Creating an exercise habit is hard – the reward is intangible and it isn’t immediate, and you have to put up with gruelling sessions. How does anyone do it?
Many put their inability to establish a regular exercise habit down to a lack of willpower. We’re here to let you know that it has nothing to do with your willpower. It has everything to do with your approach to creating the habit.
We’ll show you ways to work WITH the flaws of our human psychology, rather than AGAINST them, and you’ll see HUGE results.
1. Who are you? How would you describe yourself? What’s your identity?
The most powerful way of developing a habit is by making it part of your identity. People who regularly exercise say “I’m [Name], and I exercise”; they don’t say “I’m [Name], and I try to/want to/should exercise”.
Change how you see yourself. If positive affirmations are for you, then tell yourself daily “I’m [Name], and I exercise”.
2. Make the new habit EASY!
Making incremental small changes is much more effective than making huge changes. Adjusting your behaviour 1% at a time may not feel like much, but it’s the accumulation of the 1%’s that make the difference.
For example, there’re stories of people who started by driving themselves to the gym for a couple of weeks at the same time every day, but didn’t go in. Then in the following weeks they walked into the gym at the same time every day, and then walked out. In the weeks that ensued they began to do 5 minutes of exercise every time they’re there, and only 5 minutes. In the weeks after that, 5 minutes became 10 which became 15. So, whilst it may feel weird to go to the gym but not exercise, if you intentionally do this to create a sustainable habit, then it’s a small step towards a big outcome.
3. Make the bad habit painful, and the new habit rewarding
We want instant gratification. Nothing is more motivating than seeing instant results! Unfortunately, the results from exercise take weeks, if not months and years to realise. In the initial stages of creating an exercise habit, it’s important to attach the outcome to something else that gives you a sense of achievement.
Colouring in your calendar with every visit that you do creates a visual winning streak of your attendance. The more boxes you colour in, the longer the streak and you don’t want to break that streak. When you see pages and pages of coloured boxes in your diary, imagine the sense of achievement you’d feel!
Making a bad habit painful adds cost to doing the bad habit. For example, if you’ve the tendency of cancelling or not showing up to sessions, then make a deal with your accountability buddy (see point 5) and give them $100 for each session that you miss. And ask them to not accept any of your excuses of work, traffic, kids etc.
4. Appreciate the spanners in the works that throw you off your habit
Fair-weather exercisers exercise when things are going right for them – no screaming kids, no demanding deadlines, no pandemic. However, as soon as one of those things happen, they’re thrown off the track, and find it hard to pick themselves back up again.
To strengthen a habit, it comes down to how many times you fall off and pick yourself back up again immediately after. The more often it happens, the stronger your habit.
Make a contract with yourself that it’s ok to miss a session once, but never miss it twice in a row. When you miss it twice in a row, you’re unknowingly creating a new habit – a habit of missing sessions.
5. Sign a contract with your accountability buddy.
Research suggests that people with an accountability buddy are 65-95% more likely to succeed in reaching a goal than those who go at it alone.
Once you have an accountability buddy (your partner, your colleague, even your trainer!), draft up a commitment contract which both of you will sign. Signing the contract is a physical act of commitment, and it makes us more committed to reaching the goal.
In the contract, clearly list out the activities you intend to do and the consequences of not fulfilling them e.g. I commit to training 3 times each week. I will pay my accountability buddy $100 for each session I miss.
6. Stop beating yourself up for not doing a perfect session
First of all, the perfect session does not exist. If you’re feeling tired, down in the dumps, or simply don’t feel like exercising that day, try doing just 5 minutes and see if you want to do more after that.
Building a habit isn’t about reaching perfection in every session, it’s about committing to showing up.
Even the most seasoned exercisers have days that they don’t feel like training, but they do it anyway, even if it’s just 10 squats and push-ups. They do something. Action begets action, and once you’re into the swing of things, you’d surprise yourself with how much energy you’d generate that you’d end up doing more!