The Seismic Effect of Establishing Fitness Rituals

To make real change, you have to be well anchored – not only in the belief that it can be done, but also in some pretty real ways about who you are and what you can do.- Twyla Tharp

fitness rituals

American dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, author of The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life‘ states that “creativity is about establishing habits & rituals, not some god given ability that only a select few can have”. For years, she has used the same ritual to start her day and increase productivity.

 “I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours.

The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual”

Establishing rituals isn’t just limited to creatives. Your fitness ritual isn’t performing the sets of squats or walking into the gym—it’s the behavior of starting the entire process of going to the gym—the small, overlooked, but important action at the beginning.

What’s a ritual & why is it important?

A ritual is a habit that is triggered by a specific behavior you perform. Establishing a ritual eliminates the option of you deciding if you want to do this activity or not.

A ritual “is a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it—it makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about” states Tharp.

Tharp states “It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.”

Just as creatives need a ritual to keep themselves align during their work sessions, it’s vital that you develop a ritual to ignite your exercise habit. There will be days where you don’t feel like working out nor cooking healthy meals.

As Tharp states “First steps are hard; it’s no one’s idea of fun to wake up in the dark every day and haul one’s tired body to the gym. Like everyone, I have days when I wake up, stare at the ceiling, and ask myself, Gee, do I feel like working out today? But the quasi-religious power I attach to this ritual keeps me from rolling over and going back to sleep.”

We know rituals are powerful, but how can we go about the process of establishing a ritual from scratch. Let’s take a step by step run through of establishing an initial ritual.

The process of establishing successful rituals

“The most productive artists I know have a plan in mind when they get down to work. They know what they want to accomplish, how to do it, and what to do if the process falls off track. But there’s a fine line between good planning and overplanning. You never want the planning to inhibit the natural evolution of your work.”- Twyla Tharp

At the beginning, your main objective is to get going, no matter how ugly or awkward it might feel. Develop a simple plan and then go from there in terms of making adjustments. Something is better than nothing and starting is everything. Here’s the ‘Nuts’N’bolts‘ method to starting a ritual.

1. Start small and lower your expectations
The worse thing you can do is overload yourself with steps and expectations of an outcome.

Instead, make these beginning steps easy. These steps should almost feel effortless. Be easy on yourself for any slip ups. Decide where you are in life with your habits and start from there. Run away from the all or none mentality.

Aim for small day to day victories. Small actions add up to become large wins. These small actions build daily momentum, allowing you to carry momentum onto the next phase of your rituals. Confidence comes from doing.

fitness rituals
One step at a time.-Photo Credit: wecand via Compfight cc

2. Develop a process for your desired behavior
The tougher the barrier of entry, the less likely you are to stick with it for the long term. The tougher the barrier, the more reliance on willpower (a brief and fleeting asset).

Make the process of entry into your ritual simple and concise by limiting the process to 3-4 steps for activation.

3. Schedule and commit to your ritual to condition your behavior
Anything of importance to your life needs to be scheduled into your calendar. If you ‘play your goals by ear’, they’ll never become a priority and you’ll consistently land mediocre results. The high achievers in fitness, art, and music make their work a priority in their lives.

If you don’t make yourself a priority, don’t expect anyone else to make you one.

4. Know what’s your signal to trigger your ritual
When does your ritual begin? What’s the ignition to you getting into your activity?

For Twyla, the ritual was the cab itself—telling the driver where to go. For me, I set my timer, have a bottle of water, coffee or tea, & hit play on my playlist—now I automatically understand its time to write.

A ritual for waking up in the morning would be the ringing of your alarm clock. Deciding what your ritual for exercising, sleeping, reading, cooking, or anything else is going to be is entirely up to you.

5. Experiment with different methods of preparation until you find the magic combination
First and foremost, have fun with the process. There’ll be some bumps along the road at the beginning when establishing a ritual. You’ll only find the perfect steps by doing and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Let’s take a look at some example rituals

I highly recommend that you experiment with your own methods to find the perfect combination.

Working out– The best way to set up an exercise ritual is to place it around a time with the least amount of resistances. Try setting up a fitness ritual first thing in the morning before any work related material is given attention. Alternatively, pack your gym clothes and exercise after work or during your lunch break. If you’re lifting in the afternoon or evening, place it on your schedule so nothing sneaks it’s way onto that specific time slot.

