Developing certain habits, especially exercising, 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 done. Sometimes, even after months of consistency, you’ll get off course. And there you were thinking, I’ve got this, right? The trick is not to stay off course for too long. I give myself a 2-week limit. If I wait any longer to get back to my walks and workouts, it gets harder to get back to it.
My own path to exercise consistency and creating the habit was not a smooth one. I was yo-yo exercising for years — taking months- and years-long breaks before I made the commitment to never let that happen again. 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.
1. Find your Whys
Whether it’s exercise or anything else we want, we have to figure out what’s going to make us commit mentally. You have to, as they say, want it badly enough to find something that’s going to keep you going when you want to quit. If you don’t have a very emotional Why, you may not succeed. I became serious about exercise and finally put a ring on it after I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition. It’s definitely helped and now, I can’t imagine not exercising and make daily walks a part of my life.
2. Work out your resistance
It’s natural to resist change. No one likes it. You just have to remind yourself of what’s on the other side, and coax your inner toddler into coming along for the ride.
TIP: Treats and bribes help kids, so figure out what bribes and treats work for you and work that into your creating the habit plan!
3. Start small
It’s natural to want to see some quick results and make up for what you might see as lost time.
The problem is, quick results don’t last. Slow and steady is not only more sustainable, but it’s how we actually LEARN any habit. It’s how you learned to drive, play darts, swim and solve math equations. The process of learning is to start slow, to learn the basics and practice. Fast doesn’t work well if that’s what you want to do.
4. Exercise in the morning or by noon
Willpower is a fickle mistress. You have to catch her early in the day if you want to be sure to get what you need from her. You absolutely want to get it in in the mornings, unless you’re in the minority where evenings do work better for YOU.
5. Do it when you don’t feel like it
Confidence comes from a few things, including pride in ourselves. The number one way we develop that is to keep our word. Every time we flake on our word, we reinforce the idea that we don’t believe in ourselves. We reinforce the idea that we can’t.
TIP: On the days when you don’t feel like it, commit to doing only the minimum and seeing how it goes from there. My minimum walk is a mile, I average 2.5 and on some days will do as much as 5.5.
6. Do it as part of a routine
You’ll be more consistent when exercise and working out is part of an overall routine, like your morning routine. Tasks in a routine are like links in a chain. It helps the brain form patterns that it remembers, and easily become more automatic.
7. Find the best time and conditions for you to exercise
For me, finding the right time of the day was crucial. Working out around 6:00 a.m. fits in perfectly with my lifestyle, schedule and motivation level. I tried for years to exercise after work because I refused to entertain the idea of getting up early. But I could never be consistent in the evenings. I was tired so often after work, going to the gym was something I just couldn’t get excited about.
Now, I jump out of bed to go to the gym. I feel amazing and disciplined, now that I’m getting up earlier. I’ve been doing it for a while now and my only regret is that I wasted so much time resisting getting up early.
Convenience is also a factor. For me, my gym, tennis court, or sports field needs to be within 5 minutes of me if I’m to work out regularly. So, my workout options always factor into my decision on where to live. Music helps me too, as does taking classes because I get to be around people.
Whatever those conditions are for you, figuring them out and working them into your lifestyle is going to increase your commitment and help you stick to the habit.
8. 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. Having alternatives makes it more likely that I do something regularly.
9. Solve the real conflict
So, there you are. You’ve found a great Why and you’re emotionally vested, but somehow, you still backslide. What gives?
It could be any number of other things, but the most common is that you still need to work out your real conflict. The real reason we don’t exercise and keep our word to do XYZ, is a matter of lack of willpower. If you have a work-life-balance situation, if you live with an emotionally draining problem (like chronic financial struggles), those things are going to throw you off when they flare-up. Until you resolve them, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be yo-yoing for a while. The good news is that with exercise and wellness, it’s better to try and be flaky. than to not try at all.
In my case, I didn’t realize what a difference getting up 90 minutes earlier would make, but it was huge.
TIP: Ask yourself, if you were to do ABC, what would it really help never to have to worry about. Once you identify it, work on resolving it or if you can’t, work on making peace with it.
10. Have the right attitude about it
You may never become an exercise buff, but I bet there is something you like doing or need to do.
TIP: If you need to be more social and make friends, look for pickup games in your neighborhood or form a sports team. Whatever kind of life you lead, there’s a way exercise can make it better. You’ll feel more motivated to do something you view favorably, than something you don’t, so think about what benefit exercise is to you and focus on that, not what you’re giving up.