The Embarrassing Way I Got Into the Best Shape Of My Life

best shape of my life

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I was trapped behind my ambition.

I knew the supreme importance of exercise and how it would benefit me so much, and yet I couldn’t do it consistently. I’d often think, “I can’t do my 30-minute workout today because [excuse]. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The benefits we gain from exercising are unreal. When you exercise, you improve your health, circulation, body, stress levels, moods, mental sharpness, willpower, libido, and more. Singling out any one of those makes exercise an exciting and worthwhile pursuit, but we get them all.

Knowing the Benefits Isn’t Enough

Why is it some people can have knowledge of the serious risks from smoking and the out-of-this-world benefits of exercise, and still choose to smoke and rarely exercise? The allure of bad habits is one thing, but another problem is that they are both so important.

Counterintuitively, life’s most important things can make us turn away because important means “don’t mess this up,” and that scares us. And so we’ll think, “if I can’t do this right, I won’t do it at all.” We may not think this consciously, but it’s the underlying idea behind many cases of inaction. It’s a combination of perfectionism and intimidation.

I know this because I used to live this way.

It was this same story in every area of my life that really mattered to me. I avoided the important things in favor of that which mattered less; something that I couldn’t fail at. Realizing this was the key to turning my life around, and it can do the same for you.

How to Turn Your Life Around Right Now

If you’re in a rough patch, you need exercise. Those benefits I listed above are SO real, and you’ll find that when you take care of your body, a lot of other things fall into place. But if you want to never fail to exercise again, you can’t go the usual way of “I’m gonna DO THIS!”

You have to make exercise more like playing video games or watching TV. After all, these are likely the things you find easiest to spend your time on.

But how? How do you make exercising like watching TV? Here are some suggestions:

1. Devalue Exercise

The first thing to do is devalue it. Treat it casually to make it approachable. Exercise isn’t better than you. It’s not an untouchable, exclusive thing only for people with 4% body fat. It basically means moving your body around. If you flailed your limbs for 2 minutes, that’s exercise.

Don’t see exercise as some golden ticket that’s going to save your life (even though it can). Act like it’s just something to mess around with, in the sense that you’d do a push-up randomly for no reason, just like you probably watch random YouTube videos for no reason.

There actually is entertainment value in viewing your life this way, too. It’s funny to drop in the middle of Walmart and crank out a few push-ups. This type of public display might not suit everyone.

2. Destroy Your Concept of a Workout

Second, destroy your concept of a workout. A workout isn’t 30 minutes long. A workout doesn’t only happen at the gym. A workout is dancing to your favorite song as you eat a doughnut. A workout is 3 push-ups in the morning. Reject the idea that an activity isn’t big enough. Reject the idea that eating a doughnut means you’ve “chosen the dark side” and means you can’t exercise at the same time.

Right now, raise your arms up and move them around a little bit. That’s exercise. If you struggle with exercise, it’s because you’ve put it on a pedestal; you’ve made it untouchable; you’ve incorrectly assumed that it’s too hard for you.

3. Mess Around With It

Third, commit to “messing around” with exercise every day. You don’t have to be a hero, you just have to move a bit. Easy. Simple.

This Is Obtainable, and Not Insignificant

I’m in great shape now. I can do 8 pull-ups with 10 pounds tied to my waist (or 16 in a row without). Before this, I could only do 4 or 5 pull-ups without extra weight. Want to know my secret? Want to hear about it all began?

I did one push-up per day, every day. This was my “stupid” and “meaningless” beginning that evolved into the elusive gym habit I had wanted for years. After six months of doing one push-up per day, I was shocked to see how my brain had changed. I was able to make the leap to going to the gym 3-5x per week, doing full workouts. I’ve been doing this for 11 months straight now.

If you’re in the middle of another one of your motivation struggles to “really do it this time” and stick to your massive life-changing goal, please stop. Let it go. Drop your “life-changing plan” that hasn’t ever changed your life and adopt this one, which really can change your life.

The reason people can’t change is usually because they want so badly to change. If this is you, give yourself a break and drop the guilt. You were never the problem—your strategy was. How can you be the problem? You’re just going to be yourself. The variable is what strategy you use.

It’s mathematical why we fail to reach our fitness goals. Strong desire causes us to set goals beyond our willpower strength (which is limited, but can be strengthened). This limits progress to the short term. Short-term change is worthless. If it doesn’t last, the strategy was flawed.

What This Can Do For You

The goal with this is twofold: to do something that you can do forever and change the way you look at exercise.

By viewing exercise in a playful, unintimidating, and “this is too easy” kind of way, you’re going to change your brain’s relationship with exercise. My brain prefers exercise now. Before, it was a huge battle to get myself to the gym.

