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The 5 O’Clock Club: Exploring the art of manliness and 10 ways to make exercise an unbreakable habit

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

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New Zealand All Blacks Training Session Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

One of my favorite websites is the Art of Manliness. I first discovered it several years ago when I was trying to give my students some tips on preparing for job interviews. The Art of Manliness website had articles that were really useful, such as how to shine your shoes, how to tuck in your shirt, and how to tie a necktie perfectly.

The site itself has a sense of humor about what it is; there’s a sense of always being a little tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time, it’s chock full of information.

The other day at work, a friend of mine and I were discussing how beneficial it can be to grab a short two or three minute nap at lunchtime in our office chairs. Basically, just tilt the chair back and grab a “power nap”. Today I saw an article with the title “How to fall asleep in 2 minutes or less”, which turned out to be a real beneficial read. I sent a link to my pal, thinking it might help him with those office lunchtime power naps we were talking about.

I hadn’t actually visited the Art of Manliness website in a while, so I spent some time perusing the articles on offer. I skimmed The Importance of a Good Start: Using Temporal Landmarks to Achieve Your Goals, but didn’t really feel like it gave me anything useful.

I decided to look at the Style & Grooming section, and spent a few minutes on A Man’s Guide to Dressing Sharp and Casual in His 50s, and really liked what the article had to say, but realized that — being 6’ 2” and well over 250 pounds and living in Thailand — my sartorial choices are simply too limited in this city for me to affect a “look” that I’d really like to achieve. Beyond the lack of choice, there’s the weather to consider; Bangkok is a sweltering pit of smog and humidity that doesn’t allow for a ton of fashion choices beyond cargo shorts and slightly damp tee shirts. It’s the perfect city for Crocs.

But I felt like I struck gold with an article in the Health & Sports Archives: The 10 Best Ways to Make Exercise an Unbreakable Habit. I thought I might share the highlights with you.

#1: Do something you enjoy doing

When it comes to exercise, people tend to think that for it to work, it has to be unpleasant. They think exercise is like eating Brussels sprouts; you may not like the taste, but you’ve got to get ‘em down because they’re good for you. Yet while these folks can flog themselves to exercise for a few weeks or even a few months out of a sense of dour obedience, they’re ultimately kicking against the pricks. Eventually, their dislike for their chosen regimen overpowers their will, and they stop working out altogether.

It’s true that to be effective all exercise will involve some discomfort. And it’s true that certain kinds of exercise are more or less effective than others. But all exercise is good for you, any exercise is better than none, and if you choose the right form of it — the form that’s right for you — it can in fact hurt so good and be a source of great pleasure.

Bottom line: if you want to make exercise a habit, start off by picking an activity you enjoy. If you do that, you’ll be 90% there to becoming a man who exercises religiously.

My personal workout routines involve a few things: walking (minimum of 90 minutes per day on days off, 60 minutes per day on work days), rowing machine (I row while I watch movies or sports on TV), weight lifting (I have a bench and free weights in my apartment so I don’t have to go out to a gym), bicycling (though, honestly, Bangkok makes this too stressful much of the time), and swimming (convenient, if small, rooftop pool in my building).

#2: Put your training schedule on your calendar

If you want time to exercise, you have to make time for it. And the best way to do that is to schedule your workouts on your calendar and treat them like doctor’s appointments.

I actually have a spreadsheet that I complete every day that has my income, investments, appointments, diet and exercise log on it. I keep track on my phone throughout the day, and update the log in the evening. If I haven’t already done my exercise, I will put in a quick 30 minutes to make sure I have something to log in my workout sheet.

#3: Experiment to find the workout time that’s best for you

Everybody’s got different work/life schedules and different rhythms to their daily energy and motivation. Maybe you’ll love working out at lunchtime or at night. You’ll never know unless you try. Experiment with different options and see what works best for you.

When I went to the gym in the past, I went in the mornings; I found it was a good start to the day, and I arrived at work with energy.

These days, my workday starts at 7:15 a.m., but it ends by 4 p.m., so my exercise habits have changed. I’ve adapted. Nowadays, I arrive home from work around 5 p.m. and do my workout at home between 6pm and 8pm. During my summer break, I have a 2 hour routine in the morning, a 2 hour routine in the afternoon, and a 1 hour routine in the evening.

