Joshua Keel

Always something

March 18, 2022

On my very long and twisty journey toward fitness and physical well-being, I had chanced to read an article long ago called “Why the ‘pause-button mentality’ is ruining your health and fitness.” It was written by Dr. John Berardi over at Precision Nutrition, one of the few fitness coaches I have some respect for. I recently recalled this article as I was pondering my need to adopt a more flexible fitness mindset and eschew the rigidity I am prone to.

The article is about how when shit gets real in our lives, when stress levels rise and we can’t commit 100% to a workout routine or other healthy habits, we tend to just want to hit pause. Two weeks (or six months) later when we want to unpause, we find that much of our progress has vanished. We’re not just resuming from where we left off, we’re dealing with the fact that our lack of consistency has set us back, not just in terms of physical progress, but also in our mindset.

The solution Berardi articulates is to think of fitness like a dial with settings from one to ten. Setting the dial to ten is akin to being a professional athlete: eat, sleep, train. Setting the dial to one might be doing a set of pushups by your bedside when you wake up in the morning, three days a week. It could be a five-minute walk.

The trick is, never set the dial to zero. Zero means off, nada. It’s very hard to think of a circumstance where setting the dial to zero is desirable or necessary. Even if all you do is one minute of a forward fold to stretch your hamstrings, that’s a win.

As Berardi tells his clients:

The “all or nothing” mentality rarely gets us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”.

He then follows that up with what he presents as “a new mantra”:

Always something.

Flexibility. Always something. That’s what it’s about. You may have a workout lined up, with five exercises, three sets of each, but let’s say you only have five minutes today. If you just give up on the workout entirely, you get nothing in return. But if you keep your new mantra—always something—in mind, maybe you do three sets and call it a win. Because it is. Something is better than nothing, and when life becomes chaotic, “something” is often all we can manage.

If we make it our business to always do something, however small, our consistent effort over time will accumulate (like compound interest) into a surprising amount of fitness wealth.