Why I Decided to Let Myself Take the Elevator Instead of the Stairs. At the Gym.

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to “exercise more,” and I’m no exception.

Although I’m a natural couch potato, I’d managed to form the long-standing habit of going to the gym regularly — and then we got our delightful puppy Barnaby. And suddenly my habit was gone.

Fortunately for me, I’d written a whole book about habits, Better Than Before, so I understood what had happened. The “Clean Slateof my new relationship with our puppy, and the changes caused by taking care of him, had wiped my habit away — even though it was a habit I’d been following for years.

A few weeks ago, as I was telling my my sister about this problem, in episode 41 of our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, it suddenly hit me: to make it easier to get back in the habit of gym-going, I needed to make gym-going more convenient. It was time to switch to a different gym, one that was close to our apartment instead of being near my daughters’ school.

So, as I describe in episode 42, I did switch gyms.  In fact, because I hate doing that kind of paperwork, when my husband asked me what to get me for my birthday, I said, “Get me a gym membership at your gym.” and he did. Win-win! He got me a gift I really wanted, and I got a new membership without hassle.

The new gym is more convenient, and I have indeed been going more.

I was there this morning, and I faced a choice.

At this new gym, the locker floor is on the second floor, which is a couple of long flights of stairs up.

This morning, I saw some people standing in front of the elevator, and I thought, “How ridiculous to take the elevator to go to the gym! Start exercising now by taking the stairs!”

But then I thought, “Wait, I hate climbing these particular stairs. I’m weighed down by my stuff and by my heavy winter coat. The elevator sure looks appealing.”

And I stood there, thinking about exercise, and habits, and excuses, and convenience, and the advice of every exercise-habit-expert in the world, which is to take the elevator. And I debated…elevator or no elevator?

And I decided, “Yes, I’d get a bit more exercise if I climb to the second floor. But not much more exercise. And taking the elevator seems so delightful, like such a treat! I really love not having to climb to that second floor. And if I feel like it’s pleasant to come to the gym, I’ll be more likely to come regularly. And I’ll get more exercise by taking the elevator at the gym than by skipping the gym.”

So I took the elevator. And I loved every easy second of it. Then I changed and worked out for forty minutes.

Sometimes, to push myself hard, I have to go easy on myself.

What do you think? Is taking the elevator at the gym a smart solution — or quite silly?

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Ken

    I guess it’s the achiever in me but I would have gone for the stairs without a thought. I figure as long as I’m at the gym I’m gonna maximize every moment I have there to get as much exercise in as I can. Also it sounds like a slippery slope. Next you’ll be trying to find the nearest parking spot or avoiding certain exercises they take too much effort.

    • gretchenrubin

      Well, I’m safe with the nearest parking spot – as a New Yorker I have to walk there!

      • Greg

        This is my first visit. If you have to spend that much thought on weather to take an elevator or stairs at a gym, I don’t know how you get anything done. This is my last visit.

        • mom2luke

          LOL, she gets A LOT done! She’s an upholder. You are leaving her blog way, way too soon. Click on “What Kind of Person are You?” I predict: Rebel!

        • oneWEIRDword

          Ah, the good ol’ internet makes it somehow okay to stop by and poo in someone’s online living room. Just say boo to the poo.

  • Nick

    I am not of fan of Ms. Rubin’s. It seems that her definition of “happiness” is always a convenient excuse for what she wants. One of her commandments for happiness is “Be Gretchen.” The only reason I continue to occasionally read her posts is to remind myself, “Don’t Be Gretchen.”

    • Mimi Gregor

      I don’t understand why you would read a blog you do not enjoy. That seems counter-productive in terms of increasing your happiness. And I’m sure she’d be the first to tell you “Of course you shouldn’t ‘be Gretchen’!” Being “Nick” is the only way you can find what makes you happy.

      As for the definition of happiness… doesn’t it usually entail “getting what you want”? I know it does with me, but then that’s part of “being Mimi”.

      • Nick

        I read plenty of things that I do not enjoy. I read them for different points of view. I read them to understand what makes a person tick. I am a left-leaning liberal, but I read articles and listen to interviews with people with opposing points of view. It’s part of getting a well-rounded education and not focusing your world from your viewpoint. Reading material that only agrees with your viewpoint is the equivalent of taking the elevator at the gym.

    • oneWEIRDword

      What makes me happy isn’t the same thing as what works for you, or Gretchen. So be you, bro.

