The Exercise Pieces Project (Or, "How I Committed to a Year of Increased Physical Activity')

So, I thought I’d share a little about the year-long, personal project I’ve committed to. I’m calling it “The Exercise Pieces Project” which is a bit of a play on words. Maybe it will nudge you to begin a similar self-directed project, tailored to your own interests. It’s based on using “multi-goaling” as a means of changing behavior, but other than that, it’s really wide open. So here’s the scoop about what I’m up to and how it came about: 

If you’re anything like me, prioritizing exercise over other things doesn’t happen often, if ever. But in late November of 2018, I turned 64 and I decided I really did need to find a way to make myself increase my physical activity and spend more time outdoors. Thankfully, sometime between Christmas and New Year’s, I had an epiphany: I could multi-goal my way to better fitness.

Here’s where the exercise pieces come in. Along with my need to exercise and my desire to spend more time outdoors (Goals 1 and 2), I had a real need to make use of some of the smaller scraps of fabrics that accumulate when I deconstruct worn garments to make new apparel accessories and home decor items (Goal 3). Additionally, I had a real desire to experiment with making larger textile pieces for wall display (Goal 4). 

So I devised a “game” to address all four goals: I would begin exercising and I would document my daily progress toward my first two goals by constructing a wall “quilt” that I would add a “coded” scrap piece to each day. (See future post for the design details.) The textile project would serve as a behavioral modification method in which the daily “carrot” motivating me to exercise would be the chance to add a piece to the quilt, and the grand carrot (reward) would be the completed piece. In the process, some of my scraps would be utilized, and when fully assembled, the large wall piece would become a lasting, tangible record of my physical activity (or lack thereof).  Bingo! All four goals would be met and I’d win the game!

Initially, my thought was to create a single piece over the course of a year. But my first sketched design of a 365-day wall piece quickly led me to alter my plan. My next couple of designs contemplated pieces that spanned 180 days. But in the end, I settled for dividing the project into quarterly installments. This solution seems perfect for multiple reasons: 1) it allows me to use somewhat larger scrap pieces and still end up with a finished wall piece that’s a manageable size, making it appropriate for displaying in various locations; 2) I have a relatively short attention span when it comes to longer term projects; 3) the quarterly format will allow me to shift my specific physical activity goals every three months, if desired, and to also totally shift design concept gears; and 4) the timeline roughly tracks the seasons, which might factor somehow into the design concept of one or more of the quarterly pieces.  

My plan is to document my progress through the year on Instagram fairly regularly, and to provide updates here, less frequently. My hope is that by doing so, others might be encouraged to join in, and begin something they’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t gotten around to. For instance, maybe you’ve been wanting to begin writing, but haven’t begun for whatever reason. And maybe you’re also a knitter (or weaver, or potter, or baker, or whatever) and you have an idea for a new direction to take that craft, or you just want to experiment but haven’t quite taken the leap. Well, maybe this is your year to multi-goal and treat yourself to a new body of writing AND one or more new pieces of your other craft.  If so, here’s how your self-directed project might go:  Fifteen to twenty minutes of writing per day earns you five (or more) rows of knitting per day. Or fifteen to twenty minutes of writing four times a week earns you two hours at the wheel exploring new directions in clay on Saturday. You get the idea. And notice that the emphasis is solely on doing the work; i.e., completing short sessions of activity related to the primary goal on a regular basis. In my case, that work happens to be exercising. And although I’m guessing I’ll be in better physical condition at the end of the year, I haven’t defined any specific outcome goals; merely process goals.

Although I started my personal project at the beginning of the year, you can jump in at any time and take it forward 365 days, or for a shorter duration if you want. If you do decide to take the leap, let me know here and/or on Instagram, and then post progress photos on IG to #theexercisepiecesproject, even if your project has absolutely nothing to do with exercise. (And please note that “pieces” is plural.)

Hope you’ll join me. It will be fun to see what transpires and what we bring forth collectively!


The first exercise piece, photographed when I was twelve days into the project.

The first exercise piece, photographed when I was twelve days into the project.

The nearly final pattern for this first piece.

The nearly final pattern for this first piece.

Three quarters of the way through my first piece. This stage documents approximately 70 days of exercising (or not exercising).  The small gold/green bands mark the weeks gone by.

Three quarters of the way through my first piece. This stage documents approximately 70 days of exercising (or not exercising). The small gold/green bands mark the weeks gone by.