How can I consistently exercise with my very unpredictable schedule? || Coaching Call with LauraJul 23, 2023
Almost every time that I ask what habits the women in this community want help with, I get many of the same responses about developing a consistent exercise routine. In this episode you'll listen as I walk through the steps toward creating that habit with Laura, a community member, and mom of three young kids who works a demanding job with two very different schedules.
My approach may seem different than what you're used to, and even Laura, who admitted to doing a lot of her own habit research, had some major a-ha moments. From the ideal image of her habit, and the feelings associated with it, to a baseline version that she can do on her worst-of-days, plus a mantra she can quickly incorporate, you'll witness the entire process. The difference is my emphasis on identity, an essential part of habit formation that you can learn about and implement in your own life and habits.
About a few other things...
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Monica: Laura, welcome to this coaching call. I'm so excited.
Laura: Thanks for having me.
Monica: Let's start with a little introduction. Tell us about you.
Laura: So I am a mom of three littles. I have twin twin boys who will be five next month. And then I have a 14 month old infant. I am a professor in a tenure track job in the medical field. So my work is pretty intense. I spend like half of my time in the hospital seeing patients, which is pretty heavy from a, like a lot of hours in a week standpoint.
And then I also the other half of the time I'm more flexible working on writing, research, teaching, et cetera.
Monica: Amazing. That does sound extremely intense. Even just the twin factor alone. I was thinking about that on a walk yesterday, like, How could I have done this with two of them? I don't know.
Laura: The twin factor is is real.
Monica: Yeah, well bless you for that. And you know, I know there's a few, there's a lot we can talk about today. Let's start with just like if, if you were to just phrase it as a quick question, what would that be? Why you're here at this coaching call?
Laura: So my question is how do I, with my dynamic schedule and my varied exercise needs, work exercise consistently into my days or weeks without quitting all the time.
Monica: So the main problem is consistency,
Monica: and it's also reaching what you want, like being able to get the amount you want.
Laura: yes. I have goals and I am struggling to meet any fitness goals because, Maybe I set them too high and I just quit, or the little bit that I feel like I can do on a consistent basis just doesn't, it's not gratifying, doesn't feel like it's going anywhere.
Monica: Got it. Okay. Well, let's actually start with casting a vision of the ideal. Like ideally, what would you like your exercise routine or practice to look like?
Laura: a good question because I actually don't even know. So I have a history of being a distance runner, which I can't do anymore for medical reasons. And so I think that. I'm struggling to find out what my new fit self
Monica: Got it.
Laura: looks like without running. But what I would love, especially as an older parent of young people I want to be strong and healthy and feel comfortable and well, I guess in my own body, however, that's accomplished.
Monica: That's fascinating. Okay. You already did like, The step ahead or like the step after, which was like, how do you want to feel? Strong, healthy, comfortable. And that's actually a really great compass to help us figure out what would the ideal look like exercise wise. Now, I know this might seem kind of backwards cuz we're starting with this vision, but let's, let's go there a little bit.
Can you kind of throw some spaghetti at the wall? Let's see what sticks. Like what kind of exercise? In the ideal fashion, I would say still, we're not talking about like impossible, ideal like 10 years ago ideal, I know this well as someone who used to run and now medically can't too. So I feel you on that.
It's a big transition.
Monica: Finding New ways to like move your body and feel strong and in your body too. It's a huge transition and it's a lot to figure out.
Monica: So. So let's, let's focus with the feelings. What kind of exercise would help you feel those things, do you think?
Laura: Exercise that I have enjoyed in the past is exercise that involves endurance and cardiovascular accomplishments, if you will. So like the ability as a formerly nerdy, I'm still nerdy, but like the, the kid who couldn't finish the mile or like was the kind of the little dork and pe like being able as a young adult to run half marathons was awesome.
So if I can find some way to do that kind of endurance training, whether that be swimming, hiking, biking, or some combination, I think that would be great. But I'm also recovering from a knee surgery a serious one and have a lot of strength and flexibility that I need to restore, and so I have boring stuff that needs to happen.
