Full text of sociologist Christine Carter’s talk: Confessions of a Bad Exerciser at TEDxMarin conference. In this talk, she shares a simple step to shift your mindset and keep you on track to achieving your grandest ambitions.
Best quote from this talk:
“When we abandon our grand plans and great ambitions in favor of taking that first step, we shift. And paradoxically, it’s only in that tiny shift that our grand plans and great ambitions are truly born.”
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Christine Carter – Author, Speaker, and Coach
I don’t know about you, but when our family got the stay-at-home order in March of 2020, I came out of the gates pretty darn hot.
“Embrace not being so busy,” I wrote. “Take this time at home to get into a new happiness habit.”
That seems hilarious to me now.
My pre-coronavirus routines fell apart hard and fast. Some days, I would realize at dinner time that not only had I not showered or gotten dressed that day, but I hadn’t even brushed my teeth.
Now, you are a smart, accomplished, TED Talk-watching individual, so coping with this global pandemic might have been easier for you than it has been for me.
Even though I have coached people for a very long time in an effective, science-based method of habit formation, I struggled.
Truth be told, for the first few months of the pandemic, I more or less refused to follow my own best advice. This is because I love to set ambitious goals. Getting into a good little habit is just so much less exciting to me than embracing a big, juicy, audacious goal.
Take exercise, for example. When the coronavirus hit, I optimistically embraced the idea that I could get back into running outside. I picked a half-marathon to train for and spent a week or so meticulously devising a very detailed training plan.
But then I actually only stuck to my ambitious training schedule for a few weeks. All that planning and preparation led only to a spectacular failure to exercise.
I skipped my training runs despite feeling like the importance of exercise and the good health that it brings has never been more bracingly clear, despite knowing that exercise would cut my risk of heart disease, for example, in half, despite knowing that exercise radically reduces the probability that we’ll get cancer and diabetes, and that it’s at least as effective as prescription medication when it comes to reducing depression and anxiety.
I also knew that exercise really improves our memory and our learning and that it makes our brain so much more efficient and powerful.
So why in the world would I skip exercise despite knowing all of this?
The truth is that our ability to follow through on our best intentions, to get into a new habit, like exercise, or to change our behavior in any way, really, doesn’t actually depend on the reasons we might do it or on the depth of our convictions that we should do so.
It doesn’t depend on our understanding of the benefits of our particular behavior or even on the strength of our willpower. It depends on our willingness to be bad at our desired behavior.
And I hate being bad at stuff – I am a “go big or go home” kind of a gal. I like being good at things, and I quit exercising because I wasn’t willing to be bad at it.
Here’s why we need to be willing to be bad: Being good requires that our effort and our motivation be in proportion to each other. The harder something is for us to do, the more motivation we need to do that thing.
And you might have noticed, but motivation isn’t something that we can always muster on command. Whether we like it or not, motivation comes, and motivation goes.
When motivation wanes, plenty of research shows that we human beings tend to follow the law of the least effort, meaning we just do the easiest thing.
New behaviors tend to require a lot of effort because change is really hard. So change can require a lot of motivation, which we just can’t count on having. This is why we often don’t do the things that we really do intend to do.
To establish an exercise routine, I needed to let myself be kind of half-assed about it. I needed to stop trying to be an actual athlete. I started exercising again by running for only one minute at a time.
Every morning after I brush my teeth, I change out of my pajamas and walk out the door, my only goal to run for one full minute.
These days usually I actually do run for 15 or 20 minutes. But on the days that I’m totally lacking in motivation or I just feel like I have no time, I still do that one minute. And this minimal effort always turns out to be way better than if I did nothing.