Sleeping– Start a preparation ritual 60-90 minutes out. Here are a couple ideas…
● Eliminate caffeine hours earlier (Ex. Zero consumption after 2pm)
● shut off the PC an minimum of 1 hour before bedtime. (I recommend this software(flux) for nights this isn’t possible)
● No tv or playing on the phone 60 minutes before bedtime
● Keep your room dark as possible
● Eliminate as many electronics from your room as possible
● Meditate for 10-15 minutes
● Have sex
● Invest in tinted shades if you have to use electronics at night

Waking up– Besides having the alarm clock, try these options.
● Have a morning wake up song (I wake up each morning and dance for 5-15 min before doing anything else. Here’s a couple favorites, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Skipworth & Turner (listen to extended play if you really want to wake up, Jamiroquai)
● Do a couple of pushups and squats to wake yourself up

Don’t overload yourself and attempt an overhaul on all facets of your life. Choose one area and focus on it for a bit until it becomes easy peasy.

What’s an area of your life that could benefit from establishing a ritual?

Be the tortoise: Slow & Steady Always Wins Out In Fitness

slow and steady always wins out in fitness
Image by Christine Wagner

When I was a young and naive college boy desperately in search of muscles—I tried various workout routines.

I wanted attention grabbing arms with jaw dropping abs. I thought this would instantly make me a ladies man.

It didn’t.

Muscle and fitness magazines promised me a new body in 4 weeks.

I woke up on the 5th week and looked the same.

Various supplement companies seduced me into buying their products—promising me insane strength and progress.

All I had to show for it was stomach aches and overdraft charges.

I tried to shortcut my fitness.

Nothing resulted from it besides depression, a crappy social life, and feelings of defeat.

If you’re anything like me, odds are you want to excel in life and fitness. Patience isn’t the strongest suit, especially in today’s world of ‘overnight Instagram transformations’ and ‘overnight rags to riches stories’. Those click bait stories cause us to make irrational decisions and marginalize ourselves.

What goes unnoticed in a overnight success story is how hard those individuals had to work for that particular moment of glory.

Many of the writers, celebrities, and everyday fitness people we look up to, at one point—were down on their luck and felt lost. They didn’t wake up the next day and magically transform themselves. They put their head down and went to work with the goal of winning that particular day.

Just as the tortoise stays his course and approaches the race methodically against the hare—you need to do the same with your fitness goals.

Slow and steady always wins the race

One of the key ingredients to success in life and fitness is to stay persistent with your actions. Far too often, we have a tendency to quit if the fruits of our labor doesn’t appear rapidly.

Fat doesn’t immediately come off just as companies don’t immediately become billion dollar empires. It took months to acquire the weight you want to vanish; therefore, you need to expect months to rid the excess weight off.

The body is only capable of losing so much weight in a given time period.

Don’t let this get you down, but instead let this remove some unneeded stress among yourself. Here are 4 reminders as you go along your slow and steady journey to success in life and fitness.

1. Don’t obsess over the how or when, but focus on your ‘why’

At the beginning of any new endeavor, motivation is high and adrenaline is fueling your actions.

But, after the initial excitement has worn off, people have quit calling about your new endeavor, and life returns to a steady routine—will you stick around to reach the finish line or call it a day?

When the blues and mundaneness of everyday life starts to creep back into your life—remember why you wanted to do all of this at the beginning.

Remember how awesome you’re going to look and feel in your new physique. Remember how the confidence of accomplishing your fitness goals will catapult you into doing great things in other areas of your life.

Just remember.

Write it down somewhere that is visible to you everyday.

Get clear on ‘why’ you want to succeed with your particular fitness goal and nothing will stand in your way.

2. Keep an open mind

Fitness isn’t a dictatorship. Instead, fitness is a choose your own adventure where you decide the rules.

Succeeding in the long term with fitness requires you to find a particular method that fits your desired lifestyle. Slow and steady progress only becomes a problem when you’re miserable throughout the process.

Don’t be afraid to try various eating strategies until you find your sweet spot where it feels effortless.

3. Give doubt the cold shoulder and run away from the haters

Nothing flushes your goals down the toilet quicker than dream killers and negative individuals. If your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors or anyone else is constantly killing your motivation, or disrespecting your aspirations—run the hell away from them!

We’re already our own worst enemies with guilt and self-doubt (especially when we’re trying new endeavors). The last thing we need is more doubters and haters.

Don’t let those kind of people get to you. Some people don’t want to see you succeed because then they’ll have no excuses as to why they can’t get off their ass and be remarkable.

A simple solution is to never hangout with someone who gives you bad feelings in your stomach. If I feel anxious or a heightened sense of uneasiness being around someone—I’ll cut them out of my life.

Is this cold? Maybe, but I love myself and value my time—as should you.

4. Stay in your lane

slow and steady always wins out in fitness

Before you want to accomplish anything in life or fitness, you need a vision. This is important because you have a metric in place everyday to help you make decisions.

If any situation or decision isn’t in alignment with your purpose in fitness and life—don’t do it.

You’ll see gimmicky fitness products promising rapid weight loss in 6 months or 6 figure businesses overnight. If it sounds too good to be true—it probably is.

The more connected and aligned you are with your vision—the easier it’ll be to show up up each day. Sometimes the reason why you aren’t succeeding with a particular goal isn’t because of effort, but instead, because that goal isn’t in alignment with who you are.

If you can’t workout 5 days a week, stop lying to yourself and be honest and go back to 3. If you have trouble with binge eating in social environments, admit this to yourself and prepare beforehand by eating a snack at home.

Just remember to stay focused and slow and steady will take you to the promise land.

Do you have trouble staying patient? If so, what’s one thing you’re doing to work on this?

How to Develop a Passionate Love Affair With Exercise

love affair with exercise
photo credit: DSC_0043 via photopin (license)

When you think of exercise, do you think of meatheads, bros, frat guys excessively curling to impress the new sorority pledges, women sweating away on the elliptical, or fitness classes where you sweat till you drop?

Before re-framing my mindset, exercise was 100% focused on aesthetics.

Yet, I would often feel disconnected from my regimen and purpose of exercising. This disconnect was a byproduct of my approach and mindset toward exercise.

As Damon Young, author of ‘How to think about exercise’, explains throughout his book, exercise has the potential to affect vast arrays of our lives.

What is exercise and why is it important

Exercise provides us the opportunity to educate our body and mind simultaneously. Showing up at the gym 3 times a week isn’t just developing your body—it’s teaching you consistency and dedication. Exercise isn’t just delivering you a nice butt, toned legs, and a sculpted chest—it’s developing a refined version of yourself.

Ancient Greeks were adamant about incorporating exercise within their education. They developed ‘virtues’ while adding muscles. Aristotle called virtues a ‘state of character’, which consisted of habits, desires, and free rationality.

This was more than mental or physical ability. This required combining all attributes together into what Aristotle called ‘phronesis‘ (‘practical wisdom’). This thoughtful practice arose from a myriad of circumstances and you would learn as much with your hands as you would with your mind.

If the Greeks sought and viewed exercise as a way for a complete wholeness of life—then what’s stopping you from applying the same thought to your life?

An overlooked reason for not exercising

Whether it’s habits and behaviors, laziness and apathy, poor time management and lack of priority—we blame something or someone for our shortcomings. Instead of placing blame on one thing, understand there’s a disconnect between mind and body.

Dualism and fitness

To avoid jumping into a philosophical rabbit hole, lets summarize dualism as a division of two concepts opposed to each other (it’s one or the other). Dualism could be a “disconnect between the mind and the body, thinking and doing, spirit and flesh” as Young points out.

In today’s society, dualism is apparent in the workforce. Most jobs are sedentary based (mind) where movement (body) isn’t a focal point. While we are ultimately responsible for our own actions, dualism possesses an ability to drain our spirits.

Young states, “dualism doesn’t straightforwardly cause laziness, but it can kill off ambition: we become more likely to tolerate a partial life, in which we push our intellects but not our quadriceps or lungs.”

It’s easy to become consumed with our work, racing for promotions and put our health on pause in pursuit of ‘things & statuses’.

”Gym memberships go unused not always because we are lazy or forgetful, but because the fear of illness or injury has gone” states Young. The immediate threat at hand vanishes and we go back to pretending the issues are invisible.

Why only workout when there’s a problem? Why only workout when we let ourselves become overweight, or feel inclined to impress others?

Instead of operating with tunnel vision at ground zero—approach your fitness from 35,000 feet above and keep the big picture in mind.

Get lost in your thoughts to unlock golden ideas

Some call it day dreaming, others call it being in a ‘trance state’, and if you want to impress—you can call it ‘reverie’. The point being, exercise goes beyond boosting our moods and shaping us up—it sparks our creativity to new heights.