Like diastasis recti exercises and knee PT and yeah, so like maybe once all that is set, settled, you know, in the future I could have a really strong endurance or cardio routine, plus some probably more organic kind of strength and flexibility stuff. I, I have done weight training. It's okay. It's not something I'm like, Ooh, yay, I'm so excited to lift these dumbbells.
I'm more of a, let's do some like yoga, Pilates type of strength and for flexibility training.
Monica: That's awesome. Okay, and now I think Brad just got home, which is good. So let me hurry him, pass him off and I'll come right back. This is the perfect stopping point,
Laura: No worries.
Monica: so ideally we're looking at some sort of swimming, hiking, biking, endurance activity, paired with some form of, we'll just call it strength training, but it's like mobility, flexibility doesn't need to be like, I'm like gonna be a weightlifting champion. Just some form of that to help continue with pt.
But right now, what would it look, what would an ideal but still recovering from knee surgery day look like for you exercise wise?
Laura: That's one of the things I'm really struggling with. So I, my time is limited. So I have done some, I do a lot of walking. I love walking and it gets me outside. But on days where like, I feel like to spend the time walking, you need at least a half an hour. In a, in an ideal world, I'd love to have more than that, but I usually can't have it.
And then on days that I walk, I'm like, well, then I later have to somehow work into my routine. Some like diastasis, like core rehab type exercises. So some days I try to just say, well, today I'm gonna just do physical therapy, we'll say knee and diastasis, and then the other day I walk. But I think I get frustrated or it's too complicated and a lot of times I'm like, well, I guess I just won't do it.
So that, I guess, so that's kind of what I've been trying to work with. So to get that semi cardiovascular endurancey work. And that's also good for my knee and good for my core to go on walks. But it's not enough. And if I only do that and give up all the physical therapy stuff, I can tell cuz I honestly, this week it's like I'm on my best behavior getting in, getting ready for this call.
I have done done my physical therapy more consistently and I'm like, ugh, I haven't done this in a couple of weeks and I really slipped. I can feel that. I just don't, I've lost of strength.
Monica: Mm-hmm. So does it become an either or situation for you? Like either I walk or I do my physical therapy, or is it more like because you want to do both and you feel the need to do both? You end up doing neither.
Laura: I, I think the second option happened. So today, so note that I'm off clinics, I'm well rested, and I currently have a baby that has been getting up at a consistent time, so I'm starting to get. The ability to have a morning routine back, which was huge until, until this little guy was born. And I knew that would go out the window and now it's maybe coming back.
So this morning I just was like, I'm gonna spend 15 minutes. I'm gonna do these three exercises. I, I made this plan last night and I did those three exercises and it was cut short cuz my twins got up and they wanted to jump on me and it was cool, but I still did it. And then I al also had built into my schedule today a two mile walk, and I did that too.
And that was great. It just took a lot of, like, the stars kind of had to align. I had to plan in advance. So doing both of those in the same day, I feel awesome and, but most days aren't like that.
Monica: Yeah. Okay. So you are dealing with a lot of difficult factors. The transition physically also transitions like life transitions, like babies and In addition to that, even some mental emotional transitions of like trying to figure out like what's my identity as like a person who really values physical activity with limitations, both circumstantially with my environment and my responsibilities, and also physically that I'm not used to dealing with in addition to tons of interruptions.
Monica: So our goal is to help you feel strong, healthy, and comfortable physically. And to do that in a way that you can maintain it consistently, even with all those factors. When I look at this, And you describe like a 15 minute physical therapy and then like a two mile walk, that does sound like you're doing a good job of not saying I must do like a six mile walk a day and an hour of physical therapy.
It does sound like you're having more realistic expectations. Do you feel like those are more realistic in nature or
Laura: I do, and I think that honestly today, like right now, my two mile walk and my 15 minutes of physical therapy, that's a above average day for me. Like that's kind of for, for my ideal self. I mean, that's kind of, Bottom of where I wanna be with time, but like right now, that's actually pretty good. I mean, I actually have this little list of what I've done the last week, and this is the longest walk I've been on, and it's the only day that I've combined physical therapy in the same day.
