Tips to Make Exercise a Habit

Last year, after years of yo-yo exercising, I finally locked in the exercise habit. It was a process that took years because even after I had learned to love exercise and worked out what I thought were all my resistance, from time to time, I would still let my work schedule derail my workouts. I would let a crazy period at work cut into my personal time or felt too tired after a long day to care about my thighs. When it comes to developing certain habits, exercise being one of them, it can be a multiple-step process. What I learned along the way to exercise consistency is this: You have to work out your challenges one by one until you get there. So after 13 months of exercise consistency, I want to share some tips to help you make exercise a habit.

Have a compelling Why

We each have to figure out what that thing is that’s going to make us mentally commit—to exercise or to anything else really. You have to, as they say, want it badly enough. Over the years, I’ve had and have developed several compelling Whys. It started with how I like to look in clothes. I used to prefer wearing a certain size. Even though I’ve gone up one size since then, I still like to discipline myself to stay within a certain weight range. I’m not here to debate anyone about body positivity and I don’t judge anyone who don’t subscribe to my physical ideal, but this personal standard was a compelling first reason. And it helped me lean into the exercise habit.

Ten years ago, I found another compelling reason when I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. I didn’t want to take prescription drugs for the rest of my life, if I didn’t have to, so I looked into alternatives. As it happens, exercise, as part of an overall treatment plan, is a great way to manage hypothyroidism.

Then, there is the emotional side-effects of exercise that I became aware of. I notice such a huge difference in my mood, motivation and confidence when I exercise vs when I don’t. Exercise gives me an emotional boost, and puts me into a great mental space. Recently, I’ve been learning about the brain benefits of exercise, and as someone who’s work is so much about behavior modification, I’m more than intrigued. I’ve subjected myself to being a guinea pig for the science.

Here’s the point: My Why started at one place, around clothes and my looks. Over time, I had more reasons… they began to stack up. No matter where you are or who you are, there are reasons you can find to lean into exercise. It’s a matter of finding those Whys and wanting them badly enough.

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, they don’t always 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 the best way I’ve found to do it, is to think about future me. I work out my resistances—from not wanting to get out of bed to wanting to eat whatever I want—by thinking of future me.

Identify and solve the real conflicts

So, here you are. You’ve found compelling reasons to workout and you’re all-in mentally, but you’re still backsliding. What gives? It could be a few things and one of the most common is an unresolved conflict. We like to blame willpower for everything, but sometimes, it could be a work-life balance situation. Or, you may have an issue with emotional eating, or any number of other things. The key to figuring this out is to look critically at your life and choices. In my case, I didn’t realize what a difference getting up 90 minutes earlier would make, but it meant having that time set aside that no one else could touch.

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, so I spend a lot of time (and have a lot of fun) creating playlists. I also like to work out with other people so I love taking classes and arranging 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. I love to exercise and get a lot from it, but I’m also fundamentally, a lazy person. I own that and work out the conditions that make it easy for me to do it daily, which means paying extra for the gym near me.

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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.

Make it about more than exercise

You may not be a big exercise-buff, but I bet there is something you like doing or need to be doing more of. If you like biking and can run errands using your bike, you can build that into your routine. 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, but with consistency as your goal, you can focus on working out the issues. You can find tricks for your mindset. You can work out the real-life challenges and you can do it all, by doing what ultimately is the best thing for you.

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