How I tricked myself into exercising regularly

Eight weeks ago, I caught a sight of myself in the mirror and I got a huge shock.  I knew that I’d gained a fair bit of weight over the last years, but this time, I saw another big increase in my weight and this shocked me into thinking about what to do about it.

I have been saying to myself ever since I gained weight (I used to have a perfect body shape) that I would start working out again.  Quite often, when having these big shocks, I would start working out again.  I’d feel a rush of energy and enthusiasm and I’d do a workout.

But this would last only a short duration and then I wouldn’t think about working out again until the next time I asked myself why I haven’t been working out? Often weeks and months would pass before the thought of working out entered my head.

This time around though, I didn’t even want to exercise or work out.  I was tired, fat and less than enthusiastic, but deep down I knew I must do it, no matter what, because I had hit my ultimate fat limit where I knew if I gained more weight after this it would be quite difficult to turn back.

I realised then and there that I had to trick myself into this.  Since I didn’t want to work out at all, I knew that at the very least I could force myself to do ten minutes even though I didn’t want to do ten minutes.  We can all do anything we don’t like for ten minutes right?

The 5 X 10 idea

Then I had the idea that even if I couldn’t do a 50 minute workout straight away, I could force myself to do 5 X 10 minute workout sessions in a day, at least three times a week, just to get me back into the habit of working out again.  And even if those 10 minute sessions were not consecutive, I could spread them over a day.  For example 2 X 10 minutes in morning, 2 X 10 mins in afternoon, 1 X 10 minutes in the evening.

This idea was to just force myself to do it – no matter how much mental resistance I experienced.

Then I realised that if I don’t have something in front of me that reminds me to do it daily or every other day, I won’t do it.  I’ll get easily distracted with some other thing, and forget.

For this reason I didn’t go with anything like a Fitbit, or a computer app.  I wanted something visual on my desk that would act as a reminder.

It then occurred to me that I love checklists and measuring results, so I came up with the idea of creating a form that I had to print out and fill out weekly to demonstrate that I had done my “workouts”.

I created a form with 7 columns at the top – each one representing the day of the week starting Monday and ending Sunday.

Under each day was 10 rows – so each row represents a 10 minute segment.  I realised that I might actually start to enjoy working out again, and days where I felt full of energy I might want to work out a bit longer than 5 X 10 minute segments, so I left extra room to fill in more spaces if I did more.

Example of daily workout worksheet

I decided that at the beginning of each week I would print this form out and write at the top Week 1, Week 2 etc.

I also decided to leave the printed form on top of my filing cabinet which sits to the right of my desk.  In this way I would see the Workout Form several times a day and this would prompt me to do it.

As for rules, I didn’t want to hold myself to working out every day, but I wanted to work out 3 – 5 times per week, at least.

Three to five times a week means a serious change in health and exercise.

I also didn’t want to injure myself so decided I would just go easy until I noticed my strength and fitness increasing.

I also did this because I wanted to look back in eight weeks time and see if I stuck to it.

So this is what happened during those eight weeks:

Week 1 – I did 1 X 40 minute workout, and 3 X 50 minute workouts.

Week 2 – I did only 1 X 50 minute workout – see notes below.

Week 3 – I did 2 X 50 minute workouts, and 2 X 60 minute workouts.

Week 4 – I did 2 X 40 minute, 1 X 60 minute, 1 X 50 minute workouts.

Week 5 – I did 1 X 30 minute, 1 X 70 minute, and 1 X 80 minute workouts.

Week 6 – I did 1 X 50 minute, 1 X 40 minute, 1 X 80 minute workouts.

Week 7 – I did 2 X 60, and 1 X 50 minute workouts.

Week 8 – I did 1 X 40, and 1 X  50 minute workouts.

Notes:  In the second week, I had so much energy from working out in Week 1, I couldn’t sleep!  I had a whole week of disrupted sleep and was very tired during the day.

In week 8 I had some conflicting Family things to deal with that sort of mucked up my planning.

The Results

The main thing I want to share is this:  I feel happier.  Working out a few times a week has given me a dramatic improvement in my mood.  I feel more upbeat and I haven’t had many bouts of feeling down.  I feel more optimistic about the future.

I have a lot more energy.  I am still having trouble sleeping as it seems I’ve got a lot of energy that wants to be burned off, but I am managing to sleep a lot better than what I did in Week 2.

I got off pain killers – for the last few years I’ve had chronic pain in my back, shoulders and neck from working at the computer all day.  I’ve had no chronic pain since I started forcing myself to exercise.

I look forward to exercising now.

I also found, I never had to do the 5 X 10 minute exercise segments spread out over a day.  Once I started I felt like I just wanted to get them out of the way so I did them in succession.  Early on I did sit down for a few minutes between some 10 minute sessions just to regather my energy.

However, the point is, I really did trick myself into exercising.

In the first four to five weeks, a lot of those 10 minute sessions felt horribly difficult.  I didn’t want to do them.  But as I kept going my body would warm up and once I warmed up it was easier.  Still I want to emphasize how often I experienced not wanting to do it when I started.  But I love working out now.  I look forward to it.

The biggest blast came when at the beginning of Week 8, I hadn’t worked out for about 5 days, and I discovered I had developed amazing muscular strength in my legs – this blew me away.  Where everything hurt before, this was now almost effortless.  The strength was finally there, even after a lot of days break in between.

By the end of week 4 I had barely lost any weight.  I started researching a new eating plan which suits my lifestyle,  I implemented it and I’ve now lost some weight and still have more to loose.

I will continue with this method now permanently to make sure I do work out as often as I need to.


The thing is even if you don’t really want to do something but you know you should do it, you can trick yourself into doing it like I did.

And you can use this 5 X 10 minute method to achieve any type of change or goal.

This morning I thought of four more things I want to do in life, and so I made up sheets for those.

Those are now sitting on top of my filing cabinet with the exercise worksheets.

Not only did I discover how to get myself fit and healthy again, I also discovered an easy new way to achieve any goal.

  • Just create a worksheet for that goal,
  • decide how many times per week you’re going to make yourself do it, and break it down into smaller segments to get over the mental resistance;
  • put it somewhere you will see it each day
  • and then go do it and have fun marking it off.

You can download my FivebyTenWorkout spreadsheet here.