Monica: Got it. Okay. And so that was actually gonna be my next question. Like even though like we might say to ourselves that is technically more realistic, is it still realistic to where you're at right now and. It's not because we're saying don't go for it. We're saying we still want this to be become what I call your baseline, where this is the minimum you can do each day, like 15 minutes of physical therapy and a two mile walk.
But when you're in this phase of so many transitions and so many factors, we still need more of a baseline version of that.
Monica: Okay. Are you familiar with Baseline from how I've taught it before? I'm not sure if you've heard me share about in a podcast episode or anything like that.
Laura: I, I don't know if you called it baseline, but I really latched onto it. As like your, your journaling example. I actually first learned about this podcast from another one and in an interview you, you talked about your journaling and how you go back to journaling and your, your worst of day's example was the queen died today.
So I was like, that's what I'm doing with going outside. And so, so, but I haven't figured out what my baseline is for exercise cuz it's complicated.
Monica: It is complicated, but I'd also like to suggest it's very emotionally loaded in surprising ways. Exercise is so emotionally loaded for women especially, and, including someone who has a history of being a pretty, pretty big achiever physically. So you've got this kind of like, even though you say this is, this is is doable, but like really, is it doable?
And then if I do the doable version, am I gonna like actually think it's worth it? And then I just don't do it. Don't do anything.
Monica: So, Okay, so you, you got it right. Baselines are the worst of day version. So we take the ideal and we create the smallest and simplest version of it that you can do on your worst of day, like with the most interruptions or with the most hectic schedule.
And that's not because that is what you will be doing forever. It's. It helps you form that consistency you need to build, and the building actually happens quicker and is more sustainable than if you start with even the more realistic, in quotes, ideal version.
Monica: So what would that look like for you? The smallest and simplest version of what we just said?
15 minute PT and two mile walk.
Laura: So, so that's not it. Because that's too much
Monica: I, yeah, I agree.
Laura: of day. But, so let me, I guess tell you where I've tried to go and
Monica: Yeah, let's talk about it.
Laura: failed. So like I've had, at some point I've been like, okay, Laura, you just have to do one of those things and they can be like a really wimpy version.
So like, maybe you do PT for, you know, 15 minutes or 10 minutes, or you go for a 15 minute walk. Doesn't have to be a strenuous walk. It can be around the block a couple of times, whatever. I. I feel like if, based on my history of trying to get outside every day, even in winter, like in the evening after my kids going to bed, go to bed, unless it's pouring rain and you know, tornadoing outside, going outside for a walk is pretty easy and pretty doable.
Cuz even if I'm exhausted, it's still just like time outdoors that feels restorative. The physical therapy part, if I decide that that's what I'm going to do as my baseline, I end up, it's nine 30 at night. I'm in my bedroom, I've got my pajamas on. You should, I should be able to just like get on the floor and do some, you know, clamshells or planks or whatever.
And I will, but I won't do them well cuz I'm like, I hate this. I'm exhausted. This is boring and I don't have good form. And that, that has been difficult. So then it's easy. What I found myself doing is I just gravitate to that very simple walk. And if I have that very simple walk for a week or two where work has been really hectic and I'm only doing the bare minimum every single day, then I find that I haven't done any physical therapy.
For the past couple of weeks, and I'm like, well, maybe I won't even walk. I mean, I don't, I don't like,
Monica: self-sabotage, right? Like
Laura: I mean, I don't like tell myself that. I'm like, well, I'm going to quit everything, but it just, it just seems to happen. I'll be like, well, maybe I'll just clean extra tonight before I go to bed and not do that walk, you know?
Monica: It's weirdly like a defense mechanism against ourselves. Like almost like, well, if I can't do it, then I'm just not gonna do it before something else makes it so I can't do it.
Monica: Okay. Know this well. So I actually was going to suggest why not break it up? Like do they have to be together? And it seems like you already came to that conclusion yourself.
