Learn how I managed to get into a consistent workout routine, meet my goals, and form long-lasting habits.
Can I be honest? I hesitated to write this post. Sometimes when I see other people write things like "I do XYZ every single day," I panic and think, "Well, I'm not doing XYZ every day! Should I be doing XYZ every day? She has it all together and I am a mess!"
I end up discouraged and playing the comparison game, and it's just not healthy all around. So please let me just say right up front that I fail at lots of things all the time. (It was failing over and over that led to starting this workout streak in the first place!)
And I most definitely do not have it all together.
And I had a very specific reason for working out for a year straight (which I will get to in a moment).
Lessons Learned from My Year-Long Workout Streak
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
I ultimately decided to talk about my workout streak even though it kind of deviates from my regular home/organizing content because I learned a lot about habits and goals and what can be accomplished simply by being willing to show up every day. And I thought those lessons might be helpful for some others as well.
Most of the lessons I learned are not unique to fitness. I could have learned very similar things by writing 1000 words per day. Or reading for an hour per day. Or really devoting time to any one thing consistently for a significant amount of time. So whatever your goal is, even if it isn't fitness related at all, I hope that this post will be useful for you.
So here we go. After working out for [now more than] 365 days in a row, here are some of the things I've learned...
Why I Did It
I don't talk about it much anymore, but I am a carrier of the BRCA1 genetic mutation. BRCA1 gives me an incredibly high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. (You can read my story here.)
To help mitigate my risk, I had a preventative surgery in 2014 and another in 2017. I am very thankful for modern medicine and that these surgeries were available to me. And I'm thankful that they helped lower my chances of getting breast or ovarian cancer to almost nothing!
But there were also some tradeoffs. One of the side effects of my 2017 surgery was that I now have an increased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Thankfully, these side effects can be combatted with both cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
If I was willing to undergo major surgeries in order to increase my chances of being around to see my kids grow up, I definitely didn't want to spend those years dealing with broken bones or heart issues! I knew I needed to be proactive.
I failed over and over.
And yet, life is busy, and for the first few years after my surgeries, I still struggled to be consistent about exercise, even though I realized how important it was.
During my best attempts, I would complete a 30-day or 60-day program on the Beachbody app or another routine I found online. But when the program was over, I would inevitably go on another workout hiatus and not exercise at all for several months.
This can be a downside to achieving a goal in any area. Once we've checked the goal off of our list, unless we have a solid plan for what we'll do next, we tend to drop the ball completely or at least flounder around for a little bit until we figure our what our next steps should be.
I was sick of the rollercoaster of working out consistently for a little while and then losing my momentum and ultimately giving up. I didn't want to just complete a certain program for X number of days. Instead, I wanted to become a fit and healthy person who exercises on a consistent basis indefinitely.
Setting an Open-Ended Goal
So rather than setting a workout goal for a certain number of days or a certain distance to run or another event with a set end date, I decided to create an open-ended goal. I decided to find out how many days in a row I could keep up my workout routine without missing a day.
[For those of you saying, "But that's not healthy! Your body needs to rest!", don't worry! My workout for at least one day each week is a light stretching/yoga recovery day. On weeks where I feel more worn out, I throw in an extra stretching day if I need it.]
I realize that more open-ended goal setting goes against conventional wisdom. We're always told that our goals should be "time-bound." And I get that. Without an end date, it can feel like we're never going to reach the finish line, we become disinterested, and we quit.
But in this instance, I was attempting to create more of a lifelong habit than just a short-term win. So the "don't break the streak" strategy seemed like an exciting challenge.
Keeping the Motivation Going in My Workout Routine
At first, I didn't really follow any kind of workout program at all. I would just wake up, decide what workout I felt like doing that day (usually trying to alternate cardio and strength training), and go from there.
And for nearly two months, that worked. I wasn't feeling the need for more structure. I was keeping up my workout streak. And I was well on my way to building a fitness habit.
I kept a list on the Evernote app on my phone so that I could make sure I was keeping my streak alive. I listed the date, the workout I did, and the amount of time it took. [This list is also fun and motivating to look back on so I can see how far I've come! For example, I can now run five miles faster than I could run just four miles when I started!]
But as often happens when we're working on goals or habits, I found my motivation starting to wane a little bit. I was getting bored. It was time to add a new challenge into the mix to help renew my excitement and keep me going.
My overall workout streak was great for helping me build a consistent habit. But I also found that setting shorter term goals or deadlines within the long-term streak was a way to give my motivation a boost every once in a while.
So at about the two month mark, I decided to loosely follow Beachbody's P90X program. (I had done all 90 days about 10 years ago and wanted to see if I could do it again now that I'm older!)
Eliminating Decisions and Planning Ahead
I took a blank calendar and planned out my workout routine for the next 90 days. I kind of love crossing off each day after I had completed it. (So satisfying, right?!) And this simple calendar also helped to eliminate a lot of decision making.
