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How to Start Exercising Part 1: A Plan


give up exerciseExercise is easy, isn’t it? Start. Just start.

Easy, right?

Hold on just a minute!

Every day, someone starts exercise.

Every day, someone quits exercise.


You see, it’s really easy to start exercise. But starting is just the first step. If you don’t do it right, you get no results. You get unmotivated. Then you stop.

Check out these two scenarios.


Scenario 1

One day, something triggers our resolve. It may be a look in the mirror, a cruel remark by a co-worker, running for and missing the bus by 30sec and being late for work. It might even be a health screening report that indicates dangerous levels of cholesterol we didn’t know about.

Immediately, we make plans. This makes us feel good about ourselves, a process called dramatic relief. We hit the track, and run as hard and fast as we can. Except… we work so hard that we can’t continue after 5min. We go home, feeling satisfied we’ve done something about our condition. Except… three months later, we’re as fat as ever.

Reason: We didn’t know exactly HOW to exercise.

Scenario 2

We did our research, and we’ve come up with the perfect exercise program. We know just what to do on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’ve bought the shoes, the gear, the heart rate monitor. We make goals, hit the gym, weigh ourselves daily…

Except… we get stuck. We lose 2-3kg, but then just can’t seem to progress any further.

Reason: We didn’t know how exactly to THINK about weight loss.

This article has two parts. Yes, I’ll tell you the HOW TO DO, which is what most people want to know to get started.

But FIRST… I’ll tell you the even more important HOW TO THINK, which is what people need to sustain the effort.

Both of these are essential steps that have helped my most successful patients and clients achieve their fitness goals.


How to THINK

1. Simplify

Sure, we work hard at our careers. Plan meticulously, strategize marvelously: Gantt charts, concept maps, six sigma… these can have a place in fitness if you use them wisely.

But generally speaking, my advice for exercise, especially starting exercise is? SIMPLIFY.

Don’t try to be the perfectionist. Don’t read twenty articles, try on a hundred shoes, buy the latest e-book, investigate two thousand effort-free gadgets to lose weight, before you do anything.

Just get started by using ACTION STEPS.

Every single day, think of at least ONE action step you can easily take to increase your activity, eat better, etc. As you get better, choose one for the morning, one for the evening. Eventually you can decide to have one action step for each meal and at a specific time.

What are good action steps?

Here is how simple they can look.

Simple Goals

This works, because losing weight is all about developing small, easy, sustainable habits and accumulating them. All add up to the final picture, the light at the end of the tunnel.


Speaking of the overall picture, this leads us to our next tip.


2. Set SMART Goals

SMART is an acronym that helps you shy away from ridiculous goals that leave you depressed when you don’t achieve them. It also provides accountability and gives your goal a relevant context that makes it uniquely yours.


Specific Your goals must be clearly defined and focussed. Try to boil it down to something you can explain in one short sentece.

I find that many patients and clients are very vague about their goals. They may tell me
“I don’t know, just try lor”
or “Lost as much weight as possible”
or “Until I am happy with how I look.”

The problem is that these things leave too much room for interpretation with no end point! You don’t want that. Examples of specific goals could be “I want to get by HbA1C down by 1% in three months”
or “I want to fit into my jeans in three months”
or “I want to be able to climb the stairs up to my office and not feel breathless after this exercise programme is completed.”


Measurable You need to quantify your goal. You’ve been specific, but can you measure it? If your set a goal that say “Until the guys think I’m hot” or “Until I look good”… how are you going to know! Both are subjective. You need an objective measure. In the case of weight, it’s easy. The weighing scale. Your BMI. These are things you can measure that instantly let you know “Yes! I have succeeded!”


Achievable Is your goal achievable? If your BMI is currently 40, you have no discipline to set aside the time to prepare your meals, exercise, and are currently due for knee surgery, losing 10kg in two months isn’t realistic.


Relevant Are your goals relevant to Life right now? For example, if you are a 50 year old business exec who has his hands full with even the basic three days a week, is achieving a six-pack really something you need? You still could of course, but the sacrifices you need to make may clash with your other priorities of the moment.


Timeline What specific date will you achieve your goals by? Have you ever noticed that our new year resolutions year after year stay the same? Is it because we are such resolute people? Such DRIVEN people? Such TENACIOUS people? Well no! It’s because we are such procrastinators! At the start of the year we look ahead and say, plenty of time! There’s no urgency and accountability!


Remember: A goal without a timeline is just a WISH.

Charging Rhino

Creating an urgency to move…



3. Set just ONE or TWO goals

This is so important because the more goals you have, the more you divide your focus and energy. It becomes exhausting and when you fall behind, you get demoralized. In fact, in my experience, many people who set lots of goals accomplish none of them! Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades. Be a master of ONE or TWO!

Look at this list of goals…

  • Lose 5kg in the next 12 weeks
  • Run 2.4km in 14min
  • Able to bench press my bodyweight in 8 weeks
  • Learn how to do 3 gymnastics moves
  • Learn how to inline skate
  • Improve my salsa dancing by attending at least 3 classes a week


… and compare it with this one

  • Lose 5kg in the next 12 weeks
  • Improve my hamstring flexibility


Which one do you think you’d be able to live, breathe, and accomplish? The only clients I’ve worked with who could come close to accomplishing the first list are students with lots of free time, or those who were financially independent. That’s not the majority of us.

Make one or two goals your DRIVING FOCUS. Then, everything you say, decide and do will be centred around accomplishing these… your magnificent obsession, as Anthony Robbins calls it.



Many people think of weight loss like this.

I do X → I get results → I can STOP doing X (back to normal… yay!)

This puts the weight right back on!


I’ve got news for you: it didn’t take you one or two wrong things to get to where you are. It took many, many little things, i.e. HABITS to get you here over years and years.


Look at it another way. I ate and lay around. I got fat.

Ate + lay around = Normal → Fat = Normal

Do you want to go back to this?

Do you want to go back to this?

You want New You = Normal now don’t you?

So, you’ve got to create NEW habits. Those habits become your NEW NORMAL!


What are habits? These are things you do every day without fail, without thinking.


Let me ask you, do you have to think about it, fight the temptation to not brush your teeth before heading to the office? Does it give you great pleasure to skip showering for a day in humid Singapore if your wife was away on a business trip? Of course not! They’re ingrained acts.


So, it’s going to take many accumulated little acts to become ingrained, done over and over again, before you reach success.

Consistency is the key. 

New habits might include:

  • Logging your workout every time, so you can check your progress over time
  • Doing 5 minutes calisthenics every morning after waking up
  • Throwing out the yolk and eating just the egg whites
  • Asking for “shao you shao yan” (less oil, less salt) automatically
  • Walking around your office block twice before eating your lunch

These are easy to add, but once routinized, contribute to your overall weight loss. More importantly, they create a mindset of activity.


5. Take Action!

Need I really say more?

How’s this all come together? I can think of no better way to conclude part 1 than with George Dana Bowman’s inspirational quote:

“Sow an act, reap a habit

Sow a habit, reap a character

Sow a character, reap a destiny”

What’s your destiny gonna be?

You know the answer already :

If it is to be, it’s up to me!


Stay tuned for part 2 where we get to the nuts and bolts of the DO part of exercise!