The answer is no. The other thing that I like that we're doing is we know that the walk is more doable if you already have a when, then pairing. So a when is an already an existing habit in your life that you can then pair the then to the new habit. So when my kids go down, then I'll go on a walk.
Your baseline version of that is, The smallest and simplest version of a walk, what would that be? On your worst of day like? You've had a really long, long day.
Laura: A 15 minute jaunt around the neighborhood, usually paired with something I very much enjoy like a podcast or something like that.
Monica: Good. You are. You are good at this stuff already. I, I hope we know that.
Laura: researched this a lot.
Monica: Yeah, I can
Laura: perfectionist, lifelong.
Monica: Yeah, that's good. No, it's good though because that's the brain body connection. Now your brain's gonna be like, I love this cuz I al I always get to listen to the thing I like instead of like this really meaty like wor and peace audio book that I keep thinking I have to get through.
So yeah. Okay, so we've got a baseline version of your walk. And by the way, if you're do doing that and it's not working on your worst of day, then that means it's not a worst of day version and you need like, I go on a walk around the block, but let's start with what you think is, is the smallest and simplest version.
So we've got that for the walking. That's gonna be a totally a separate thing. And if new habits are small and simple enough, you can form up to three, even more, at the same time. So let's say that's separate. Now let's talk about the physical therapy. It sounds like some complications with that are you get exhausted at night, which affects your efficacy of it.
So. Ideally, is there another time of day that you'd like to do this
Laura: Morning mornings are my best time for everything.
Monica: I know, but, and now that you're starting to get a semblance of a morning routine back, hallelujah. Let's, let's start with just this. So now we're gonna come up with a, when then pairing for you what is an already existing habit that you do most mornings? Cuz this doesn't, physical therapy doesn't have to be every day unless you're doing a really small and simple version of it.
And it can be every day cuz it's just five minutes and you're spreading it out over a week instead of 15 to 30 minutes in one sitting, which might be a good thing for you. So
Laura: I This is gonna sound super weird, but I actually have like 15 minute increments in a bullet checklist on my phone. This makes me sound so extra, but I like, just need
Monica: love how different brains work. I love it.
Laura: So then like my alarm goes off at this time and then I'm like, okay, first thing I have to do, take my thyroid, I'm hypothyroid and you can't take that with food.
So take that feed cats and then I usually in 15 minute increments add other stuff like pack my lunch. I might have some clothes that need to be moved over into the dryer. If I'm in the hospital, I usually have to review my appointments and whatever emergency transfers we got and wake up baby and all those things.
I did that this morning and I did right after feeding cats, which is usually the first thing, so they don't murder anyone. Is I put in 15 minutes of PT and I wrote out what I was gonna do, so I wasn't like laying on the floor going, well, I don't really like, you know, Planks or you know, whatever. So, so that worked other than getting interrupted and it mostly worked cuz I did most of what I wanted.
Monica: Okay, great. So let's really make sure this, this is actually half of the battle that people. They fail out their habits because they don't really have a concrete plan. They, they think a concrete plan is in the morning, I'll do my physical therapy. And it's like, no. Like exactly, not like exactly when like on the minute stroke, like it has to be then it's just more like, let's get more specific with some flexibility in mind because it might be a different time technically that you're feeding the cat. So when I'm done feeding the cats, then I'll do my physical therapy. What is your baseline version? Because 15 minutes sounds great. But that still might be more of an ideal.
So let's say the worst of day where you don't have as much, like you don't have a full 15 minutes, or you're getting interrupted a lot in ways. Like they're not letting you finish those cute little
Monica: early. Something like that.
Laura: I think, I think ideally would be, I get through one quality exercise
Laura: and that's prob, I mean, that probably could be done in five.
Monica: Okay. I'm smiling only because I wrote that down like
Monica: 10 minutes ago and I was like, yay, meeting of minds. We both think that's a good baseline and it would've been fine if you had a different baseline in mind, but yeah, just one exercise. Okay, now we have a clear plan. Let's talk about, you know, you're, you're a nerd.
