Do you have exercising and physical health among your goals for the new year? We all know exercise is great for us. It improves both physical and mental health as well as giving us higher levels of energy throughout the day.
If, like many people, you struggle to exercise on a consistent basis, then most likely exercise is not a ‘habit’ for you. Habits are behaviors that are largely automatic and you don’t have to spend time motivating yourself to do it – it’s simply a part of your routine and lifestyle.
If you would like exercise to become ‘automatic’ for you – along with all the associated benefits – follow this proven 7 step method from “7 Steps to Make or Break Habits” E-book .
1- Develop Self Awareness
First you must develop awareness of the need to change. What are all the reasons that starting an exercise habit is a necessity for you?
You also need to build awareness of your current exercise habits and fitness level so you can make improvements.
Are you exercising daily, weekly or not at all? What is currently preventing you from exercising? Is it a lack of time, enjoyment or fitness know-how? Can you remove some of these obstacles?
2- Set a Goal
Set a goal for the amount of exercise you would like to be doing. To successfully condition a habit you will need to do the activity every day for 30 days to ensure it sticks. Therefore, it is best to start off with something small that you can do every day rather than attempting strenuous workouts that will leave you unable to exercise for days later.
Make sure you goal is smart (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely). For example, “I will walk for 15 minutes each day for the next 30 days at an aerobically challenging pace”.
You might want to include the time of day you will exercise as well if appropriate e.g. 7:00 am weekday mornings and 9:00 am on the weekend. Now you have something specific and measurable to hold yourself accountable to.
3- Build your Motivation
Until exercise becomes a habit, you will have to motivate yourself to do it.
Focusing on the benefits will help to motivate you. Write down all the reasons why you want to build an exercise habit such as improved physical health, reaching or maintaining a healthy weight, increased mental clarity, stress relief, feeling good from endorphins etc.
Read over these benefits morning and night and put them in a prominent place where you can see them.
Think also about the consequences of not following through, such as a lifetime of poor health and low energy.
We are more motivated to do activities we enjoy – therefore, make exercise fun! There are thousands of different ways you can move your body and exercise – be creative working with your interests.
You can also look at ways to make a particular form of exercise more enjoyable. For example, using your walk time to appreciate nature or reflect on your day can greatly increase your enjoyment. Do not use it as a time to think about your problems!
Having someone to exercise with will also make it more enjoyable and increase your commitment.
4- Decide on a Plan and Strategy
You will need a detailed plan to ensure you follow through on your commitment.
Treat exercise as a priority and plan your day so it won’t get pushed aside. Morning exercise is best for this but straight after work is also a good time. Opt for indoor exercises or schedule a lunchtime walk if you’re really pressed for time.
Have a contingency plan for bad weather if you are planning to exercise outdoors. This may include weights at home or treadmill so you can continue your habit in adverse weather conditions.
Organize as much as you can in advance, such as getting your gym gear ready the night before so you don’t leave without it. Try and work out exactly when, where and how you will exercise before you actually do it. The fewer obstacles and decisions that need to be made, the easier it will be to follow through.
Make yourself accountable to someone to ensure you stick with it.
5- Prepare your Mind
To successfully change a habit, you will need to work on your thoughts and beliefs as well as your physical behavior. For example, it will be difficult to maintain an exercise program if you believe with all your heart that you can never become fit and healthy or that to do so requires great sacrifice and pain. You must change your thoughts and beliefs in order to successfully change.
6- Take Action
Commit to following your plan for 30 days as it takes 21-30 days to form a habit. Put your commitment in writing and remind yourself that at the end of the 30 days, exercise will be a habit and you will not require as much effort as it does in the early stages.
7- Track your Progress
Start by recording simply doing your exercise each day. As Woody Allen said, “half of life is just showing up”. Focus on building a healthy habit first, then focus on specific results once the habit is formed.
As you progress, you might want to track things such as your weight or muscle gain to stay motivated. Beware though of focusing exclusively on something such as weight as you are likely to plateau at some point. You may then lose the motivation to exercise and start the slow slide back to your original non-exercising state.
Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, speed or distance that you run can help you see that you are getting stronger and faster.
Finally… don’t break the habit! Once you have developed an exercise habit, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. Rest assured though that it will be easier to form the habit 2nd time around!
First published: December 2011