No zero days: For health and fitness

Binary heart

Lack of time and motivation are common challenges my clients have. But it’s not actually time and mojo they’re having issues with. It’s the friction and barriers in the way of those things.

You have the time. But friction and barriers can make finding the time you want difficult. For example, you have time to work out in the morning but getting the kids ready for school adds friction and barriers. Thus, making it more difficult.

The same is true for motivation. It’s there, but friction and barriers can make what you want to do more difficult. You’re motivated to make home-cooked meals. But you’re also motivated to order in and relax with your favorite show on the couch.

Friction and barriers are usually strong enough that it keeps you from taking action. The lack of action is what creates a spiral of disappointment, guilt, shame, and frustration.

Motivation and time are never the key, action is. Instead of trying to plow through these barriers. Finding a way to do something, anything is the way around or over them.

That’s where the concept of no zero days comes in.

What do no zero days mean?

I came across the concept of no zero days a few years ago in a Reddit post.

It’s a non-binary way of thinking about things. Either you’re taking action (1) or you’re not (0). The idea is to build a string of 1’s and limit having too many 0’s in a row.

A No Zero Day is a day when you ensure that you do at least one thing, no matter how small, that can help you in the pursuit of a particular goal. Motivation to pursue your goals is easy to find but hard to maintain. A zero day is a day in which you have done absolutely nothing towards your goal or dream.

You’re either you’re right (1) or you’re wrong (0), you’re doing something (1) or you’re not (0). The idea of a non-zero day is to do something every single day to move towards your goal.

This is like my never two-in-a-row motto. Miss a workout? Cool, not two in a row. Eat a shitty meal? Cool, not two in a row.

Author Gretchen Rubin sees this as failing small. Divide your day into quarters, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and evening. If you have a shitty breakfast, cool, pick it back up at lunch. Have a shitty dinner, cool, and pick it back up in the evening.

What are the rules of no zero days?

Jerry Seinfeld strategy calendar

Rule #1: There are no zero days

It doesn’t matter how big or small the action is. The idea is never no zero’s. Can’t work out? Do a single push-up. Can’t follow your diet plan? Make sure your meal has veggies with it.

Rule #2: Be grateful for the 3 versions of you

There are 3 versions of you. Past you, present you, and future you. Having a shitty day? Reflect on yesterday and the good decision you made. Celebrate and honor the wins present you are experiencing. Ask yourself what’s a decision I can make today that helps the future me?

One of the easiest ways to be grateful for the past, present, and future you is through a gratitude practice. Every day or once a week ask yourself what is one thing I am grateful for in my past? What is one thing I am grateful for today? And what is one thing I can be grateful for in my future?

Rule #3: Forgive yourself

I’m a big believer in building fault tolerance. When we make mistakes, slip up, or fall off the wagon. Reward yourself for correcting errors.

An easy way to do this is through daily reflection. What went well today? What did not go as well as I would like? What is one small thing I can do to correct that thing that did not go well?

Rule #4: Exercise and books

Movement is the foundation for self-care and mental health. It’s easy to forget that when you’re pursuing aesthetic goals. Find a way to move your body every day that you enjoy. I like to call this finding your “meaningful movement.”

Exercise your brain by reading every day. Studies suggest that people who read are more empathetic and respond better to others. Doesn’t matter what you read – read something.

The downside of no zero days

Yes, there is a downside to everything. Even no zero days.

The biggest is the obsession with streaks. Many people will make it a goal to have as many 1’s in a row as possible. If 0 sneaks in there they will feel the streak’s broken, everything’s ruined, and now they have to start all over. But one meal off plan doesn’t ruin anything just like one perfect meal doesn’t lead to dramatic results. You’d have to add some zero’s to it.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman has a beautiful quote I love.

‘Add some zeros to it.’ There is not any one thing you can do that will be enough to get you the results you want. For example, working out at the gym one time isn’t going to help you lose a lot of weight. However, if you add some zeros to it, and repeat that one workout 100 times or 1,000 times, you’re going to get somewhere.It starts with that single workout or meal.

How to apply no zero days to your fitness and nutrition

Most people approach fitness and nutrition with an all-or-nothing mindset. They’re either on the wagon or off it. Following their plan perfectly or completely off the rails. But like most things in life, there’s some grey area in the middle. To find that area for you ask the following questions.

  • What does a perfect day of fitness and nutrition look like for me? A 10 out of 10.
  • What does the worst possible day of fitness and nutrition look like for me? A 0 out of 10.
  • Where do I usually fall on this scale?

Now you can use your scale to help you level up your fitness and nutrition when you have more time, energy, and mojo. Or you can dial it back when you have fewer of those things.

A few small actions you can use to help you always stay in the fitness and nutrition game and never have a zero-day again.

  • 5-minute walk after each meal
  • Protein with each meal
  • Veggie with each meal
  • Water with each meal
  • Push-ups or squats to start your day
  • Make or plan one meal for tomorrow

Will these small actions really move the needle? Probably not. But that’s not the point. The idea is to keep you taking action. It’s so much easier to do more once you’ve already established routines, rituals, and momentum.


Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash