How to Build an Exercise Habit Using the “One Thing” Way


Returning to exercise after a long break can be difficult. Not only do you have to figure out what kind of workouts you want to do and how fit you want to be, but you must remember to do it. When an activity hasn’t been on your radar in months or years, having it occur to you in the middle of your busy day is the biggest challenge of all. Enter the one thing or OT way.

why you might need the ot way

Most times when I have sought to build an exercise habit, I’d forget about it all day and only remember as I was getting into bed. This would go on for a couple of weeks until I’d finally forget about it altogether. After repeating this failure routine several times per year for a few years, I came up with a plan that really works.

the biggest challenge

You might think the biggest challenge to working out is motivation. Once you get started, you realize the habit is the hardest part. We are usually easily motivated to lose weight or be fitter, but we have the most trouble making exercise part of our regular routine.

what is the ot way?

The one thing or OT way is a deal you make with yourself that you will do one exercise for three sets every single day, seven days a week. Once you do your OT, you are off the hook for the rest of the day. The deal is no guilt and no berating yourself. Your OT is enough.

the key to success

The key here is to build a habit of exercise with small successes. Starting too big can lead to excessive soreness that causes us to avoid exercise until it goes away. Starting small leads to big success.

how often to exercise

In the beginning, I do my OT seven days a week because it only takes a few minutes and taking weekends off gives inertia a chance to set in again. In case you’ve forgotten, inertia is the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest. You’ve probably seen the effects of inertia in your own life, so I don’t have to tell you what a trap it is. newbie exercising

ramping up from ot to full workouts

Later, after I am doing full workouts regularly, I transition to full workouts five days per week and OT on days off. This maintains my exercise habit and keeps daily exercise at the forefront of my mind. You may not have as much trouble as I do in remembering to get started again on Monday. You know yourself and your reminder needs better than anyone.

vary your ot

The OT can vary every day. Maybe Monday you do 3 sets of pushups. You might do 3 sets of military press on Tuesday. Wednesday might be your day for ab crunches. The exercise itself is less important than the habit. It’s good to keep a list because the less you need to think about it, the more likely you are to do it. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself and get decisional paralysis. Keep it simple.

how to remember to exercise

You can set a timer to go off at a certain time every day that you have dedicated to OT time. You can set a reminder on your computer with Cortana, on your wearable fitness tracker, on your Echo using Alexa, or on your cell phone.

analog reminders

An analog idea is that you can associate it with dinner or some other habit you do every day. Make a deal with yourself that you must work for your supper; you can’t have dinner until you do your OT. A cool idea is associating it with getting up in the morning. The benefit of getting it done in the morning is that you can ride that extra bump of energy into the rest of your day. You also get the feeling of satisfaction knowing you have done it and can feel good about yourself. This can elevate the mood of your entire day.

if you want to do more

If you get a burst of energy after doing your OT and want to do more, you can, but the rule is that it must not be an excuse to skip your OT tomorrow. Extras are in addition to rather than instead of. It’s important to honor the rule so you don’t endanger your newly-forming habit.

ramp up at your own pace

As you get in the habit of exercise, you get more energy, which leads you to be inspired to do more than your one thing. Soon you will be doing a full workout. How soon? That’s up to you. Everyone is different. You’re the only one that knows what your starting point is and what your limitations might be. Let your energy be your guide. Keep in mind that your energy may fluctuate from day to day. It’s okay to allow the natural ebb and flow as long as you keep doing your OT. You are habit-building!

exercise ideas to begin building an exercise habit

It’s easier to do your one thing every day if you don’t have to think about it too much before starting. I usually make a list of things to do and tape it to my door. Your list might be on your computer or cell phone. If you would like a set of exercises so you can get started right away, you can use this one. Feel free to substitute based on your personal ability, interest, or equipment. I have created a newbie exercise program so that even those without any gym equipment at home can find an OT they can do. There are enough exercises to do one each day of the week. You can look on YouTube for videos that demonstrate each exercise.

  • Pushups
  • Chair Dips
  • Ab Crunches
  • Clamshells
  • Thigh Pillow Squeezes
  • Calf Raises
  • One-Leg Squats


Now you have a plan for getting started and ramping up. You can easily expand as your energy dictates. You will be incrementally fitter every day while building an important habit of exercise. For motivation, I change E. Jean Carroll’s famous quote to, “If Joan of Arc could turn the tide of an entire war before her 18th birthday, you can do your OT.” It’s one thing and will take only a few minutes. It’ll be done before you know it. So, when are you starting?

Cindi Clinton

Cindi Clinton is a lifestyle writer for hire. She writes articles and blog posts on topics such as health & wellness, mindfulness, fitness, CBD, and the gaming industry that help companies increase their bottom line. Quite the busy lady, Cindi is also a WordPress developer. When she’s not working, she’s having fun making jewelry, gaming, and hanging out with her fur-kids.