How to Start your Own 30-Day Fitness Plan

Anyone who has tried multiple times to lose weight is familiar with a sense of being haunted by an inevitable slide into failure when they’re beginning yet another set of health and fitness resolutions. Beginning a new regimen is daunting because you bring your baggage into the new start, and it can make the situation feel all too familiar. How can you be sure this time will be different?

The trick is to attack on two fronts: the internal and the external. When beginning a new set of habits, most people focus on their internal state—their willpower, intention to follow through, and motivation. But this is a beginner’s mistake—people who are well established in set of habits know that you can ease the strain on your willpower by putting external scaffolding in place.

Many psychological studies have demonstrated that willpower is a resource that can be depleted, so putting external structures in place will save you the drain of constantly resorting to an iron will that very few of us actually have. The key, then, is not to constantly make good decisions, but to structure your life to minimize decisions. Decisions are danger points, because they present the opportunity for a momentary lapse. Rather than allowing a string of dangerous decision points, a planned structure lets you make all of decisions at the outset. Then, rather than constantly having to expend your willpower on decisions, you can simply make one decision over and over: stick with the plan. Nobody is good at constantly exercising a heroic will, but those who stick with new habits know that success requires delegating your decisions to the structures you have put into place. So how do you do that?

One way is to implement your own 30 day plan. Here’s how to get started.

1. Turn yourself into a machine.

To run a machine, you have to input a program, and then set it going. The machine doesn’t have psychological internality, so it follows the program. In the same way, you’re going to treat your “internality” (your momentary desires) as irrelevant. This principle is the foundation of all others.  Set your program: establish reasonable goals that will produce results. The more specific and workable the program, the easier your life will be. A beginner’s workout plan might be “I will go to the gym Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. I will run 2 miles on three of those days, and lift weights for 30 minutes for two of those days.” Having made this decision, you can treat all subsequent conflicting desires as irrelevant. Remember, you don’t have to feel like doing it. You just have to do it.

2. Aim for perfection.

Allowing for failure within your implementation of the program will produce failure, and will cause you to fall off the wagon once more. Remember that the goal of these 30 days is to pretend to be someone with good habits long enough that those habits start to stick. Think about an actor in a play who pours a glass of water on stage. True, the actor is pretending to be a person pouring a glass of water, but they are also actually pouring the glass of water. The trick is that by doing the action, the actor begins to convince themselves of the truth of what they are doing. In the same way, you are adopting habits that will eventually become your own through a performance of those habits. In this way, it’s just like playing any other role—the more committed you are to the performance (going to the gym 4 days a week, for instance), the more likely it is that you will end the 30 days as a different sort of person—someone who enjoys going to the gym.

3. Be kind to yourself.

Aiming for perfection doesn’t mean being ruthless to yourself. If you lapse at a decision point, treat it reflective of those specific circumstances, not a failure that speaks to some inadequacy at the core of your being. By having a plan in place to be kind to yourself in the event of failure, you make it easier to recommit to the program in the event of a small failure.

4. Set small goals within larger goals.

When I first began doing ab exercises, I would set a big goal of doing (say) 30 situps. I would then break that down into 2 sets of 15. Once you do the first 15, you see that it is achievable and it is easier to go into the second set. By making time to recognize progress regularly, you start to enjoy—and as a result, to solidify-- your new habits.