    • artie

      Well, right – Don’t Be Gretchen, indeed. The point is, you’re supposed to Be Nick. Which apparently includes reading blogs you aren’t a fan of. Takes all kinds.

  • Be Gretchen!

    Hi Gretchen! I don’t get the negativity in here today. What’s that all about? Go to the unhappiness blog for that, please.
    I have to say that I agree with you and your decision to take the elevator. I also live about a mile from my gym, and in the summer, I make myself walk there. In fact, this is more about the five bucks I will save for parking than for the exercise… go figure. Right now, I am letting myself drive to the gym because I know that the process of getting there is the first thing I associate with my gym visits and I don’t want it to be dreadful in this weather and prevent me from going. Since the elevator also seems to be your first obstacle of your gym visit, I can see how keeping this from being the first thing you associate with going to the gym would be helpful in getting you back on track and sticking to your gym habit.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great to hear that this approach worked for someone else, like me!

    • Amy Zarndt

      Interesting that the negative responses are all from men. I’m not really sure what to make of that. As a woman I think I have often felt that I was supposed to be more like a man in dealing with things and “just suck it up.” It’s taken me years and still takes vigilance on my part to not fall into that trap. I approach things differently in life, I have strong emotional responses to things, I don’t want to just suck it up when maybe there is something more to understand about something I’m feeling or something that’s going on. After years of feeling like I should “just have more energy” I find out I have thyroid issues, oh, isn’t that interesting. What I appreciate so much about Gretchen’s approach to things is the understanding that there is no one way to do everything, but being encouraged to step back and look at things from the reality of who you know yourself to be, and find what actually works for you. Thanks Gretchen!

  • Mimi Gregor

    I probably would have taken the stairs, but for a different reason: you said that there was a line, and I hate waiting in line. That would be more odious to me than schlepping up the stairs. But you may be a more patient person than I am, so whatever gets you to actual workout is the best option.

  • Melissa

    I love this! I have found the strategies of convenience and inconvenience to be very powerful tools for cultivating good habits. Thanks, Gretchen. I love the blog, the books, and the podcast. Happy New Year!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks! Great to hear that it strikes a chord with you.

  • mom2luke

    I’m almost always a stair-taker, but if my arms are full of heavy stuff and that causes me to trip and fall and break my leg–you bet I wished I’d taken the elevator!* I totally understand your reasoning and also why it’s important and blog-worthy. It illustrates so many of your secrets of adulthoods and habit discoveries, flexibility = good. Treats = good. Convenience in keeping good habits = essential! Congrats on figuring out how to make “getting back to the gym” a priority and a habit.

    *I chose to bike to a yard sale that was only a half-mile away, thinking it was good exercise and driving a car would be “lazy.” But trying to balance my $1 purchase on the handlebars caused me to topple over and break my knee–which requires a full leg cast for 6 weeks! Then months of rehab. Sometimes it pays to treat yourself. Yes to the elevator, esp. when you are weighed down!

  • Laura

    Reading Better than Before taught me this idea of being easy on myself
    in order to expect more from myself. I need to cut myself some slack in
    some areas of my life in order to ask more of myself in other areas of
    my life. I use gentle reminders of what I have been accomplishing in
    order to quiet my inner critic when she starts whining about the laundry
    or the dishes.

    Is this what you mean by your statement?

  • B Johnson

    Gretchen, I just wanted to say that I love your books, podcasts, and blog, and I appreciate you sharing the thought processes behind your decisions. It helps me to not feel guilty when I have the same inner debates!

    • gretchenrubin


      • Emmc

        I’ve just bought ‘Happier at Home’ (a little behind the times I know) and am really enjoying it and finding it useful. currently composing an email to explain my reaction to each chapter, what I’m learning about myself. Thanks.

        • gretchenrubin

          Terrific! Great to hear that you’re enjoying it.

  • Lisa Y

    This reminds me of why I eat cheese on my salads at lunch. The salad would be healthier if I left off the shredded cheddar. But I enjoy a salad with cheese more, so I end up eating a little cheese with a lot of leafy greens and tomatoes. Treating myself a little with cheese gets me to eat my vegetables for lunch every day!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, if we’re too hard on ourselves, we end up giving up altogether.

      The key is to stick to the habit!

  • oneWEIRDword

    I go all the way up and down the stairs at the office every day – but never in the morning with my coat, coffee, purse, laptop and briefcase. Never. My colleague does, and I thought oh hey great idea, but reality stepped in and you can get exercise however works best for you. So, good on you for doing it!