I'm a nerd. Okay. The brain science here. It's so important. This is how you are wiring your brain to do this, like with this plan in place. But a really important part is when you do either of these one then pairings each time. There's one piece of this puzzle that I don't often bring in to the podcast, cuz it typically can take a long time to explain.
But here's a nutshell. You need to create some dopamine in your body. You need to tell yourself, you need to create that feel good feeling like I did it. Like it's, it's gonna sound so dumb, but I say it as an affirm. You need to affirm in yourself that you did this, that this is, you're that kind of person that that felt good, that you're proud of yourself.
It can be as simple as that's like me. That's something we say a lot in our community and it comes from this Olympic coach that now Larry Gass. Nope. Larry Basham. I like feel like the last name is wrong. He was an Olympic athlete coach and that's what he did with his Olympic athletes. Each time they like did something right, they would have to say to themselves, that's like me, I did it.
You don't have to do that forever, just initially, especially when you do the bare minimum.
Monica: Because you're validating in yourself this habit. You're wiring it in your brain so it feels good, and your brain will then like want to do more of it. But also, here's the other factor to it. It will accept the baseline better as counting.
Laura: Oh, that's good. I think one of the reasons I quit so much is because I'm like, well, I only did, and that was, that doesn't, that's not gonna get me anywhere, so.
Monica: why you fall out of consistency. Like you don't wanna feel that way.
Laura: No. So,
Monica: So in the beginning when I have clients taking on new habits like this, especially for someone like you who was used to more higher achievements and something that was so, like, it was just a part of your life. Like it wasn't, it didn't require, like it took a lot of work, but it didn't take a lot of effort to maintain that level of exercise in your life at that point.
When you're doing a different version of it, this is when you've gotta buckle down on two things. One, force yourself to only do the baseline for the first couple days. If not longer again. So your brain believes you that the baseline counts, and the second is double down on affirming it. I did it. Look at me.
Or like, give yourself a high five or like, Go you. I mean, some people like to do habit charts where they're filling out something that like, in a good way. I don't like the ones where like if you don't fill out one little spot, then the whole chain is broken. I don't like that. I have some habit trackers that I do that create a whole picture.
I had a graphic designer made for me. I'll send you one. Okay. You don't have to use that. That can be, to me, that's like another step. But some people like that. Anything you can do to validate it,
Monica: what would that look like for you? The Affirm part?
Laura: I'm interested in what you were saying, like the saying at, at the end. I
Monica: That's like me.
Laura: yeah, I do have, I do have this that I just started. It's like a little picture. I, okay. So.
Laura: I dmd you a while ago about your thoughts on habit trackers. Yes, that was me. Yeah. And, and you sent me this like coloring and like you had mentioned the the graphic design thing and I was like, Ooh, I love that.
Because my outside habit I color in, it's like a. Humans outside was the website and it's 365 like petals or trees or something.
Laura: the silly thing is like, it's colored through like April and I still am doing it every day, but it's like too much work to go find the pencil and color it in. But
Monica: can become a whole other habit
Laura: yeah, and, and like, but anyway, I've been doing this.
I don't know how I feel about it cuz like if I don't. Today it's good cause I'm like, I did my walk. I get to color my cactus. Yes. And it is nice cuz if I skip a day, then who cares? I just color it in the next day. We'll see. I'm not sure. I think something quicker, like I already forgot what it is that the
Monica: Affirm. That's like me.
Laura: That's like me. Yeah,
Monica: the more immediate, the better. Initially, when you're doing that brain body connection, you're trying to hardwire it. The more immediate, the better. This is what I then call O W T A, and this is the Sticky Habit formula. This is what helps you create sticky habits over time. Okay, so I told you what I need you to double down on.
Double down on just the baseline.
Monica: And a second thing is double down on Affirm. And here's the third thing I want you to leave this coaching call with. I want you to prove yourself wrong when you think that these baselines don't matter.
Monica: I want you to prove yourself wrong by doing them anyway. Like just, I want you to, I want you to sink into the trickle down effect that will come.
