Developing certain habits, especially the exercise habit, can be rough. It’s usually a multiple-step process where the 28-day rule to create a habit you often hear about, rarely applies. And never ever is it one-step-and-you’re-done. Sometimes, even after months of consistency, you’ll backslide. And there you were thinking, I’ve got this, right? Case in point: I bet there was a time when you used to drink water all the time, but now not so much. Ditto for exercise and so many healthy habits that you want and truly thought you had successfully nailed.
Here’s what you need to know: The “I’m-in-this-for-life!” consistency we’re after, takes time and a mental connection before we truly have it down. It takes time to work out everyday challenges, and it takes a mental commitment to get back on the horse each time you backslide. My path to exercise consistency is a good example.
I’ve been yo-yo exercising for years. The differences with me and others who don’t try, try, and try again are that one, I love and need to exercise. I love how it makes me feel and need it for health reasons. Talk about being highly motivated! I also understand the change process because it’s my career… it’s my job to. On my road to exercise consistency, I’ve learned a lot. In this post, I’m sharing some of the best tips to help you make exercise a lifelong habit.
Have compelling Whys
We each have to figure out what that thing is that’s going to make us mentally commit—to exercise or to do anything else. You have to, as they say, want it badly enough. Over the years, I’ve had several compelling reasons to like, then love, and finally, need exercise in my life. As a teen and in my twenties, I used to prefer wearing clothes in a certain size. To do that, I had to be disciplined about my weight. Superficial, maybe, but it was a compelling first reason. It helped me lean into the exercise habit early on. But still, I wasn’t always consistent so I joined millions of people every new year making the resolution to shed the pounds I had put on.
Years later, I noticed the emotional and confidence boost of exercise. I really loved that! Then ten years ago, I found the most compelling why yet when I was diagnosed with an under-active thyroid. Regular exercise, eating mostly healthy foods, controlling my portion size and taking a natural thyroid supplement, are the top ways I manage my condition. Even if I do everything else perfectly if I don’t exercise for two months, I gain weight! These days, I’m learning about the brain benefits of exercise and its positive impact on overall motivation.
Here’s the point: My initial Why was clothes-minded and over time, I developed more and more reasons to want to exercise. As my reasons and education grew, so did my mental commitment. Your whys are important and it helps if they’re compelling to you.
Work out your resistance
It’s natural to resist change. What’s helpful to know about resistance is that we have two sides to ourselves and when it comes to making a change, these two sides don’t usually agree. One side is future-oriented and practical. The other side is a toddler who likes instant gratification. The toddler will do, as toddlers do, and resist your efforts to change. You have to be the adult who tricks, coaxes and encourages that other you to do what’s best for both of you. I like to think of it as parenting yourself and I like to use Future-Me as my motivation to do the right thing for us both.
Identify and solve the real conflicts
So, here you are. You’ve found compelling reasons to workout and you’re all-in mentally, but somehow, you still backslide. What gives? It could be any number of other things, but the most common is that you’re still living with what is your real conflict. The real reason we don’t exercise, keep our word to do XYZ is not willpower, as we like to think. Conflicts like a work-life-balance situation, problems with emotional eating, and financial struggles, are distracting for anyone. Until you resolve them, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll be yo-yoing. In my case, I didn’t realize what a difference getting up 90 minutes earlier would make, but it was huge. It was only by setting aside the time—time no one else could touch—that I resolved my last major (and real conflict) at the time.
Find the best time and conditions for you to exercise
So, for me, finding the right time of day was crucial. Some other things are important too. For example, I find it virtually impossible to exercise in the gym without music. I also like to work out with other people so I love taking classes and going on weekend hikes. Convenience is also another factor that affects my exercise game. That gym, tennis court, or sports field needs to be within 5 minutes of me if I’m to work out regularly.
Do a variety of exercises
The gym is my constant but when the weather is nice, there are several other workouts that I like to do (thankfully!). I think we all need that variety, otherwise, exercise can get boring and feel uninspiring. Think about a few sports and activities you actually like and work them into your exercise game plan. Have your winter routine, summer programs, vacation and travel options worked out ahead of time.
Get more from your exercise
You may never become an exercise-buff, but I bet there is something you like doing or need to be doing more of. If you need to be more social and make friends, look for pickup games in your neighborhood or form a sports team. I need time to read articles and books so I multitask and get to them while I’m on the treadmill. I also use my “morning walk” on the treadmill to plan articles, work out business ideas, read and respond to emails. Whatever kind of life I have or needs I have, I know there’s a way to make exercise about more than exercise.
To make exercise a habit will not be a single-step process. It may take starts-and-stops and issues to work out along the way, but with consistency as your destination, you can get there.
Christine is a lifestyle coach living in Los Angeles. Using systems, routines, and some psychological trickery, she can help almost anyone hack their mind and life for greater productivity. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out if she's available for one-on-one work.