Getting in Shape —
Do It with Small Steps

The "getting in shape" plan you'll see here uses a dual approach of diet and exercise. As the vehicle for her plan, this person chooses the small-steps approach. Here, we generally call that approach "turtle-tracks," although it's also sometimes known as kaizen. Try to stay with me here, because this technique really works.

So, what Is kaizen? getting in shapeAt its simplest, kaizen is a form of incremental change that takes place by means of small but consistent steps. (Click here for some background on this technique.) Each step being an increment in itself, together they create a snowball that rolls steadily toward the goal: in this case, getting in shape.

Sounds too simple to work? Ah, but it does: just the way the tortoise ultimately whipped the hare. But enough. You're here to read about getting in shape. So—on to the process. (To download it in chart form, just click on the link: Getting in shape.)

Getting in Shape: Oh, the Pain!
Over time, our subject (let’s call her Samantha) has developed a junk-food habit. She love the stuff! This, combined with her sedentary lifestyle, has padded Sam out pretty far. In fact, she now finds herself forty to fifty pounds overweightgetting in shape and sadly out of shape.

Her goals?
(1) Lose at least some of those pounds.
(2) Regain enough wind to walk across a room without huffing and puffing. In other words: getting in shape.

Tall orders, but do-able with small steps. That is, if Sam doesn't get hung up over how quickly (or not) she's losing weight or start comparing her progress with claims she reads in magazines or on the internet. (See Personal Development Tests.)


Given her physical condition, Sam decides a good getting-in-shape plan for her would have a dual focus: diet and exercise. So, she sets one long-term goal for each component:

  • Diet. Lose forty to fifty pounds during the next twelve to eighteen months.
  • Exercise. In six months, be walking/working out (without gasping for breath) for at least forty minutes five or six times a week. (Getting in shape ain't an overnight deal!)

With a divided focus such as this, Sam needs essentially two plans. But her arrangement may work okay, as both target the same result: getting in shape.

Because she genuinely wants her plan to work, Sam’s going to try very gradual change. Instead of setting two or three radical (for her) targets, she’s going to kick-off instead with a single modest goal: exercise for ten minutes a day.

In time, Samantha should be able to work up to her long-term goal of a daily forty minutes. She faces certain constraints, though:

  • Limited time. Sam puts in a seven-hour day at work and commutes an hour both ways. So she wonders if she can even squeeze in forty minutes of exercise five to six days a week.

    She’s generally too tired at night for walking, plus she’s wary of that, anyway, in her urban neighborhood. But she knows she can find time for ten minutes of exercise—even if it’s just marching in place.

  • Financial considerations. Although she gets by, Sam doesn’t have as much discretionary income as she’d like. Thus, gym dues would be a stretch—maybe not impossible, but challenging. Still, she could at least exercise at night (theoretically).

(Rather read Sam's plan in chart form? Just click below to download.)
Getting in Shape.

Possible First Steps

Move closer to work. If Samantha could pare down her commute, she could walk or work out for a few minutes in the morning. If she moved closer to work, she could even walk to and from the office in good weather. So—worth considering: despite the expense and upheaval, such exercise is great for getting in shape.

Get up earlier, and exercise in the morning. This tactic seems hopeless to Sam. example personal development planHow could she possibly roll out of bed any earlier than she already does. She’d need at least an hour to suit up, exercise for forty minutes (eventually), and be ready to dress for work. Nope—just can't do it.

Join a gym. If her finances permit, Samantha could join a gym and work out in the evenings and during weekends. She’d be tired from the day, though, and the dues would stress her budget.

Exercise at home in the evening and on weekends. Not a bad idea, really. But Sam’s tried this before with little success. Why? Because she just can’t seem to get (or stay) motivated enough on her own. Plus, she likes to watch her favorite television programs at night and thinks exercising would interfere with that.

Actual First Steps

Sam's resolve is beginning to wane. But she’s a lucky woman, because her sister is thrilled at the idea of Sam getting in shape. One day Sis shows up with a chiming digital alarm (as opposed to the kind that goes brrrrrr) and a plan.

The plan is this: every other night for the next sixty days, Sam will set the alarm one minute earlier—no more, no less. That way, she takes a tiny step one day and then has the next day to consolidate. Then she takes another tiny step, again consolidating the next morning. And so on.

Somewhat against the odds, it works. True, it takes Samantha a full month to work up to a half-hour earlier. But she gets there in the end, and quite painlessly. Now she can walk or work out for fifteen or twenty minutes before getting ready for work.

[For faster results, Sam could work the clock routine in two- or even five-minute increments, instead of one. But, in her case, that might create resistance before long. For Samantha, slow and steady generally has the best shot…]

During this first month, Sam’s been taking other steps as well. Right away, for example, she bought some exercise clothes. She also researched and ultimately bought an exercise video targeted to beginners. So she can exercise conveniently (and inexpensively) right at home.

She’s also started marching in place whenever she watches television, an idea she picked up from reading a case study in the wonderful book: One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. She began with five minutes and plans to work up to ten. More exercise—almost without effort

So, Sam’s well underway with the exercise component of her plan. If she keeps taking steps, however small, she has good shot at eventually walking faster, farther, and more comfortably than she has in a long time. She may even get strong enough for jazzercise!

Click here to see how Sam approaches the diet component of her plan.

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