Exercise machines as furniture

I was listening to author James Clear this morning on building small habits. That’s his theme. The one point that sticks out to me right now asks what to do with after writing down the goal (it’s pretty obvious): start.

Let’s back up a little bit. I have an elliptical machine (which I purchased after a doctor recommended I run less), two 30-lb weights, one 10-lb weight, a power wheel, and a yoga mat. I actually use them.


Some years ago, I visited with someone who owned a treadmill. She had a tablecloth, potted plants, and other items placed on top of the treadmill. It seemed clear that she used it for furniture rather than exercise.

I don’t know the reason why. Maybe like me, her doctor suggested that she run less. Still, she wasn’t the only person I’ve known to do something similar.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes that at the beginning of a new year, he promises to, “I’m going to exercise everyday.” After a day, “Well, maybe not every day. I don’t want to get caught up in that whole beauty culture.” After a couple days, “I’m fine with the way I look.” Paraphrased. And, he mentions, he lives right in front of a gym.

I think he might be picking too big of a target (high activation cost), and one not specific enough.

I believe that just about any eating or training will work well enough. Whether better than other programs doesn’t matter so much in the beginning. All exercise equipment, and all diet programs aimed at weight loss, will (most likely) work if you choose to use it. They certainly won’t work for you if you never use them.

I watched once the story of a morbidly obese woman who lost hundreds of pounds by deciding one day to simply clap along to a TV workout led by Richard Simmons.

Clapping eventually turned into more (yet still small) movements, which in turn eventually led to walking. A couple years later, and several hundred pounds lighter, she said she felt happy with her progress – and presumably too happy that she’s still progressing, has inspired others to follow her lead, and is helping others along their journey.

If I could distill James Clear’s speech into three actionable steps:

(1) Ask the reason for the behavior

(2) Pick a small habit

(3) Setup the environment so that the lazy choice is the one that leads to the desired habit


On my YouTube channel (bdelrosa81), I saved a video I found about the Air Assault mobile training course at Fort Polk, Louisiana, March 2013. I’m in the video beginning at frame 0:12.

I received Distinguished Honor Graduate (DHG). The video identifies someone else as the DHG. You can tell by where we stood upon recognition. I’m standing on the far right, making me first to receive recognition as the distinguished guest moves first from left to right, as he’s facing us.

No, I don’t really care for the award. I just wanted to rappel out of a helicopter. Anyway, that other Soldier deserved it more. He was smarter, faster, and stronger. I didn’t come first in any of the academic or physical events.

The instructors likely selected me for DHG because I seemed to enjoy being there, which I did, and I appreciated them for taking weeks away from their families back at Fort Drum, New York to come train us. Their task to instruct us was more likely compulsory than voluntary.

I mention this course because I charted a workout routine for months building up to it. I made it a daily habit. I had a reason, a purpose. Once that reason completed (graduating the course), I stopped working out so much.

The same too with the Captain’s Career Course for me at Fort Lee, Virginia. I scored 345 (out of 300) on the physical fitness test (PFT) for a male age 34: 126 push-ups, 116 sit-ups, and 12:58 on the two-mile run. That was in October 2015. In March 2016, I only scored around 290. I stopped trying so hard.

I wasn’t getting anything for it. It’s just been my goal ever since I joined the military to score 300 or more. Mission accomplished. Didn’t care anymore. I scored 296 on my last PFT a couple months ago.

The 10-lb weight I have I purchased for a marksmanship competition. To train holding the weapon steady, I’d simply hold the weight in front of me while standing, while trying to beat yesterday’s time. Rounding up, an M16 weighs 9 lbs (loaded) and an M9 weighs 3 lbs. When I got the word that I was needed elsewhere other than away for a week at the competition, I stopped doing this. What was the point?

James Clear mentions the Zeigarnik effect. He shared the story of a waiter who remembered perfectly the intricate orders of a large group. When one of the members of the group forgot his wallet and came back just a few minutes later, the waiter didn’t remember the guest.

The guest was confused. The waiter had an outstanding memory with the group’s complicated orders. The waiter said, “Oh, I just remember long enough to serve the meal” – like cramming and then immediately brain dumping.

Therefore, step one, find a reason – a long-term reason.