I tell you this with great eagerness and sincerity because I know this is the way. I’ve written a book about it called Mini Habits which is highly acclaimed and changing lives as I type this. The basis of the book is how these small, but consistent actions can decrease resistance over time by becoming habitual.

We Have the Luxury of Choosing Our Challenges.

What if you never lost again? What if you always hit or exceeded your targets?

To exercise consistently, change what “exercise” means by aiming for a small target you can’t possibly miss. If you’re truly not satisfied with that small amount, you can do more. I rarely only did one push-up. Aim for the sure win first, and then go to war. And just like that, you’ll convince your stubborn brain to exercise.

46 thoughts on “The Embarrassing Way I Got Into the Best Shape Of My Life”

  1. Hi Stephen.

    As always it has been pure pleasure to read your article. Your writing has an almost uncanny superpower to stir me into action. This article is as valuable as all the other ones. Thanks for this. :)

    1. Hi Priya,

      It’s nice to see you here. And wow, thank you so much. That means a lot to me. I wish you great success in your endeavors!

  2. This was terrific and I think the key for your success was BABY STEPS. One stupid pushup per day changed your life. I’m a writer and that’s just what I tell those who say they don’t know how to do it. You write a book one word at a time. Great. Thanks.

    1. That’s the key, Marcy. And it’s not just baby steps, it’s doing them consistently to form a mini-sized habit that becomes a powerful foundation for further growth in an area. I wrote my book with a mini habit of writing 50 words per day. I’ve done it for about 300 days in a row now, and I write about 4x as much as I did before!

  3. Great article, thanks!
    This ‘perfection/intimidation-inaction’ thing is a vicious cycle. I’ve been in it for so long, and I always blame myself for not achieving everything that I’m capable. I’d read in an online comic about making boring tasks fun. But I always end up lazy, and like you said, take up things that matter less and that I can’t fail at.
    I exercise quite often, and I’m motivated by the results to do more. For me, this applies to studies and other aspects of life.
    It would be great if you could write a more detailed post on this. I’m sure there are many others who would be interested too.

    1. Thanks Ajith! I’ve written a book about this called “Mini Habits.” Believe it or not, it would be difficult to cover everything in a single post. There are a lot of things like motivation vs. willpower, how long it takes to form a habit, how many habits to pursue at once, etc. that require in-depth analysis.

  4. Hi Stephen. Thanks for the insight. Hope you are doing well.
    About a month ago, I was so stubborn, I didn’t even feel to get out of the couch or in front of the computer to take myself out for a walk. I was very lazy. Today, I do speed-walking continuously for 4 kilometers each day and I always crave to do more. I was not like this a month ago. I never thought that a simple exercise, like walking, will change me like I’m now. Today, still, I do walking, pushups & pull-up 15kg-dumbells once every day. I started pushups some days ago, but can do 2-3 at times, but, I’m sure I can do more if I do it everyday.

    This walking has become a everyday habit. I feel more confident, and above all, I feel happy now. I didnt feel like this a month ago. It i ssuch an amazing feeling !

    I advice to people who don’t/can’t exercise by simply starting a daily-walk (not 3-4 days/week, mind you). Start with 30-minutes per day on a calm road or in a park. I’m a music lover, so I created a playlist in my phone with motivational songs and play them all through the walking duration.

    It truely feels great. I mean it !

    Thank you for reading.

    Nagpur, India

    1. Hi Prajith. Walking is a great form of exercise and it’s easy enough that most people aren’t intimidated to do it. It sounds like you have great exercise habits developing. Keep it up! And I’m sure you’ll be able to do more push-ups if you do them daily. I was surprised at how much stronger I became just from doing 1-20 push-ups a day.


    2. I physically would have a really hard time starting with 30 mon of walking. Back pain would be too much. Taking the garbage out gets me winded andy back starts hurting. I like permission to.start with something smaller and get.consistent
      Consistency is always an issue. I start.strong and them stop.

  5. Stephen,

    It’s very rare to be so humble in your thinning especially when you have achieved so much.

    It’s also very rare to have the knowledge and communicate it so clearly.

    This article has been written with such humility that it had helped inspire your readers sincerely.

    A lot of your readers will implement exercise into their daily life now and will look forward to you leading their journey towards excellence.

    We look forward to gaining inspiration from regular articles and giving you feedback on our progress – a direct result of your guidance!

  6. Array, thank you. I’m glad you found this helpful. And I’m glad the article came across as humble. I strongly believe in this way of personal growth, so I’m eager to share it with the world. I appreciate the support (and thanks to Peter for hosting this article).

  7. Dang it all Stephen! You just shattered my excuses! :) Actually, I’m only sort of kidding. I have had similar issues about putting exercise on “a pedestal” as you put it – because there is no way that at this time I can do 10 pushups. Or even a pull-up. So, because I cannot (at this time) do that, I figured that it’s out of reach (“so why try?”).

