You know you should exercise, so you do. At least you do it occasionally. Maybe not as often as you’d like? Okay, before we go any further, I want to ask you an obvious question.
Do you actually want to build an exercise habit?
I’m assuming, since you’re reading this, your answer is “YES” but I really want to make sure.
If you do want to make exercise into a habit, it’s important to first think about what that means. A habit, by definition, is a regular tendency or practice. There is no such thing as a habit that you do some of the time.
This doesn’t mean you need to exercise everyday, but it should mean that you engage in some form of physical activity on more days than not – just so you can build some momentum.
Some successful exercise habits begin with 1-2 days per week and slowly creep up to 3-4 days per week. For others, 1-2 days per week is not enough to build a habit.
Because exercising on Tuesday and Thursday are great, but that means you have Friday-Monday of getting back into the habit of doing nothing. Once Tuesday rolls around, it might once again feel really difficult to get up and exercise.
It’s not so dissimilar to the Monday blues. When working a Monday-Friday schedule, going to work on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday becomes easier and easier…because we’ve built momentum. But then the momentum stops over the weekend. How do we feel going to work on Monday? It’s because we have to start building momentum all over again.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take days off – especially when it comes to exercise, recovery days are essential. However, the “rest days” you put in between your workouts, the easier it will be to gain momentum and build a long-term exercise habit.
They key to building an exercise habit is to first prove to yourself that you can be consistent with exercise. Here are some steps that will help you start making that happen:
- Find a form of exercise you don’t hate
- Create a Plan
- Do something, even if you really don’t want to
- Start Small
- Give yourself a pat on the back
Let’s go into a each a little deeper…
#1 FIND A FORM OF EXERCISE YOU DON’T HATE
If exercise falls under the category of things you absolutely detest, there is no way you will ever do it consistently over time. The moment you feel a little overwhelmed, tired, or life gets a little hectic, you will stop. There are only so many unpleasant things we as humans can handle at once.
For exercise to become a habit, it needs to be moved from the “things I hate to do” category. Forget about the “no pain, no gain” mindset. At first, it does not matter how intense you’re exercising. Exercise that isn’t enjoyable is not sustainable.
Experiment to find forms of physical activity you enjoy. Was there ever a form of physical activity you used to enjoy? How can you build off of that?
If you’re sitting there thinking, “There is no forms of exercise I enjoy, Chris.” Then start with something that sucks the least and think of ways to make it more enjoyable (i.e. listen to your favorite music while resistance training, go for a walk with a friend, or watch your favorite TV shows while sitting on a recumbent bike).
#2 CREATE A PLAN
Saying, “I will exercise today sometime in the afternoon,” rarely works. If you want to build a habit of exercise, first, get into the habit of planning when you will exercise during the day.
You could carve out a specific time, like setting an appointment with. yourself. Many find that this works for them.
There’s also the proven technique of habit stacking. Habit stacking is when you pair or “stack” your goal behavior with a current habit. Here are a few examples:
- “Right after I eat breakfast, I will go for a walk outside.”
- “On the way home from work, I will drive to the gym and workout.”
- As soon as I wake up, I will get dressed and hop on my Peloton for 30 minutes.”
#3 WHEN THE TIME YOU PLANNED TO EXERCISE COMES, DO IT…
…even if you’re exhausted, unhappy, stressed or busy.
Don’t wait and see if you feel motivated. You won’t. Don’t wait until you feel super energetic, you won’t.
You will feel tired, stiff, and will want to stay on the couch, or crawl back into bed. Anticipate this, plan for it, and do it anyway. As soon as you get moving, these feelings will fade.
This small window, between when the time comes to take action and the decision you make is THE WINDOW FOR CHANGE. This is where change happens – each time you let the window close, it becomes increasingly harder to open again.
Every time you break the promise to yourself regarding exercise, you are effectively building the habit of saying “no.” Eventually your word to yourself won’t mean much – and that’s a scary concept. The more you get in the habit of saying “yes,” the easier it gets. It’s all about momentum!
#4 START SMALL
Since it is a given that some days you will be busy or feel unmotivated, commit to doing something so small that it will be hard to say no.
At first, commit to starting with 3 mins. That’s all! You can do 3 minutes! Of course, if on days you feel good, do more. But if you’re not feeling great or you’re pressed for time, you’ll still be able to do 3 minutes and you’ll feel proud that you got it done.
#5 GIVE YOURSELF A PAT ON THE BACK
Like we’ve said, building a habit takes effort. Some days will be harder than others. But after each exercise session, spend a minute telling yourself how proud you are that you made time for yourself and did what you committed to doing. And remind yourself of all the benefits exercise can provide. As time goes on, doing this will increase your confidence and transform how you see yourself.
Remember, the real first step to building an exercise habit is proving to yourself that you can. Each day you get up and exercise, you are proving that YOU CAN DO THIS!
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