Thanks to Covid-19, many of us are working from home now and we are limited in terms of where we can go and what we can do. It has been tough enough to figure out how to work in a new setting and be productive at home, so staying active and getting regular exercise may be more of an afterthought. And yet, not only do we all know we should be getting exercise, we actually need it to stay healthy, physically and mentally.
Another issue many are experiencing is that working from home with the laptop always in reach and in sight creates another problem: boundaries. Where does work end and the rest of your life begin? It’s easy to see where things can get blurry.
If you followed my writing, you know that I’m a big proponent of building healthy habits. Why? Because habits (activities you do regularly and sometimes even automatically) are the best way to make permanent and sustainable changes in your life.
So I’d like to propose the following: Make it a habit to get exercise most days of the week right after you finish work. Here are the five steps to make it happen:
In order to develop new behaviors, it works best to anchor new activities against existing routines and extend them (for more detail, check out Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg). In this case, we’re trying to anchor against you finishing the work phase of the day, which could be when you…
Whatever the last thing is that you do regularly to finish your workday, make that your anchor, so it can serve as a signal to launch into the new habit.
Next, without first plopping yourself down on the couch or turning on the TV, put on workout or comfortable clothes, and grab water. It’s important that you do this right away. Since your mind will be tired by now, you may never muster the activation energy for the rest of the day if you first try to “relax for just a few minutes”. Trust me on this one…
One hack to make this easier is to lower your activation energy by actually working in the clothes you’re going to exercise in later (assuming you can get away with that, even if just for the bottom half of your body). This way, you are already set when your workday ends and your outfit may serve as a reminder of what’s to come next.
Now, do some form of exercise even if it’s just for a few minutes. Especially if you’re creating a new habit, you can’t aim too high. If you’re shooting for an intense 60 minute HIIT workout and have never really had a steady pattern of working out, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. At this stage in the habit formation, it’s about building consistency and momentum more so than about going all out.
So, start with simple and/or short workouts such as:
You get the idea. Start small, build consistency, and expand from there.
Make sure you hydrate and drink plenty of water as well. More on that in a bit.
Your workout, even if small, is done. You’ve just done something great, something that helps your body and your mind. You’ve taken active steps towards health and feeling better. So now: celebrate! What I don’t mean by that is going to your fridge and eat a pint of ice cream. Celebration, in this case, is about feeling success. Tune into your feeling of accomplishment. Feel free to clap your hands, pump your fist, exclaim “Awesome!”, pat yourself on the shoulder (literally), or whatever works for you. Key is that your celebration is immediate and authentic to you. Acknowledge what you did and how it connects to your “why”, the reason why you want to get more active and healthier. Research has shown that celebration is the most important aspect of reliable habit formation, so don’t skip this step.
Sweet - you’ve done this. Now it’s a matter of repeating it and doing it over and over. Feel free to experiment and fine-tune what anchor works best for you, which exercises you enjoy the most, and how you prefer to celebrate.
As mentioned earlier, consistency beats intensity (or duration). It’s easier to expand on a habit you already have than to restart an abandoned habit that is too tough for where you are. The idea is that, over time, you can dial up intensity and duration as your body gets used to your regular working out. If you feel successful, this one habit may also spawn other new habits in your life that expand on your desire to become more active and healthier.
Let’s talk about why this 5-step process works and benefits you. First of all, it helps you balance your sedentary lifestyle and gets you moving and burning calories, which should make you feel better and give you additional energy.
This process also follows the rules of habit formation and is likely to be successful. For example: you’re using an existing behavior (finishing your work day) to anchor in a new habit. You cement the new habit by celebrating success.
Exercising right after work also creates a boundary and a clear delineation in your daily schedule between work life and your personal time. You’re sending a clear signal for your body and your mind that the workday is over. In my experience, exercise is also one of the best ways to reduce stress, clear my mind, and “reboot”. Hopefully, you’ll find that this habit is a catalyst to disconnecting from work and refocusing on your personal life while doing something good for yourself.
By the way: Remember the “hydrate frequently” part? Well, not only is hydration important as we exercise but if you drink water regularly during this time, it will fill up your stomach and make you feel fuller. That, in combination with exercise which has also been proven to reduce your appetite, will lead to you actually eating less for dinner! So this is a double whammy in weight management: You burn extra calories AND reduce your food intake (not too mention the extra hydration). Brilliant, right?
So give this process a go and try it out for a few weeks! It’s a great method to create better work/life balance and provide a reliable way for you to build exercise into your life and schedule on a regular basis!
For a video outlining the process outlined above, check out this post.
(For more tips on how to create habits, check our free cheat sheet!)