best exercise.” Readers here know I like rowing, but they didn’t mention it.

They first mentioned burpees. Tomorrow I’ll describe burpees and quote that article — for now, the relevant point is they are a great workout needing no equipment. That’s all I needed to know to start a habit to improve my life.

My point today is to illustrate how to start a habit you want to maintain. Many people view exercises as something they don’t like or as boring chores. I love every exercise I do. I make exercises work that way by finding what I enjoy first, then doing it, not by forcing myself to do something I don’t like, no matter how helpful.

Taking root

The next day my friend emailed me

Great to see you. Just started burpees – can’t do 6 and my form stinks. I have been relatively focused on yoga lately so my form bothers me. Not that you need to know, but I will tell you when I get to ten, well-postured ones.


I wrote him back

Well, you get credit for ten more because reading your email got me to do ten this morning I wouldn’t have.

I just had an idea. We’re both going to do ten burpees each morning for thirty days. We’ll email the other after we do them.

Are you in, brother?

He wrote back

Done.  I am in.  Reporting back on Jan 21.

I wrote back


But we’re checking in every day. Email, text, call, whatever. It’s more fun this way. We’re in it together.

I could have easily lay in bed for a long time this morning doing nothing, but I thought about burpees, jumped out, and did ten of them. Now I’m energized and I’m about to finish my book and figure out how to upload it to the web.

So that’s day two.

We’ve texted or emailed every day since. One day he switched to doing as many as possible in sixty seconds. I made a rule for myself that I have to do my burpees before reading any emails. Now I’m up to thirteen each day. I’ve reduced my rowing, but overall increased my working out. He’s doing fifteen a day as I write, but I won’t be surprised if he increases.

The other day, out with Dave, with whom I swam across the Hudson River, we talked burpees and ended up doing a few outside the bar we were in. I mentioned them to my mom, who ran her first marathon at 66, and she started doing them.

I don’t know if they’ll make this exercise a habit, but by sharing them they know I enjoy exercise, they’ll know to share such things with me and make them more a part of our relationship. I made exercise, fitness, and joy a bigger part of my world. Zero cost. Zero gym membership. I changed my world.

People know if they share exercise with me, they’ll share fun and joy. If they share laziness and junk food, they won’t. Guess what people will share with me? Guess what type of person I’ll have in my life?


As far as I’m concerned, only one result matters.

  • I’m enjoying doing a hobby with a friend

Side effects

  • Reducing fat from my stomach
  • Bigger shoulder and chest muscles
  • Jumping out of bed to start the day productively
  • Improving form, balance, strength all over body
  • Feeling great about my body
  • Zero cost
  • Less than one minute per day exercising yet effective. About three minutes including setting up and cooling down
  • Something fun to share with friends
  • Discipline, drive, focus
  • Expectation of more success

The side effects read like goals many people have for their exercise regiments, but make no mistake — they are side effects. My emotional response — the joy of doing something with a friend — is the main result.

My body reflects the things I enjoy and do. I enjoy discipline, drive, activity, and friendship. I have the body of someone who puts those values into practice. I don’t enjoy sloth, lethargy, complacency, and the like. My body doesn’t reflect those values.

By the way, the fat I’m losing from my stomach I’ve had since I was a baby, including when I ran marathons and played ultimate. I don’t know if I can ascribe all the fat loss to the burpees because I’m still rowing and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Why it works

Readers familiar with the Model and Method will recognize I used the Method by starting my change by focusing on what emotions I wanted to achieve, then adjusting my environment (by telling friends and family about it) and behavior (by doing the burpees) to create the emotions I wanted.

As part of the Method, I point out I also created accountability — with the friend I’m doing the burpees with, with the people I told the burpees about, and with public statements like this. Anyone who reads this, any time they see me can ask me if I did my burpees that day.

The Method works.

EDIT: Here’s a relevant podcast episode: The Best Advice on Making Habits Last:

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6 responses on “How to begin a workout routine to last: start with joy

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