    • Marcia

      Yes! Same here. I work on the 3rd floor and when I only have a handbag and lunch, and am in flat shoes (like today), I happily take the stairs. Days with laptop and heels make me use the lift (elevator).

  • Mairsydoats

    Just last night, I had a very similar debate with myself at my gym. What I know about my body is that my knees can’t take too many flights of stairs in a day. So after taking the stairs on the gym tour, I chose to take the elevator to get to the machines that will strengthen my knees. So I can take more stairs later, right? Or not, depending on the day.

    I appreciate your sharing your thought process about “little” things! Even when I have a different answer for myself, it’s good to look at all sorts of things from another’s point of view. And sometimes I don’t know what “Being Mary” looks like until I see the contrast of what “Being XXX” is for someone else.

  • Carrie Sampson

    I totally agree that it is a smart solution! A related scenario outside of NYC is parking close to the door at the gym. This used to drive me crazy! You’re at the gym, you are planning to work out, but you can’t walk across the parking lot?? But now it makes a lot of sense. Many people join the gym so they don’t have to work out in the snow and cold temps. Parking close means they have less of that to deal with. 🙂

  • Leanne Sowul

    As a fellow Upholder, I love this way of thinking. So often I do things because I “should”- including taking the stairs! But if making a small change means that you’re more likely to stick to the more important priority, then I say it’s worth it. Good choice!

  • ChrisD

    I used to talk the car to go jogging in the park, and I did think it was a bit silly, so I thought it through, but I’d have to run along a main road with the dog… it was nicer to do all the running the park and then she could be off the lead all the time.
    Also when I was writing my thesis. I’d put in a whole day at work, take two hours off and then write at work the whole evening. I was living on site, so it was a five minute walk away, but I took the car! But I could park outside the building in a spot nobody could park in during normal hours, and it was cold and that was my treat for working so hard.

  • Kathy

    These sound like the kind of thoughts that run through my head sometimes! I’m glad I’m not the only one. Good for you making your healthy habit easier–I’m working on that myself with making healthier food choices easier to make–like buying the bagged salad instead of the lettuce!

  • artie

    This is so helpful because it takes a longer view and looks into our motivations. It is so surprising sometimes what makes us more likely to keep a good habit, and your ability to look from different angles at that stuff always turns up so many good insights.

  • Sarah

    I think this makes sense! I am a long time runner who had to stop running for a period of time due to an injury, and I have been finding it difficult to get back to regular running. I decided that it made more sense to get on the treadmill every day for the same amount of time, even if some of it is walking and some of it is running rather than pressure myself to run the entire time. Some running and some walking is better than nothing at all, and I have found it a lot easier to stick to the habit by easing the expectation slightly.

  • GinaM

    I do think the negative comments are…interesting. I never take the elevator, but I dislike elevators, and see no difficulty in empathizing with someone who similarly dislikes stairs. Also, I love to run, and can run a 6-minute mile, but outside of running up to 60 miles per week I tend to be rather lazy – partly because I truly need the sleep and rest, partly because I wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of the energy I store for training and knowing the Rate of Perceived Effort in workouts can be affected by so many variables. It’s been shown over and over again that if an exercise program is not pleasant for you, you won’t stick with it, no matter how many people berate you for “making excuses.” At least one guy out there agrees with you, for his own reasons: http://naumof.blogspot.com/2015/07/is-it-wrong-to-take-elevator-to-gym.html

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  • Anne

    I had to laugh about your post, because the last time I took the elevator at my gym (which is on the fourth floor and parking is in an underground garage three floors beneath ground level) – well, the last time I took this elevator, I was thinking that it was bad to use it when I wanted to work out anyway… and then I got stuck and it took the technician 70 minutes to get me out, my step aerobic class was over by then. Since then I have never used an elevator again.
    Many greetings from Germany!

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  • Emma Louise Pudge

    Seems like a variation on Accept Ourselves and Expect More of Ourselves – but by, in a way expecting less of ourselves in certain areas, we can help ourselves to direct our energy towards what really counts. Reminds me of the ongoing debate about what is the best diet, when for 95% of the population the best diet is the one they can stick to. If what is optimal is not sustainable, then you don’t reap any of the benefits at all. By sacrificing a little of what is ‘optimal’ to ensure consistency, you can expect long term sustainable results!

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