We often emphasize the role of motivation in the context of exercise, including the initial spark and ongoing commitment. While motivation may seem like the primary driver behind establishing a consistent exercise routine, it doesn’t always hold true.
If you were to ask any dedicated exerciser whether they feel highly motivated to rise at 5 a.m. for a gym session, the answer would likely be a resounding “no.” Who truly desires an early morning workout
What Is a Habit?
A repetitive and persistent behavioral pattern is defined as a habit, and there are likely numerous habits in our lives, ranging from the way we fold laundry to our morning dressing routine.
Habits often develop naturally, and the more frequently we engage in them, the more deeply they become etched in our minds. These routines and habits are regulated by a specific brain region known as the basal ganglia. This area takes charge when we perform actions without conscious deliberation, such as loading the dishwasher or driving a vehicle.
Consider how unnecessary it is to consciously think about picking up a dish, placing it in the dishwasher, or opening the dishwasher. Similarly, you don’t need to actively contemplate the various steps involved in driving a car, such as retrieving the keys, opening the door, sitting down, fastening your seatbelt, and so on.
Thanks to this automation, you can carry out these tasks effortlessly, without the need for conscious thought, freeing up mental resources for more significant endeavors. However, to reach this level of automaticity, repeated engagement in these actions is crucial. Only through repetition can you eventually perform them without conscious effort.
How to Form a Habit that Sticks
In “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg argues that the formation of habits involves three essential elements: a cue, a behavior, and a reward.
A cue can be something as simple as placing your gym clothes next to your bed. When you get up in the morning, seeing your workout attire acts as a cue that prompts you to put them on for your exercise routine. Engaging in the exercise itself constitutes the behavior, while the reward can manifest as the sense of accomplishment or indulging in a long, luxurious shower with your favorite products.
Furthermore, Duhigg emphasizes the importance of having a genuine desire for the reward and confidence in your ability to follow through with the scheduled exercise, especially when it comes to establishing exercise habits.
How to Establish a New Exercise Habit
Numerous small actions contribute to the process of exercising, and when you tally them up, it can appear quite overwhelming. The rewards might seem disproportionately small in comparison to the effort required, especially when you fully grasp the demanding nature of the endeavor. This holds particularly true if your goal is weight loss, as this journey is typically characterized by a slow and gradual progress.
Despite our aspirations for improved health or weight loss, this is just one of the many reasons why so many of us find it challenging to sustain an exercise routine. So, what’s your approach in light of these challenges?
Plan Your Cues
Think of a cue as a signal that triggers your mind to say, “Now is the ideal moment for physical activity.” This signal might include:
- Scheduling your workouts on your calendar. Select specific times and days when you are confident you can fit in some exercise, even if it’s just a brief 5-minute session. Consider scheduling a daily post-lunch walk or an evening stroll after dinner.
- Putting on your workout clothes The moment you awaken or immediately upon returning home from work.
- Doing some other healthy behavior before your workout. Have a glass of water, practice deep breathing, go for a brisk walk, or engage in some stretching exercises. Occasionally, just one straightforward action can help shift your mindset towards exercising.
- Write down your workout plan Place it beside your bed so that it’s the very first thing you encounter upon waking up.
As you do this, also examine any other cues that might be leading you to consider skipping your workout. Maybe you often opt for hitting the snooze button instead of rising and exercising, or perhaps you tend to lean towards lounging on the couch after work rather than heading to the gym.
You have the opportunity to cultivate a fresh habit of working out as a replacement for your current inclination to relax on the couch.
Make a Workout Plan
The behavior aspect stands out as the most critical element, and it’s often the point where we stumble the most. Our enthusiasm to shed weight and catch up for lost time often leads us to overexert ourselves during our workouts.
You might attempt to reestablish a workout routine that suits your capabilities or tailor your exercises to what you deem appropriate. Your decisions regarding the frequency of exercise, the type of activities you engage in, and the amount of weight you lift can be influenced by this.
The problem with this approach is that you’re likely to experience extreme soreness, possibly even risk injury, and wonder why anyone would intentionally subject themselves to such discomfort. Nevertheless, the only genuine way to foster the habit of exercising is to craft routines that are so simple and achievable that skipping them appears absurd.
Self-efficacy, often referred to as self-belief, plays a crucial role in making this happen. Establish a routine that you have confidence in, even if it significantly deviates from the recommended exercises.
Sample Workout Options
Put aside the idea of hour-long workouts or intense cardio sessions, and shift your focus towards exercises that you can manage regardless of your circumstances. Think about routines that you can carry out even when you’re feeling fatigued, stressed, or lacking motivation. Here are a few alternatives to contemplate:
- 5-minute walk: Set a daily goal for only five minutes. It’s quite probable that you’ll end up going a bit longer than that.
- Quick and easy core workout: This exercise routine comprises seven straightforward exercises designed to enhance core strength.
- Beginner ball workout: This user-friendly workout features uncomplicated, enjoyable exercises that are ideal for introducing your body to physical activity. Additionally, it aids in improving balance and stability.
- Body weight exercises: Simplifying further, you can opt for a handful of equipment-free exercises. Consider incorporating squats, push-ups, lunges, crunches, and back extensions into your routine.
Perform each exercise for a single set, completing between 10 to 16 repetitions. Gradually increase the number of sets as you become stronger.
Plan Your Rewards
Exercise offers inherent advantages. Simply completing a workout can provide a satisfying feeling, and with continued commitment, you’ll begin to yearn for that sensation. You can even create your own incentives, such as:
- Enjoying an hour of guilt-free TV.
- Savoring a glass of wine with dinner.
- Treating yourself (e.g., allocate $5 for each completed workout and plan your reward at the end of the month).
- Indulging in a relaxing hot bath.
- Delving into a new book.
- Adding fresh songs to your workout playlist.
- Exploring a new app like Charity Miles (which lets you earn money for charity during walks, runs, bike rides, or other activities).
The concept revolves around rewarding yourself each time you work out, fostering a desire for exercise.
Additional Advice to Help You Stick to Your Exercise Habit
You can also incorporate a few additional strategies to reinforce your newly established exercise routine. These strategies include:
- Do your workouts at the same time every day, if at all possible.
- Create a ritual around your workout. In the morning, don your workout attire as the first task, or if you’re heading straight from the office, place your gym bag on the seat beside you. Seeing it will serve as a constant reminder of your fitness goals.
- Log your workouts. Maintain a calendar and mark an ‘X’ on each day you complete a workout.
- Do something you like. You don’t necessarily need to adore exercise, but it should be an activity you find enjoyable and one that you’re confident you can engage in without excessive pain or discomfort.
- Focus on the habit first, then the results. All too often, our preoccupation with rapid weight loss leads us to abandon our efforts prematurely. Instead, shift your focus toward consistently engaging in your workouts rather than fixating on the outcomes.
Simplifying your workouts to the maximum extent is the cornerstone of forming an exercise habit. Choose enjoyable and readily accessible activities, keep your exercise routines uncomplicated, and place your emphasis on merely showing up.
Getting started is often the most challenging part, so the more straightforward you make it, the greater your chances of success. By aligning your cue, behavior, and reward, you will swiftly cultivate a habit that feels second nature.