When I ask people what they’d like to do for their own happiness projects, they often say something like, “Exercise more regularly.” Exercise is very important for health and mood, and everyone knows this–and yet it’s often tough for people to stick to an exercise routine.
I think that one mistake is to choose a form of exercise based on a) what your friend recommends, b) what kind of change to your body you want to see, or c) what is the fashionable form of exercise. It’s helpful to consider these factors, but in the end, we’re far more likely to stick with an exercise routine that suits our nature and our schedule. If you’re struggling to exercise regularly, this is not the place to fight your nature! If you’ve been a night person all your life, vowing to get up at 5:00 a.m. to run isn’t very realistic.
Ask yourself these questions, and when you’re done, think about what kind of exercise routine would suit you best:
1. Are you a morning person or a night person?
2. Would you like to spend more time in nature?
3. Would you like more time in solitude; or more time with friends; or more time to meet new people?
4. Are you motivated by competition?
5. Do you enjoy loud music?
6. Do you do better with some form of external accountability, or does that just annoy you?
7. Would you like to challenge yourself with exercise (whether by learning a new skill or pushing yourself physically)–or not?
8. Do you like sports and games?
9. Would you like more meditative time, or more time to watch TV, read newspapers, etc?
10. Do you have a lot of control over your time?
11. Are you sensitive to weather?
Your answers should guide your thinking about exercise. Work out with a trainer? Take a class? Be inside or outside? etc.
For instance, if you’re a morning person who craves solitude and time alone with your thoughts, but has little control over your schedule and hates feeling accountable to anyone, you might enjoy walking in a park every morning before you leave for work.
If you’re a night person who loves music and meeting new people, and is also motivated by accountability, you might like to take a dance-based exercise class after work.
Often, people will say, “Go for a twenty minute walk at lunch? That’s nothing. I really need to get in shape.” Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good! The twenty minute walk you take is so much better for you than the three mile run you never do. You get the biggest health boost going from no exercise to some exercise.
Just a little tweak in a routine sometimes makes a big difference. For instance, to exercise on the weekends, I go for a long walk. Generally, I like to think while I walk, but I do a lot of walking every day, and I found myself getting bored on the long walks–and so finding excuses to skip them.
One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Identify the problem. What was the problem? “I’m bored during these walks, so I don’t want to go.” For the first time, I bought myself an audiobook, and for the past few weeks I’ve been listening to The Golden Compass when I walk. It makes me so happy! I haven’t missed a day’s walk since I started.
A version of this post originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website, where Gretchen writes about her experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits.