Pop quiz: On a scale of 1–10, how easy is it to talk yourself out of a workout? We’ll say 1 is impossible — you’re sticking with it, and there is nothing that can derail your commitment to your health — and 10, well 10 means you don’t even have the conversation. It’s a given that there will be no movement beyond walking from fridge to sofa.
If we’re honest, many of us fall between 6 and 10. (Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t want to improve our health, lose weight, and reap the benefits that come from consistent exercise — buuuuut, there’s a pretty big gap between wanting and doing).
We saunter to the edge of our comfort zone, dip our toes in to get a sense of what it would feel like to go for it, but we’re unsure if we have what it takes to make a change, one that would stick and produce amazing results. This faithlessness in ourselves compounds our inability to take consistent action, so we turn about and leave the mental struggle to be dealt with another day.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. For two years after baby no. 2, I could not get back into the swing of a fitness routine. I struggled mightily between wanting to get fit, and summing up the energy to do what it would take to get back into shape.
Stopping, starting, never committing — it was awful. And it was always there, this nagging feeling that my body needed more than I was giving it. Eventually, the guilt started becoming more powerful and surpassed in strength the ease of avoidance. The simple solution was to get my heart rate up and relieve myself of this guilt. I had to commit.
To do that, I decided to eliminate the persuasive internal conversations I was having and set up a list of non-negotiables that would create a system that easily promoted follow-through.
Turns out that’s exactly what I needed because no longer was I tormented by the internal conversation that could talk me out of anything. With my list of non-negotiables, I knew what I had to do, what to expect, and how to get back a little sense of control, without the threat of talking myself out of it.
The threat — myself — no longer got in the way.
This list of non-negotiables is a true game-changer and one that could potentially help you if you find yourself on the cusp of change, and in need of a good push to get you to the other side.
Here’s my list that may help inspire your own.
Non-negotiable #1: First thing in the morning, put on my workout clothes.
I hate wearing a sports bra — they’re uncomfortable AF in the way they squish the boobs into one horizontal line with a little spilling out on either side. This horrific uni-boob reeks suburban mom more than any other piece of clothing — even mom jeans aren’t as bad.
Despite their discomfort, putting it on first thing has proven effective in getting me to work out. My brain no longer has to question if the workout is going to happen, this little action sets in motion a set of responses that have become automatic.
The genius behind it is the immediate elimination of the conversation. My brain knows once the sports bra is on, there’s no going back. It begins mentally prepping for the work ahead and I no longer use up mental energy to make a decision, the sports bra is the decision-maker.
Non-negotiable #2: Close the kitchen at 8 p.m.
This is another genius tactic. If I’m going to put in the effort to sweat and get uncomfortable, I need to see some results quickly. The best way to do that is to change up bad eating habits.
I’m not about deprivation or elimination at all — those tactics only work to make me moody and irritable. But what I can do is put time constraints on myself.
Due to the pandemic, I started finding comfort in the form of potato chips — salty, crunchy, and the perfect binge-watching snack for me. But just telling myself to stop eating them felt like elimination.
So instead, I still allow myself the chance to eat what I want — but I find that I’m not as into them at 7 p.m. as I am at 9 p.m. That’s why 8 p.m. works perfectly for me. I can still eat them, but after 8 they’re no longer an option. Closing the kitchen takes away the power of negotiating with my very convincing self yet again. My brain adjusts.
Non-negotiable #3: Give it 66 days.
According to a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, forming a new habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days. That’s a wide berth and honestly leaves one uncertain as to how long they have to go before something becomes automatic. This opens up a lot of opportunities for self-judgment and despair if you’re not seeing results quickly. The long haul is almost too much for many to bear.
But when you give yourself a time frame, like 66 days — the amount of time it takes a new habit to form per James Clear, the guru of micro-habits — for those of us who like an “end” date, this works wonders. It strips away the dread of permanence from committing. It’s the escape-hatch if things aren’t going well.
And if things are going well, like they were for me, you fly past day 66 without even realizing.
The End Result: My follow-through rate is through the roof!
My muscles are stronger. My core is tighter. My endurance is growing. And my consistency is better than it’s ever been.
I didn’t have to change up my entire life either. All I had to do was change up the conversations, or eliminate them. What we say to ourselves holds real power, and can sway even our best intentions.
If you want to get better at anything, you need to set up a list of non-negotiables. They increase your decision-making power and help you create the best habits you need to become successful.