I no longer had to think about what my workout was going to be that day. It was already pre-planned for me. I just had to show up and do whatever was on the calendar.
As I was coming to the end of the 90-day workout routine, I was at about the five month mark of my streak, and I didn't want to ruin it! So before the 90 days were up, I decided what workouts I was going to do next and made a new calendar (for 60 days this time) that picked up where my 90-day calendar had left off.
I got another burst of motivation from completing one program in its entirety and starting a new one. And rather than signaling to my brain "We're done!" on day 91, I was able to continue my workout streak because I had a plan for what I was going to do next.
Confidence as a Result of Consistency
As my workout streak got longer and longer and I completed program after program, not only was I meeting my goal of working out consistently, but my confidence also started to grow.
I have never felt like I was a super gifted athlete by nature. I have always told myself things like...
I'm not very fast.
I'm not a runner.
I can't lift heavy weights.
I have no upper body strength, so I'll never be able to do a chin-up.
And so on.
But showing up day after day and having a record of what I accomplished helped me to call some of those things into question. And instead of saying, "I'm not/I can't..." I began to say, "I wonder if I could..."
And some pretty cool things started to happen.
I went from being convinced that I was "not very fast" and "not a runner" to finishing a half marathon in under two hours.
I went from being very intimidated by lifting weights to putting a full weight room in my basement and looking forward to the days when I get to lift heavy.
And I went from telling myself that I had "no upper body strength" to being able do a chin-up from a dead hang.
All things I thought I would never ever be able to do!
Don't quit too soon.
You see, I think so many times when we consider these harder endeavors (like running a half marathon or doing a chin-up in my case), we only think about that single moment when the task is actually accomplished.
If we see someone complete a marathon and know that just running a mile would make us winded, it feels like we could never accomplish the thing that they did. But what we didn't see were the months and even years leading up to the race, where they showed up every day and worked hard to train their bodies to be able to finish the marathon.
We want the gratification that comes in the moment that we complete the big task, but often we don't stick with those days of hard work when no one is really watching long enough to see our goal come to fruition, so we just default to "I can't."
It took me working out 270 days in a row before I could run a half marathon on day 271. But if I would have even quit on day 200 (which is still a lot of days!) I wouldn't have accomplished it.
I worked out for 300 days in a row before I finally did a chin-up on day 301. (And that first one was UGLY, but it happened!) But if I would have quit on day 250, I wouldn't have accomplished it.
These are obviously fitness examples, but imagine what we could accomplish in other areas of our lives if we were consistent and intentional over long periods of time? Probably more than we've ever dreamed! How many of those "I can't/I'm not" statements could we turn into "I did!"?!
But we won't ever see it come to fruition if we quit too soon.
The Plateau of Latent Potential
In his phenomenal book Atomic Habits, James Clear says, "Habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance...In order to make a meaningful difference, habits need to persist long enough to break through this plateau-- what I call the Plateau of Latent Potential" (page 20; I've been trying to read Atomic Habits every year because it is SO GOOD. Highly recommend!).
Most times when we feel like our good habits aren't amounting to anything, we just haven't hit that Plateau of Latent Potential yet. But one of the biggest things my workout streak has taught me is that I can do WAY more than I initially thought I was capable of... if I'm only willing to stick with my positive habits long enough.
My Workout Streak Alone Isn't Enough
Finally, as my workout streak continues to go on longer and longer (I'm on day 373 as of the date of this writing.), I'm coming to realize that I can't rely on JUST my streak to keep me consistent with working out.
The reality is, someday my streak will break. (I'm not-so-secretly hoping that it is because I make a conscious choice to break it rather than getting busy, forgetting, and then waking up the next day and realizing that I broke it by accident!)
If my streak is the only thing keeping me going, then when the streak ends, I will have a similar result to when my 60 or 90 day workout routine ended-- I will completely fall off the wagon and give up.
Along with the external motivator of keeping up with my workout, I also need to be internally motivated. I have to want to be consistent with my workouts because of the health benefits I know will result.
And if I begin to think of myself as a "fit and healthy person" rather than "someone who can't stick to a workout routine to save her life," I will (hopefully) continue to make the choices of a fit and healthy person and continue to exercise consistently, even if that doesn't mean every. single. day.
Start showing up.
I really have been blown away by what can happen if I'm willing to show up consistently for a long period of time.
And now that I've seen the results with my workout routine, I can't wait to test it out in other areas (in my relationship with God, in my business, in my relationships with others, and in fun hobbies I'd like to pursue)!
Change is often not quick. And it's almost never easy. But if we quit saying "I can't" and start showing up, positive change is most definitely possible.
(Want to save this post to come back to later? Be sure to pin the image below!)
And if you're looking for more ideas on creating habits and following through on goals, these posts can help:
Thanks so much for following along! Have a wonderful day!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.