3 Techniques to Use If You Miss the Opportunity to Exercise

Part 5: Everything you should know for when it's hard to act on your intentions.

Posted Oct 02, 2020

Opportunity describes all the factors external to yourself that prompt behavior or make it easier. If you perceive that you don’t have the resources to exercise or miss the right time to exercise, you have an opportunity-related barrier.

Opportunity then has two components, one that relates to availability of resources and another that relates to prompts that trigger the behavior.

To clarify, imagine that you wanted to go for a long walk but did not have access to a walking trail. That is demotivating and is a resource issue. Next, picture that you have access but were never prompted to act. You either do not have the opportunity or miss the opportunity. 

In my previous post in this series, I explained that motivation, opportunity, and capability are necessary for a behavior to occur. If we do not change our structural environment, we will need to expend more willpower to engage in healthy behaviors. Why not create the path of least resistance by making structural changes to our environment to prompt and promote opportunity?

In the last part of this series, I am going to focus on opportunity. What can we do to identify good opportunities to exercise or set up prompts to help us take advantage of already existing opportunities?

Prompt: Action Planning and Habit Stacking

Goals necessitate time management and specific plans. Action planning describes when and where you will carry out your goals. An advanced form of action planning is called habit stacking

Habit stacking is when you pair a current habit with a new habit. The old habit serves as the prompt for the new habit. For example, your morning routine may look like this:

  • Wake up
  • Turn on coffee
  • Grab coffee
  • Check emails 

Your action plan, which gives detail to your goal, may look like this:

  • “I will go for a run at 7:00 a.m.”

Your habit stacking plan, which takes advantage of a prompt, may look like this:

  • “After I turn my coffee on, I will go for a run.”

Prompt: Exercise with a friend

One of my clients was in a funk. He was struggling to exercise. His energy was low, his motivation was low; he was in a rut. He wanted to get back to it, he just couldn’t find his motivation.

We decided on two things. The first is that we would get together and work out. The second was that the next day he would plan on exercising at 8:30 a.m. I told him I would FaceTime him to prompt him to exercise. I put the reminder in my calendar, invited him, and gave him a call at 8:30. He was already on his bike.

If you are struggling to get moving, send a message to a friend to ask them for help. Ask them to call you or FaceTime you at the time you had planned on exercising.

Opportunity: Make the Healthy Choice Easy

In January, my girlfriend and I flew to California and did a road trip that included the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. When we returned to Logan Airport in Boston, we wanted to take an Uber home. There were several convoluted instructions on how to get to the Uber pick up point.

In complete confusion, we gave up after 15 minutes and went to the taxi pick up point. I clocked the price out to be $180 dollars per hour to ride in a taxi. It took us 20 minutes to get home.

The appealing choice, a 20-minute ride for $20, was not available. So, we took the less appealing choice because it was easier.

Let’s say you need to decide between going to the gym or playing video games. You’re already on the couch, in front of the television, the video game controller is practically in your hand. That’s the easy decision. You’re probably going to do that unless you are very motivated to exercise.

The more friction between you and the bad decision the better. The less friction between you and the good behavior the better. When we make physical activity more convenient and sedentary activity less convenient, we are more likely to be physically active. If you plan on being active today, don’t put yourself in a high friction situation (on the couch).

Examine the opportunities your environment provides you that have the least resistance. Maybe it is stopping at the gym on the way home. Maybe it is going for a run as soon as you get home rather than going into the house to get comfortable first.

The System and the Techniques

This post is the last in my series. If you made your way through all five articles you probably have a good idea of what your barriers are and what to do about them. When you fail to act on your good intentions, you have a motivation, opportunity, or capability issue. If you can identify what is influencing you and implement the correct behavior change technique you are going to set yourself up for improved likelihood of action.

The last thing I want to leave you with is a seven-day self-monitoring form. This form takes advantage of mindfulness. It will help you identify your barriers and make plans to work around these barriers. Get access to the form here.