#4: Remove obstacles with a pre-workout checklist

When I interviewed bodyweight training coach Anthony Arvanitakis for the podcast, he told me that one thing he does to ritualize his workouts is to use a pre-workout checklist. His checklist includes making sure his phone is charged so it won’t quit playing music in the middle of his workout, putting the phone in airplane mode so calls and texts won’t create distractions, filling up his water bottle, preparing equipment in his gym so nothing’s missing and everything’s right at hand, and changing into certain workout clothes.

I have my own routines. When I go walking, I wear compression clothing under my shorts & tee shirt, I put in my contact lenses instead of my multi-focal glasses that I wear for teaching, I have a Sony MP3 music player that shuts out all distractions, and if the sun is up, I have some sunglasses that my girlfriend absolutely hates, so I wear them only when I’m walking alone.

My lifting routine at home starts with wrapping my elbows & wrists, donning my gloves and putting towels on the floor to protect the hardwood from my dumbbells.

#5: Have clothes specifically dedicated to working out

Another thing Arvanitakis recommends is having sets of clothes you specifically designate as your workout clothes. He thinks of his workout gear as his “uniform” and feels that donning it helps him get in the mindset to exercise.

There was a time when I would have scoffed at this idea, but three years ago I started buying clothes specifically for my exercise. I have added to the collection regularly over the years, and I now have a section of my closet set aside specifically for my workout gear: socks, compression shorts, compression shirts, elbow, knee & wrist braces, gloves, hats & sunglasses (for walking), and shoes. Putting on “the uniform” is not only a ritual that gets me in the mood to exercise, but a commitment, because dressed like that I can hardly do anything else but exercise.

#6: Have a plan for your workout

Uncertainty is a big motivation killer. It causes paralysis by analysis so you end up doing nothing. And when you do nothing, your body and health don’t change. And when your body and health don’t change, you lose motivation to exercise.

To avoid this fate, have a workout plan for yourself before you head over to the gym. Know exactly which exercises you’re going to do and for how many sets and reps. Write your plan down, bring it with you to the gym, and refer to it frequently throughout your session so you stick to it. If you’re running, have a weekly running plan for yourself so you know that you’ll be working on speed one day and endurance another.

You’d be surprised at how much having a plan can keep you motivated to work out. It removes motivation-sapping uncertainty and ensures you actually see motivation-boosting results.

When I go walking, I use a GPS tracking function on my phone. I set the distance goal before I set out; my phone gives me regular updates along the way, telling me when I achieve milestones, and letting me know if my pace falls off, for example.

When I use the rower, I have specific time, resistance and pace goals to achieve. When I lift weights, I have specific exercises, with plans for the weight, sets, and repetitions based on previous achievement. When I swim, I know how many laps I’m aiming for before I start. The only exercise I don’t have specific goals for is bicycling, and that, perhaps not coincidentally, is the one I am least motivated to do.

#7: Just get moving, even when you don’t feel like it

Fortunately, one of the great truisms of life, is that if you take action without feeling like it, the feelings will follow. If you don’t feel like working out, but get after it anyway, you’ll almost always get into the flow and start to enjoy it.

Of course, this sets up a catch-22: you’ll feel like working out if you start working out, but how do you start if you don’t feel like it?

Try making a deal with yourself. Decide that all you have to do is go to the gym and work out for 10 minutes; if after 10 minutes you don’t want to do any more, then you can go home. It’s an easy deal to commit to. Of course, what happens 9 times out of 10 is that once you’re at the gym, and moving your body, you get into an exercise-positive mindset and want to continue on and do a full workout.

This describes me quite well. I look at my plan to exercise and sometimes I just don’t want to. I go through my rituals anyway. I put on my clothes, set up the equipment, and get started. Sometimes, 5 minutes or ten minutes in, I decide I just don’t wanna, and I shut it down. But most of the time, I figure: I’ve done this much, I might as well get in at least a 30-minute workout. Usually, that leads me to do the full workout I’d planned to do but didn’t feel like doing at the start.

#8: Aim for consistency in frequency, rather than consistently A+ workouts

A key to making something a habit is putting together a chain of successes, which is, at least at first, rarely or never broken. To lay down a new groove in your life, you’ve got to etch away at it without interruption.

