Fitness hacks to stay consistent and to break the all-or-nothing cycle

Day 1: My diet starts tomorrow, no excuses. Day 2: Oh but it’s Friday! I cannot leave my friends like that. Day 3: I will never eat pizza again until my stomach is ripped. Day 4: Sunday funday. AKA pizza day.


Way too often we adopt an extremely strict approach to exercise and diet to “jump start the transformation” just to abandon it the very next day. We overkill in the gym once and then recover for two weeks after. We starve for an entire week and shove 7,000 calories of sugar in our mouths on a cheat day.

Unstable relationships with fitness

How to design a fitness lifestyle that you would be excited to upkeep instead of doing this yo-yo between the extremes? You cannot “hack” your way into fitness. But you can use some tricks of your modern mind to implement consistency into your fitness process. And going to bed in fitness clothes just to wake up and supposedly want to exercise is not one of those tricks.

Now, is there anything that would make you want to exercise as often and consistent as you want to check your Instagram? Wait, a minute! Instagram… Remember the feeling when you get those likes on your Instagram pictures? Nothing particularly important, but damn you want to check the number of likes every time and it better be growing! Behind the superficiality of the whole “likes” thing, there are some real chemical processes in our bodies explaining why we care. Every time that heart pops up, we get a shot of happiness hormones – dopamine and serotonin – that makes us feel accomplished and loved.

There are many things implemented in gaming and popular app experiences that trigger similar feel-good moments: collecting coins in Mario, getting a badge in a fitness app, progress bars, etc. And every time we hear that “ding!” and a bar moves to the right, we give ourselves an imaginary pat on the head and look forward to more!

Now, what does it have to do with fitness? To stay consistent with your fitness process, you need to design it so that you receive small gratifications frequently on your way to a bigger goal.

Here’s how:

1. Establish a long time horizon for your goal and break it into shorter periods with milestones

Take Mario game as an example. You go from level to level, and you are focusing on the current level and not on the end of the game. In fitness, give yourself enough time to see a meaningful transformation, but break that time into smaller periods to focus on.

2. Treat each of the shorter periods like an experiment with a defined goal and possible setbacks

Adopt that experimenter mindset to find out what works for you. What happens if I drink more water for an entire week? Is steady running or an intense kickboxing session burns more calories for me? Or if I do burpees for one minute every day for a week, how many can I fit at the end?

3. Gradually remove bad stuff from your diet and gradually add time to your workout

Within those experiments, design small and cumulative missions that you need to accomplish in your fitness journey. Don’t remove sugar, pizza, and dairy all at the same time. First try living for a week without those pretzels you snack on at work; then move to no-bread lunches for a week. And so on. Add 5 more minutes to each next workout session until you hit 60 minutes.

4. Reward yourself frequently for doing the right thing

Give yourself some likes! And no, it does not mean you can have a slice of pizza for each squat! Give yourself some real no-food awards frequently for sticking to a goal. Whether you treat yourself for an hour of your favorite show, a spa session, a good book, a fancy cup of coffee, or a frivolous text to that cute one.

5. Break longer workout tasks into smaller ones

Completion of small and understandable tasks makes us feel progress much better (the green bar is moving to the right). A 30-minute cardio sounds like a torture. However, a 10-minute biking, 10-minute inclined treadmill walking, and 10-minute elliptical is more manageable. And if you did not complete the elliptical, you already got biking and walking in!

6. See what your fitness formula is missing

Imagine a puzzle game: you need to figure out how to put things together to unlock your special powers and advance to a next level. You got some good nutrition and exercise, but did you pick up some sleep? Ding! Sleep is in, but are you putting all the ingredients in a pot of stress? Red light! Figure out your fitness formula! 

7. Set up your progress metrics but do not aim for all of them at the same time

Back to Mario! If he runs through a level without collecting the coins, he still can get a night of love with the princess. Yet he is surely less attractive to her broke! However, if Mario tries to collect all coins, eat all mushrooms, and destroy all enemies, he runs out of time and will have to stay on the same level again! Same with you. Don’t rush through the process just to get to a next fitness goal, but also don’t get caught up trying to make everything perfect, or you will run out of time.

8. Fill up your points jar with healthy habits

Come up with a list of many healthy things you could be doing during a day. Walked back from work. No dressing in a salad. A glass of water. 10 minutes of meditation. A weight training session. Assign points to all of them and collect these points during a day to a level you pre-determined until complete.

9. Commit in advance and establish conditions requiring you to workout

Get a trainer, purchase a membership, or sign up for a race. In other words, commit, desirably with finances sufficiently enough to not want it to go to waste. The mental fear of losing affects us stronger than the idea of gaining. Execute!

10. Set up accountability

Give your friend an amount enough to care for and tell her that she can keep it if you do not reach your goal. Or better yet, give her your ugly picture and a permission to publish it if you do not reach your goal! Now it’s on you and you better get to working!

11. Get in the habit of planning in advance and recording the progress

A visibly displayed plan can add certainty to your workout regimen and force you to schedule other commitments around your training and not instead of it. A journal recording your past activities can give a sense of progress and accomplishment that you do not want to cancel if you stop.

12. Notice things – train intently rather than mechanically

You can play a video game while biking or listen to an audio book when training. Sure the time will pass quicker, but, given you paid more attention to your screen or to your headphones than to your form, the quality of your training will suffer. Did you remember to spin the pedals at all? Start observing your body! Once you become more in tune with it, small changes you notice will fascinate you. So instead of architecting cities in a game, you will have more fun architecting yourself.

Have any tips to add? Comment below!

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