Cultivating an addiction to exercise

Written April 6th, 2024
Cultivating an exercise addiction is one of the best decisions you'll ever make in your life. It's a lot easier than you might think with some simple mind tricks.
The first step is really wanting it, so let me start there.

The benefits of an exercise addiction

An addiction to exercise is one of the only addictions that will work for you and compound nearly every aspect of your life.
It is, in fact, an actual addiction. You will start to crave exercise like an addict craves cigarettes. You will become obsessed and neurotic about it.
This is a good thing. You start to realize that for every amount of effort you put in, you get a direct result that you can both see and feel.
You'll feel physically better and look better. Your sex drive (and performance) will increase as you become more sexually attractive to your partner.
You will have more energy and higher quality sleep. This will in turn help your fitness even more, creating a flywheel.
The flywheel continues further. As you build muscle, you will burn most of your calories while you sleep and work.
Slowly you start to realize that you can eat most of the fun things because your body now just burns it off.
Your confidence skyrockets, and this spreads to every area of your life. Even your relationships and performance at work will improve.
A funny thing happens as your addiction to exercise grows: your body starts craving good nutrition as well. Almost subconsciously you will start seeking a better diet that matches your fitness goals. Yet another positive feedback loop.
Fitness is the dream addiction that everyone wants, even if they pretend not to.
The biggest downside is that it's a difficult addiction to cultivate. People make it out to be more difficult than it is, to be certain. But it's not quite as simple or tempting as picking up a cigarette or cocktail.
If you're not used to exercising, it will be hard to start. This is why the majority (the vast majority) of people fail. They're convinced that it should feel easy and natural. But it won't, at least not yet.

How to cultivate an exercise addiction

It's natural to crave exercise, but most of us have spent our entire lives rejecting training our minds and bodies to want the opposite.
So first, you must retrain your mind before you start training your body.
Start by exercising every single day. Do not let one day go by where you don't do some form of exercise.
Some days the exercise will be intense, some days it will not be. Instead of rest days, you will go for walks. But these days should be few, and grow fewer as you grow stronger. Most days, you should be pushing yourself to discomfort.
That part is very, very important. Make yourself uncomfortable. This is where the results come from.
This is why fitness transfers so easily to other parts of life. You are not just learning how to exercise. You are learning discipline. You are learning how to experience discomfort in order to gain something.
The benefit of exercising every day is not in the burned calories. It is not in the specific exercise you do or for the results you will get from that one day.
Instead, you exercise every day to teach yourself that it is a non-negotiable aspect of your life. That no matter what happens in your day, you will get some form of exercise in.
Become militant about this. When you succeed in convincing yourself to bail on one day, it will be twice as hard to start again the next.
Over time, you will bump up the intensity of the exercise each day, both on the high energy days and the "resting" exercise days. Instead of going for a walk, you will go for a short run. Instead of stretching, you'll do some push-ups or core strengthening.
Once you've developed this daily habit, you need to educate yourself. But the habit must come first. Educating yourself is challenging and requires a discipline of its own. Trying to do it first is asking an unfair mental load on your brain. So first, get in the habit of exercising every day and then seek out a coach for the type of exercise you are choosing.
When selecting the type of exercise, focus on two things:
  1. The Gym
    1. This one is predetermined. Start going into a gym regularly. The gym has everything you need, and anywhere you go there will be a gym. This is very important.
      Strength training is also important. Lifting weights is also an easy way to build a fitness addiction. You see the numbers go up as you lift heavier things. You realize that the higher the numbers go, the better you feel. This is powerful.
  1. Something you naturally enjoy
    1. Cardio is usually recommended, but the most important thing is that this second activity is primarily fun. I have many of these activities. Skiing, mountain biking, and I typically will try a few new ones every year.
      Find something you truly enjoy. Something that gets you excited to wake up early and go do. But make sure it's also genuine exercise. Ping-pong doesn't. Tennis does. A good rule of thumb is that if you don't sweat and aren't sore the next day, it probably wasn't hard exercise.
      You'll find adding in this second more fun category also makes it much easier to exercise every day.
But remember to get the proper training and instruction for each. My biggest regret of my fitness journey is that I did not seek out a professional lifting coach early on. I developed bad form that led to injuries later on.
So do it right. Go get a trainer. It might seem scary, but it actually makes it much more comfortable to go into the gym as a beginner. The trainer shows you around and introduces you to everything. The gym becomes your domain because you are now one of the experts.
For those who feel self-conscious: don't be afraid of people seeing you start at the gym (or a new sport). They might see you as a beginner while you're getting the coaching, but afterwards they will view you as the expert. They'll know you're doing it the right way, and they will know you are on your journey.
In general, you should never be ashamed in the gym. There is no judgment, only admiration. The people trying the hardest are the ones who get a silent "hell yeah" from their fellow gym-goers.
Do these things and fitness will become a part of your life that you treasure. It's even something you will pass on to your kids. It's much easier to develop good habits when you learn them from your parents at a young age.
⚠️ To end, here are a couple of tips and red flags to watch out for:
  1. Nutrition is a murky world full of opinions and false science. A good rule of thumb is to eat clean protein, such as chicken, beef, eggs, and so on. Include fruits and vegetables, and cook with clean fats like olive oil and clarified butter, while avoiding sugar-saturated fats.
  1. Alcohol is a handicap that can be minimized but not eliminated, except through abstinence.
  1. Drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.
  1. Exercising with friends is fine, but don't depend on community for your fitness. It's an externality that you can't control, and it's difficult to do challenging exercises while talking.
  1. It's worth spending a little money on things that make you feel good and that you think make you look good. It's okay to be vain; the gym is for getting fit, not for showing off.
  1. Track the days you exercise and for how long, but nothing else. Getting too detailed with your tracking adds unnecessary friction. The only important thing is that you build the habit and are slowly increasing the amount of time you spend exercising.