    But you just threw down the gauntlet. I sell a goal setting book that I wrote, and am going to put my own advice into action on this particular challenge. I am now writing down – for all the world at the Change Blog to see – that I am hereby committing to starting – even with just ONE pushup – ONE PUSHUP PER DAY for the next 30 days beginning today, July 6, 2014. (NOTE: I just stopped typing, and got down on the floor and did today’s pushup. It only hurt a little).

    I already walk nearly every day, but it’s time to up the ante.

    I will practice what I preach at my own site. I will publicly report back here – and it won’t be hanging my head in shame. I’ll be perfectly honest with what I accomplished in the days from today until August 6th. (You have my email on this post I believe – so you can always hound me! Or hound me at my Facebook page that is on my site. I will ‘fess up to you and all!)

    Thank you for a very unique way of looking at exercise. Very cool indeed.


    On my goals and objectives form, I am writing to check back in to this post on August 6th to report back to you.

  8. I have put exercise on a pedestal too when the strongest gains I have made have actually been from progressive gradual improvements when I wasn’t even aware I was exercising or when I was training for team sports. Thanks very much for your advice – I will start to put it in practice and let you know how it goes.

  9. Stephen, congratulations on your success!

    You are doing great things by getting others to overcome fears of working out. I know for me, it was all about starting with something I felt comfortable with. Once that fear dissipates, confidence takes its place.

    The mind is such a powerful motivator, great thoughts on the mindset!


    1. Hi Ethan, that’s a well-explained summary of fear and confidence—it ties in perfectly with neuroscience. The subconscious determines our comfort zone, and if you stretch it too far, it will rebel and pull you back, but if you can stretch it a little and do it consistently, it will result in a permanent expansion of what you’re comfortable with. That’s exactly how I went from one push-up a day to going to the gym 3-5x a week (which I’ve done for more than a year now!).

  10. You have got a new reader and believer…thank you for taking the time to write and share this.


    1. Thank you, Ankur. Try this out. It really works. I’d also recommend reading my Mini Habits book for the scientific, detailed explanation as to why. One article can only scratch the surface. :-)


  11. Stephen,

    That was an amazing article that really got me thinking. Having recently acquired a part time role (I wanted full time) instead of being disappointed about what hours I get, I will look on the upside of being able to get back into fitness which was a passion for me that I let slip over 8 years ago. And with all the extra benefits of healthy body and mind I will be in a better position to push hard for the full time role I am after. Thanks for the spark of motivation which I hope burns for a long time.

    Sincerely James

    Ps I submitted my email with this feel free to add me to whatever mailing list you may have of articles etc. thanks again

    1. Hi James,

      Your email isn’t published with your comment, so I don’t have it. My newsletter is released each Tuesday and comes with some nice bonuses (all free). It contains an expanded version of the articles I post each Monday on my site. Also, this isn’t advertised, but I run pretty frequent giveaways for subscribers only. Last week, for example, I gave away 2 Mini Habits audiobooks, 2 Mini Habits paperbacks, and a $25 Amazon gift card.

      For my articles, you can sign up here:

      And if you want to subscribe to the Change Blog, Peter has a sign up form here:


  12. Hi Stephen,

    I like your perspective on exercise. I used to have issues with this as well. I have always wanted to have a six-pack but I did not know where to start. One day, my friend actually challenged me to start with 10 sit ups a day and then increase it by 5 after every week. And that’s exactly what I did. After a couple of months of doing situps consistently and watching my diet, I now have a six pack ab which I am very proud of.


  13. This is just great!!!right now when I’m trying to make a new strategy to workout regularly,your article has popped in my mail.
    The number of times I planned to exercise and failed is too big a number.Right now I just walked in my office cabin and I have started my exercise :-)
    This article has inspired to look at exercise not as an uphill task.
    Thank you…..

    1. Prior to starting my mini habits, I had planned but failed to exercise consistently for ten years. TEN. It was frustrating. Now I’ve exercised at least 3x a week for a year. I hope you have the same results!

  14. THANK YOU!! For finding the words to describe how I feel and think about exercise, and for relieving the guilt so I can get on with it. i know, all of these answers are to come ‘from within’, but hearing it from another who had the same mindset is so very helpful. I can now get past the excuses and actually do something..I’m tired of the cycle of beating up on self for not doing anything..thank you,thank you…

    1. You’re quite welcome, Julia. Beating yourself up with guilt and feelings of inadequacy is NOT the way. Start with guaranteed success, and build from there. That’s a formula that works. Good luck!

  15. Hey Stephen,
    Well done on your accomplishments, my friend! I’ve been a personal trainer for 16 years and I know exactly where you’re coming from with this. I teach my clients the very basics and work up from there.