So always err on the side of doing something, even when circumstances prevent you from doing a “perfect” workout. Feeling just a little sick? Still work out, but go a little easier. Have a crazy busy day? Still work out, but make it a little shorter. Traveling? Still work out, even if you have to improvise with the equipment available in the hotel gym. Sluggish and grouchy and can’t get into the mood to exercise even after you’ve tried? Still move, however tepidly, through your planned workout.

I see this as an extension of #7, and again, I am a big believer in consistency. Some days when I’m “feeling it” I’ll really push the pace on the rower or in my walk, or add an extra plate to the iron bar. Those days are good, because I hate to go backwards. Once a new milestone is achieved, I try to use it as the new benchmark. I often find that — even when I’m taking it easy — I’m out-performing what I was doing as a regular routine a few months earlier.

#9: Exercise for something

Motivation research shows that when we have a clear purpose for a task, we’re more likely to do that task regularly. So have a why for your workouts. It could be something high-minded like being ready for emergencies or living a long time for your kids and/or grandkids, but it could also be something vain like just wanting to look good with your shirt off. Whatever it is, write it down and refer to it every day. When you don’t feel like going to the gym, read your purpose to remind yourself of why you’re trying to exercise regularly.

I’ve spent my whole life fighting my waistline. For me, exercise is all about not being a fat blob who can’t crawl out of bed, and it’s a battle that never ends. My enemies are the scale and my belt, and they provide my motivation and the measurement of my success or failure.

#10: Get accountability

Some people find it useful to get an accountability partner for their workouts. This could be a personal trainer or a coach, or it could be a friend. Getting a barbell coach was a game changer for me and my training. Besides the feedback on my lifts, the accountability factor has played a huge role in my compliance with the programming. I don’t want to let my coach down by wussing out on a session. Again, shame can be a powerful motivator.

When I lived in Australia, I paid a personal trainer for 5 years. Here in Thailand, I used to train with a gym buddy, but a few years ago he moved back to England, and I struggled to find a replacement.

I finally found a proxy for having someone in the gym with me to push me. My buddy in England and I send messages to one another several times a week.

While my demon is my weight, he’s a bit the opposite; he’s a short guy who likes to pump up his shoulders & chest to look manlier, and his goal is often to gain weight, not lose it, but he likes to stay lean, with very little body fat.

While I struggle to control my food intake, he struggles to moderate his alcohol consumption. We share our progress— updates on the exercises we’re doing, pictures of what the scale says about our weight, or screenshots from the phone with step counts and distances walked. We discuss diet and alcohol consumption, each of us trying to keep the other focused on achieving his goals.

It’s not as much fun as having a gym buddy, but it’s been working pretty well for both of us for about 4 years now.

So that’s it

I recommend that you take a look at the Art of Manliness website; it’s a great reflection on what it means to be a man, and offers lots of advice — some of it very useful, some of it not so much — on fashion, health, relationships, and more — some of it very serious (like this article on making exercise a habit), but a lot of it offered with a wink & a nod and a barely-suppressed grin.

Poll

Which article about manliness would you find most useful in your life?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    How to shine your shoes
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    How to tie a necktie or tuck in your shirt
    (1 vote)
  • 33%
    How to fall asleep in 2 minutes or less
    (25 votes)
  • 5%
    Using temporal landmarks to achieve your goals
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    A guide to dressing sharp and casual at your age
    (4 votes)
  • 37%
    Making exercise an unbreakable habit
    (28 votes)
  • 13%
    How to know if a woman likes you
    (10 votes)
75 votes total Vote Now

How to know if a woman likes you

Psychologist Monica Moore spent a few months observing over 200 single women at parties, bars, clubs, and restaurants. From her observations, she found over 52 things women do when they’re attracted to a man. They don’t have to do all of them or in any particular order to indicate interest; some women have their go-to flirty moves. Though, the more of these signals you see and the more often you see a woman display them, the more likely it is that she’s attracted to you and would welcome your advances.

Of the 52 signals, Moore saw these 12 the most frequently:

Smiling at you

Shooting short glances your way

Darting her eyes away when you look at her

Making prolonged eye contact with you

Running fingers through her hair

Licking her lips

Exposing her neck

Tilting her heads towards you

Turning in her seat towards you

Lightly touching you on the arm or shoulder

Laughing when you talk

Caressing an object in her hands

Among the dozen above, the most common signals of female interest are smiles, direct eye contact, and/or repeated glances towards and away from you.