I exercise seven days a week and I go reasonably hard compared to what I used to do ten years ago (the occasional walk).

Actually I exercise a lot compared to what I did five years ago, too.  It didn’t automagically make me skinny, but by golly I am more fit!

The thing is, that article?  Buddy, I stand by it.  It is honest, no kidding, a great way to get started.  Little, incremental goals have an enormous positive effect over time.

The Japanese use this concept in the workplace (they call it kaizen, which is usually translated loosely into English as “continual improvement”).  The thing is, these are not great, dramatic leaps of improvement, but daily, incremental tiny little things.

To give you an idea:

When I started swimming in July ’06, I was swimming 400 yards in 20 minutes, and that was my cardio.  Walking?  Bite me!  That made my feet hurt and my calves cramp up.  (Yes, I was walking every day in Oct ’03.  I stopped working out for about a year.  Not making that mistake again.  I lose fitness fast, dammit).

Now, I swim a mile in ~45 minutes.  Ideally I’d like to be able to swim a mile in half an hour.  That’s gonna be awhile, I think.

When I started lifting in July ’06, I was squatting 30lbs.

I’m squatting 85lbs now, and have gotten a lot more serious about lifting.  I’ve got my eye on squatting 100lbs as my next mid-range goal.  I’m years away from the ultimate goal of squatting my bodyweight.  That’s okay.  I like to keep my eyes on the little goals.

Thing is, I have little goals for every single workout.  In the weight room, I’m either increasing a rep each workout, or I’m increasing weight.   In the pool, I’ll either try to swim for a longer distance, or a shorter time.

So where does this end?

It doesn’t.  It’s an open-ended system.  These tiny little goals are enough to keep me interested, and they’ll change and refine over time.  I’m 39.  There’s certainly a limit to where I can go physically.  But I don’t really look ahead to find that.  In five years (barring accident or debilitating illness) I’ll probably look back on what I’m doing now with a lot of pride in how far I’ve come.

But right now, I’m looking at the next rep and the next five pounds, or the next 100 yards.  It keeps things small an immediate.

That means that adding a minute to a walk when you’ve gone from ten minutes to eleven minutes is really good.  If you consistently challenge yourself with little goals — just that next step, or that next small habit change, they add up.  If you can walk a block before your calf cramps up, looking at my workouts might be discouraging.  Thing is, that was me, no kidding.  And I got here by small, incremental goals.

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