Darwin, a dedicated believer in the power of movement, took an extended walk daily (no matter the circumstances) to help flush his thoughts out.

Exercise opens your world up, frees your imagination, and leaves the narrowness of your thoughts behind.

love affair with exercise
The power of a solitary walk is incomparable.

Gain a sense of freedom and escape from the everyday life

Lifting a bar from the ground or from the rack brings about a ‘natural high’ or ‘thrill’ from accomplishing a tough feat.

You gain some pride. Philosopher David Hume defines pride as “pleasure in oneself”. He splits pride into two parts: the cause of the pleasure, and the object we attribute it to. Hume states “with pride, the object is ourselves. We can never see nor touch this ‘self’, but we do have an idea of it.”

Example for exercise: having muscular glutes. I get pleasure from these because they suggest power, speed, and great fitness. These, in turn, promise more pleasure for me because: increase desirability with the ladies (ladies love a nice set of glutes), better biomarkers of health, and so forth.

As Young states, “we can also find pleasure in the promise of pleasure.” Pleasure isn’t random, it’s based on whatever we value. Pleasure transports psychologically.

A sense of beauty adds to the equation

There aren’t many things in this world that match the beauty and fascinating capabilities of the human body. When you see a body that is proportionate and flowing gracefully—it’s mesmerizing.

This proportion of sorts gives off an allure of strength, speed, skill, and sexual attractiveness.

Muscles aren’t the true beauty of this equation. The true beauty is what our bodies are capable of and their complex makeup. Muscles are the icing on the cake (some attractive icing though).

How much muscle is good enough? How much weight is good enough? What’s an attractive weight and frame? These are questions for you to decide.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

Allow yourself to enjoy the process of chasing a goal and cherish the gift of movement.

Let’s take Young’s advice about muscles and “see them as aesthetic achievements, not existential props”.

A little piece of humble pie never hurts

Pride helps you continue along your journey, while humility doesn’t let you stray too far away from yourself. Humility makes you aware and honest with yourself.

Displaying humility is helpful because it allows us to approach fitness and challenges in life with an eager willingness due to understanding we’re not perfect, invincible, and can only do so much.

This doesn’t diminish us, but instead allows us to go after new challenges and dreams without fear paralyzing us.

It’s okay to experience some discomfort

From learning the guitar, to painting a masterpiece, to asking that beautiful girl out for dinner, to starting a business—there’s discomfort at every corner in life.

Exercise isn’t any different. Exercise builds your tolerance up and helps you embrace discomforting situations.

Lifting weights, holding a pose in yoga, or sprinting steep hills are tough. But, as Billy Ocean reminds us, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

Discomfort will test our values: our perception to what is worthwhile in and out of the gym, and will expose us to what we’re willing to endure in order to reach our goals and fulfill our dreams.

Consistency is sexy and essential

Before Haruki Murakami was a daily exerciser and successful author—he was a chain smoking bar owner with a crappy diet. His body & mind wasn’t connected and it showed.

Only once he connected body & mind, did his career and life turn around for the better. As he says, “If I wanted to have a long life as a novelist, I needed to find a way to keep fit and maintain a healthy weight.”

This marriage of daily exercise (body) & work (life) helped him stay away from terrible foods and feel refreshed when it came time to write.

It doesn’t matter what your exercise outlet is, it matters that you stay consistent training your body so your mind will keep thriving.

A sense of wholeness

The Sanskrit word ‘samadhi‘ is a tranquil state of oneness, common to many mystical states.

As Young states, “Increased sensitivity to ones body is also a mental exercise”. Becoming aware heightens our sensations and provides a richer and clearer conception of ourselves.

Using exercise as a form of meditation will bring a sense of wholeness to your life. This happens by altering your attitude, relieving the anxieties of everyday life, and bringing a sense of clarity and calmness.

Striving for a perky butt or a chiseled chest is great, but that’s only the muscular aspect of the equation. Without the psychological component included, you’ll have a new body, but still possess the same issues and psyche as before.

The big picture and sendoff

Exercise can and should be an intellectual adventure that is fun and fulfilling. Young puts it eloquently saying, “to exercise intelligently is to develop an unusual fullness of character within the usual circumstances. It’s movement, change, transformation: you just become it. The ‘it’ is entirely up to each one of us.”

 It’s something that doesn’t feel forced or dreaded, but something that is instead seen as enhancing and beneficial to all facets of your life.