6 Steps to Forming an Exercise Habit
We’ve all been there, we’ve set ourselves the goal to exercise regularly and make ourselves fitter and healthier. However, for many of us it becomes increasingly difficult to form a habit and before you know it, the goal falls flat.
Here are some tips and tricks to ensure your goals and fitness aspirations succeed:
- Create a Ritual
For many people, “getting started” is the hardest part of working out. The trick: Create a ritual. For example, your ritual could be as straight-forward as booking a gym class every lunch break, to ensure your next workout is always scheduled in. Or it could be to pack your car with a fresh gym bag each morning, so that when you finish work, you’re ready to immediately hit the gym or pool. It's all about making it as simple as possible. Rituals can extend to habits which ensure you won’t give up half way through a work out, such as always filling up your water bottle, or making sure your phone is fully charged so your music won’t cut out midway through a session.
- Schedule Your Workouts
One of the biggest reasons people fail to build an exercise habit is because they don’t set aside time for it in their calendar. Bottom line is, exercise doesn’t just happen on its own, you must proactively make time for it. The best way to do this is to schedule your workouts on your calendar. Treat them the same as a doctor’s appointment. Tell people that during this time, you’re busy and not to be disturbed. This will help prioritise your workouts, meaning they’re less likely to slip off the chart as you juggle more of life’s demands. When it comes to the best time to work out, this will depend on your work/life schedule. Everyone’s different, so experiment until you find the times that are best suited to you.
- Have a Plan and Start Small
As the saying goes, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” So, if you’re going to form an exercise habit, you’ll need a plan, with a clear target. An example of a target could be to increase muscle mass, lose body fat, or run a marathon. Another thing to bear in mind when creating an exercise plan is, don’t get sucked in to thinking that you need to go big or go home. To give yourself the best chance of success start by choosing exercises that are enjoyable; this way, you’ll always get them done. Completing these smaller exercises will not only give you a regular sense of achievement, keeping you motivated in the initial stages of your exercise journey, but will also give you a solid base from which to build.
- Keep a Record
Keeping a record of your exercise activities can have major benefits, physically and psychologically. Being able to see the progress you’ve made over time and the rate at which it’s happened can be motivational. It can also show you the stage you’re at within you’re exercise journey and provide you with the ‘bigger picture’ needed to be successful. Importantly, it will help you to identify what’s working versus what isn’t. And by cross-referencing your workout record with relevant articles and guides, you’ll be able to determine whether you’re headed in the right direction and should stick with what you’re doing, or taking it too easy and not pushing yourself hard enough.
- Mix it up
Some people are weight lifters, some are cyclists, and some are runners. And some of us are neither or we just don’t know what we are yet and that’s fine. There’s always time to find out. When it comes to ways of working out, you may not enjoy road cycling, but love indoor spin classes. Or go queasy at the thought of lifting weights alone, but love hitting the iron as part of a small group training session. The point is, you don’t need to stick to one type of exercise, class or piece of equipment. Try them all. Mix them up. And don’t feel like you need to exercise in a certain way just because you’re being told to by some person or website.
- Be consistent
Forming a habit is not something that can be achieved overnight. Like all good things, it takes time. In a study conducted in London, it took people anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a new behaviour to become automatic, on average taking 2 months. Research also established that missing one opportunity (ie exercise session) to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process. Basically, it doesn’t matter if you have the odd “off day”. Building better, healthier habits is not an all-or-nothing process. Instead, maintaining an overall level of consistency is key.