Cuz here's the awesome thing about doing a baseline. It creates consistency, which we talked about. It also creates momentum. On a baseline day you might just do one exercise, but then you're like, I have 30 more seconds and you do half of another.
Monica: Okay. And that will create even more feelings like, well, I did even more than I, than I even tended to.
I, I told myself, I, I only had time for the baseline. I did a little more. It will create that momentum. And the third thing is it will build what your baselines are. Now, they will grow over time and maybe your baseline will be that 15 minute of flexibility or strength training and maybe your baseline will be two miles walk.
And that's like on the worst of day you do those. How's that all sounding for you?
Laura: It is, it's good. The idea of only doing the baseline for the first couple of weeks is really hard cuz I actually, my work is gonna get, I've got almost like an unprecedented amount of hospital work coming up that I'm just like, like can hardly even breathe thinking about it. And so I'll definitely need my baseline stuff for that.
But now I'm like, gotta make it count. Do extra exercise now. But I think this will actually be a really good. and like discipline kind of thing to just be like, okay, just chill. Like
Laura: not gonna go away.
Monica: just the first few days, it doesn't have to be a couple weeks, just even the first few times, like maybe three, two or three times. And that again, it's just like you believe yourself later when you're like, this is, this is the worst of day version. I'm getting interrupted a lot, so I'm just gonna throw it all out.
You're like, no, I can do one exercise and it counts and it's valid.
Monica: So you believe yourself.
Laura: Yeah, I like, I like that. How, how do you recommend people build on the baseline, or I guess allow themselves to do more without getting carried away and then ended up throwing it out again?
Monica: So I cover this a lot more in the course. The sticky habit method, the, the short version of it here is it typically happens organically when you ride that momentum wave and you just gradually build on its own. It doesn't have to take a lot of thought or strategy. It just happens, and you always have the very beginning baseline to come back to if you need to.
Monica: But if you wanna be more strategic about it, you can either add or maximize. So add as you add in another part of the bigger routine that you eventually want. So maybe for you that would be, you're adding on a different exercise, okay? For maximizing, you are increasing the amount of that thing. So if you were gonna do an exercise and you say, just three cla clam legs or whatever, they all, they are, they count.
Maybe maximizing is 10. Or for walking, maybe it's instead of a five minute walk, I'm doing a 10 minute walk, and then you just keep maximizing it.
Laura: Okay, cool.
Monica: I'm excited for you.
Laura: Yeah, me too. This has been very, very helpful.
Monica: Good. Well, here, here's what I want you to do from here is, you know, do those three things I said about do stick to the baseline, double down on the affirmation and prove yourself wrong. Believe in the process. These, these baselines will build. Reach out to me. You can email me about how it's going for you and I will happily answer you back.
Laura: So thank you so much.
Monica: You're welcome. Anything you are ready to take away from this conversation in particular, maybe something that surprised you or that you wanna remember.
Laura: I think just the, oh, no, I'm not feeling very articulate. I thought I had it in my head, but I don't the affirmation because I didn't even really realize that. I mean, I had taken away the baseline concept from previous work of yours, and I was like, okay, cool. That's worked in some areas of my life and it makes me feel really good and it's just natural for me to do more than that on some days.
But with exercise, like coming up with a baseline and not just completely poo pooing it as unworthy, I just didn't quite realize I was doing that. And I think that's part of the way I've been kind of sabotaging, making progress in this area.
Monica: I'm so glad that was your takeaway, because if I had one that I could choose for you, that would be it. Because at the end of the day, you are still strong, healthy, and comfortable in your body with these exercises, life keeps changing and we have to change how we view ourselves alongside it. That we still can count.
Monica: We still count as an exerciser, as someone who values movement, but it has to be different, and that's okay.
Laura: Well said.
Monica: I'm preaching to the to myself here too, so just so you know, it's something I'm working on all the time. Laura, this was awesome. Thank you very much.
Laura: Yes. Thank you. It was great talking to you.
Monica: Okay, I'll stop.