How Do I Make Exercise A Habit?
Today we are going to talk about habits, particularly how to make exercise a habit.
The reason people get lost and don't succeed in making exercise a habit is because well, it's not really a habit. Exercise is apart of our routine. The actions taken before we exercise are the true habits. Such as changing into your gym clothes, filling up your water bottle, putting on your running shoes or mixing up your preworkout. These are examples of true habits that need to be instilled in us if we want to succeed in making exercise apart of our routine.
So how do we do this?
Well firstly, we have to get rid of this all or nothing mindset. Going all in on your new lifestyle is not the right approach if you want to make a true lifestyle change versus some program you tried for 60 days.
I have found the best way to accomplish lasting lifestyle changes is to allow for incremental changes and accomplishments to stack up over time. So if you are starting a new fitness program, allow yourself to have incremental wins on a daily or weekly basis.
Day 1: you get your new program and ask questions to your coach.
Day 2: you make a grocery list
Day 3: time to meal prep
Day 4: you plan out your meals and stick to your new nutrition plan
Day 5: you start to look at your workout program
Day 6: you pick what days and times you are going to train. etc etc.
The stacking and building off these accomplishments allows your brain to think, "I like that, let's keep going." It allows you to make progress and keep you going. Whereas if you go all in and try to do everything at once, a minor setback can be detrimental mentally and cause your brain to think "I don't like that, quit now." So in reverse, if you get your new fitness program on Sunday and think that come Monday morning you need to have everything prepped, all your food weighed out, your gym bag ready to go, you have to hit the gym ASAP 6 days a week and lose weight... there's much more opportunity for disappointment here.
Overall, you are more likely to recover from a setback by stacking your accomplishments over time versus having an all or nothing mindset that everything needs to be perfect right off the bat.
I honestly think that's what kept me going after my back injury. I have been making these incremental changes in my life when it comes to fitness, that I could handle being injured, not training for 7 months and hitting the gym after I recovered like I never left. But if I hadn't been working on slowly stacking those accomplishments, I may have just quit... especially if I had that negative all or nothing mindset
Once you understand that you essentially need to build a habit roadmap if you want to achieve your goals, next I would recommend focusing on identifying what type of person or athlete you want to be. I love this step because it's going to allow you to show up and perform the habit, even when you have a setback. So what type of person do you want to be? I want to be a fit person. I want to be a person who doesn’t make excuses. I want to be a person who never misses a workout. I think identifying how you want to show up allows you to follow through even when everything feels like it’s going to shit. So if you are sick with a cold, living up to your identity as a person who never misses a workout, you hold yourself accountable to still do something! Maybe you still do 20 squats and 10 push ups and that’s all you got.
You still showed up.
Even at its worst, it’s still better than doing nothing. Even if you didn’t do your planned workout that day, you still showed up as the person you want to be and it was better than doing nothing at all
So if you are starting a new program or just can’t seem to stick to a given program and are constantly jumping around from program to program, focus on mastering showing up. Don’t worry so much about the performance in the gym. It’s about just showing up at first and being consistent over time. If you can truly master these habits, the benefits from the program will follow.
I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were talking about creating habits and gave an example of this individual who created a habit of going to the gym by making an effort to drive to the gym and worked out for no longer than 5 mins and then he went home. Sounds ridiculous right but the idea was if that person can’t identify themselves at someone who would at least drive to the gym, they aren’t going to be the type of person to actually work out at the gym for an hour or so. It was so fascinating and over time the length of the workout session increased and he changed his identify from someone who wouldn’t be caught dead in the gym to someone who goes regularly. I think they mentioned in the podcast that this person lost over 100lbs.
But this is a prime example of the importance of initiating and creating the habit prior to the routine. It’s a habit to drive to the gym, whereas the exercising itself is apart of the routine.
Next you have focus on enjoying the process. If you hate doing something, then don’t do it. It’s important to understand that there is a time and place for doing that thing you don’t enjoy if you want to achieve your goals – which we will talk about later. But at the same time, there’s no need to suffer
So many people use exercise as a form of punishment for having a "cheat meal" or having a beer or maybe even falling off their program for a day or two -- no wonder why people are afraid to go to the gym.
I think once we stopping using exercising as a form of exercise, we can start focusing on the most important step if you are going to successfully make exercise a habit.
Embracing the boredom.
We talked earlier about the importance of enjoying the process. But as you progress over time, there is going to be some boredom that you have to endure. A lot of people mistake boredom for not making progress in the gym, which isn’t necessarily true. I honestly think it’s the opposite… I think it’s a sign that you are ready to push yourself just a little bit harder.
Let’s be real, some days in the gym it can be boring doing the same thing over and over again. But that boredom doesn’t last forever.
This is why I think so many people like these high intensity classes because it’s always changing. You are always doing something new at F45 or P90X. And while it feels good to sweat, if your goal is to tone up and change your body composition, relying of these classes alone that are changing day to day, it actually not the best approach for you to achieve your goals. If you are always changing the recipe, you are never going to get your brownies. You are never going to get what you originally intended if you are constantly switching up the ingredients. You have to follow the recipe; you have to follow the plan if you want to see results.
If you are feeling bored with your training but are making progress, you have to embrace that boredom to get to that next step to get to that next level. So focus on getting a little bit better each day that you hit the gym. Focus on getting stronger; find a friend who’s at equal playing field as you so you can push each other. This will help keep you engaged so you can push pass that boredom.
Remember that the boredom doesn’t last forever.
Once you get to this stage, it’s going to start to feel easier to go to the gym, it’s going to feel more automatic and part of your routine. Not going to the gym is going to feel like not brushing your teeth – just a big no no, right?
Once the habit is complete, there should be a sense of accomplishment where each time you go to the gym, your brains reward centre is going to think “hey this felt good let’s do it again.”
This sounds like a lot of work, and quite frankly it is. Creating positive habits like this takes time. So don’t put an expiry date or deadline on when you will achieve these goals. Time is going to pass anyways and if it takes you 21 days or 200 days, once you have fully created these positive habits, they are evergreen.
The immediate outcome from going to the gym regularly isn’t instant. It takes a long time for you to see the benefits of getting stronger, and making body composition changes. So it’s important to change your perspective and focus on other short-term outcomes versus changing up your program.
So instead of thinking the next time you go to the gym “It’s a lot of work and tiring”, change your perspective and outcome “oh I get to reduce stress today, I get to workout with my girlfriend.”
Focus on how it makes you feel In the moment and shift your attention away from how long it’s going to take to achieve your long term goals. I mean they are called long term goals for a reason. Everything always takes longer than you think.
Hope this helps!