Exercise is an essential part of a successful career. It’s an essential part of a good life. I think one problem a lot of us face is that we approach exercise like it’s a choice.

When email first became widely used, I worked for a guy who thought it was optional. At some point, it truly was optional. High-level executives used to be able to say, “Call my secretary. I don’t have email.” I remember thinking that my boss did not understand reality. That times had changed and his career was going to end if he couldn’t manage to take a look at his in box once a day.

Today I am thinking the same thing about exercise. We used to think that it was optional. But today, it is so overwhelmingly clear that regular exercise changes your life and makes you perform better at work, that it is absolutely absurd to think that you can function optimally in your life without regular exercise.

This is not just about good-looking people doing better in life (which is true). It runs deeper than that. Mary Carmichael wrote in Newsweek about the research that shows exercise boosts our IQ. And exercise increases our resilience to difficult times, which is often the difference between success and failure in getting what we want.

I told myself all of this stuff last month when I started going to the gym again. Last year, a few months after I started blogging, I was so totally overwhelmed by the amount of work it took, that I told myself there was nothing to do but stop going to the gym until I caught up with my work.

It took me four months to realize that the extra hour a day that I was able to work because I wasn’t at the gym was not changing my life. Being overwhelmed by the demands of blogging was not about one hour. It was about that I had made a career change and didn’t even realize it.

But going to the gym for an hour does change my life. Regular exercise requires a careful mental shift. First you clearly prioritize what’s important to you, and why. Then you pick a specific time and specific place, and then you convince yourself that going is not negotiable. There is clear evidence to show that people who make one conscious change – such as going to the gym every day – unconsciously change many other positive changes in their life. Making one decision to live consciously has a ripple affect throughout your life.

In an interview with Harvard Magazine, psychology professor Ellen Langer says, “More than 30 years of research has shown that mindfulness is figuratively and literally enlivening.” And while we all say we want to live in the present, Langer points out, “If you’re not in the present, you’re not there to know you’re not there.”

I remind myself of this when I start thinking of exercise as negotiable. And for all the ten million pieces of advice on how to make exercise regular in one’s life, the best advice, I have found, is to realize that I will not get the life I want if I don’t go to the gym when I plan to go to the gym. When I interviewed positive psychologist Senia Maymin, she convinced me that the key to regular exercise is to tell myself that it is not a choice, and to also tell myself stories that encourage me to go to the gym. One of my stories is the one I told you — about how working that extra hour did not help me catch up at work.

So tell me, what stories do you tell yourself to exercise regularly? Do stories work for you?