    Most people are clueless when it comes to exercise and nutrition and are easily overwhelmed. The key is breaking it down into manageable and understandable steps. I see too many trainer trying to force massive changes on their clients and it just doesn’t work.

    1. Thanks Steve. I know what you mean. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by life as a whole, let alone nutrition and exercise! I’m glad you’ve taught your clients the right way. We need more of that in the world!

  16. You just described what I was crying over this morning. My inability to reach any goals because I expect to fail. So thanks. I expect this to help.

  17. Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring story and about “Mini Habits”.

    I just subscribed to your website. Look forward to have more of such wonderful posts/articles…

  18. I have been making my bed, every day, for the past 2 years. Is this a “mini habit”?

    I feel like I am fighting to establish more “mini habits” due to things in my past.
    Not an “excuse”, rather fear of getting stuck in some sort of “rut”.

    This post is very interesting, and I appreciate you very much for sharing it with me. Thank you.

  19. This is awesome! I know exactly how it feels because I am the same. I have set high goals for myself when it comes to exercising and studying for my STEP exam, that I tend to put off because I feel intimidated and afraid of failure. Great idea to start training my brain to take baby steps and do little by little each day! Cheers, Mel

  20. I am one who has difficulty getting motivated to “work out”. These steps will certainly work for me. It’s funny how I do this type of thing for other parts of my life. Thank you for helping me realize I can do the same for exercise :)

  21. This article is SO ridiculously relevant to my maladaptive patterns. This was good for me to read. Thank you :)

  22. I have always been skinny and I had always wanted to gain weight but didn’t matter how much I ate I was always not able to gain weight. Even If I would gain a few kg’s I would lose them even faster but then I joined a gym a few months ago.

    Now all thanks to working out and the motivation and positivity that comes with it I am able to eat more and healthy and have been able to gain 10 kgs from when I first started out working out. Other then the great shape I am in I feel working out has build confidence as well improved my self esteem.

    Prajith comment really has inspired me and I will from now on start walking as well :)

  23. Hi all… here it is, 30 days after I said I would check back in. Ok, as is usually the case in stuff like this, I started off gangbusters, and didn’t miss a day for the first week or so. I noticed that doing the pushups was really difficult – I have a “clicking” pain in my elbows that makes me cringe.

    So, I lost a couple of days before figuring out what to do about this. I turned to “wall planks” and “countertop pushups,” and have been doing those quite regularly. I also began “flexing” on a pullup bar in the cellar – in other words, even though I cannot do a pullup, I would lift myself off the chair to hang from the bar and hold the pose for at least 10 seconds, then do it again.

    I also incorporated a few other small, “1 step at a time” exercises – like “5 situps,” now “10 situps.”

    So, after a month of saying I would do 1 pushup per day, I would have to say that I’ve done more overall exercise in 30 days than I have in a year or more. I’ve certainly done far, far more than the 30 pushups that was the original goal. And, I now have a few small “assists” at my desk, and near the front door so that I see them and am reminded to “just do a couple of seconds” of this or that – otherwise it tends to be “out of sight-out of mind,” so I am greatly encouraged. And this is resulting in much more arm and upper body strength – IT IS NOTICABLE!

    I’m lifting and moving stuff I haven’t lifted or moved in a few years. My upper back is feeling stronger, and I think I’m on a roll!

    I enjoy this. Small steps, small challenges – big gains! :)

    1. Kathy, that’s what I love to hear. You’re crushing it!

      As someone who’s done this for about a year now, all I can say is keep doing it. It will keep getting better! I’ve been doing about 50 pull-ups a day now and it’s fun. When your brain habitualizes the behavior, it gets even better with less resistance and more automaticity.


  24. This is a fantastic article! For me, the difficulty isn’t about exercise (if anything, I’m the opposite, with that, and need to remember to take days off) but as soon as I began reading, I realised I could apply it to areas of my life where I do really struggle to get organised – areas where I repeatedly set myself high and admirable standards and, however hard I try, invariably, eventually, come crashing back down… (For me, I admit, this is mostly with household chores, paper-filing and suchlike. I want to live in a tidy and organised environment, but every time I fail, I give up a little bit more.) Reading this article gives me hope that I might be able to flick some switches in my brain and form some good little habits in this department, one at a time. Perfect timing too, as I’d already embarked on a “blitzing the house” week when I read it, so from now on, I can just try to form these mini-habits to stay on top of things… Thank you!

  25. The paragraph beginning with “Counterintuitively” is a pivotal insight; it applies to other areas of personal improvement, too. If you could condense it to one line, it would be more precious than the Sunzi quote. But then again, I don’t want to scare you. ;-)

  26. “What if you never lost again?” This hit me hard. That would be awesome. I agree that setting small, achievable goals helps us gain momentum, and baby steps add up to great things over time.

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