If you don’t naturally love to exercise, it can take months and years before you can say you’ve caught the exercise bug. You have to go through a few stages mentally before the love sets in and you make a lifelong commitment to exercise. It’s a process that I advise you to approach like a courtship. Your goal is to see if this exercise thing can give you what you need. If it does, you have to put a ring on it.
At first, you will hate to exercise. Then you will begrudgingly admit that you love the benefits but still hate it. And finally, the day comes when the commitment switch inside your brain flips from Off to On. You get there because you grow to love the music, the time to yourself, your toned abs and the jealous stares it gets from friends, and the confidence that comes with it all. It’s never one thing, like being thin, that makes you love to exercise, it’s what it does for your overall life. Being in nature, sleep, and exercise together gives you a ton of energy all over. So much so that you want to work them into your lifestyle.
My own path to exercise consistency did not “run smooth,” as they say. I would take long breaks from working out and every time I started back, I would promise myself I wouldn’t quit. I stopped being a quitter when I started noticing (really noticing) some profound benefits of exercise. See, I was only exercising to “stay skinny.” It took a while for me to notice that I had more energy and was in a better mood when I exercised regularly. Once I did that, I was mentally committed. Being committed doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing, won’t suck or make mistakes. It just means you accept how much you need and want to exercise.
With that mental piece out of the way, the committed person can do a lot to court exercise and fall in love with it.
1. Find your Whys
Whether it’s exercise or anything else that you want, you have to figure out what’s going to make you commit mentally. You have to, as they say, want it badly enough to find something that’s going to keep you going on the days you want to quit.
2. Work out your resistance
It’s natural to resist change. No one likes it but if you sense that it’s important, remind yourself of what’s on the other side of the hard work and coax your inner toddler into cooperating.
3. Start small
To see fast results, you may be tempted to push yourself but that’s not a good idea when trying to build the exercise habit. You can injure yourself going from zero to an all-out gym rat, and you won’t see drastic results for your drastic efforts. If you do get quick results, it won’t last. The better approach is the slow and steady one. Start small and LEARN the basics. Learn, then practice the basics. Once a habit becomes muscle memory through learning the basics, you can ramp up your speed.
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. Exercising in the morning is better for mental energy and productivity.
5. Do it when you don’t feel like it
Confidence comes from a few things, including having pride in your abilities, and the number one way we develop confidence is to keep our word to ourselves. My conscience is a trash-mouth 6-year-old who will say things like, “Bitch don’t be saying you’re gonna and don’t!” So I do the important things I promise myself. 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 even the minimum.
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. Tasks done inside a routine helps the brain form patterns that it remembers making each link in the chain stronger and become automatic.
7. 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 like play tennis, volleyball, hike, run or do yoga on the beach. Switching things up renews my excitement and having variety means I have more options. No matter where I am, what time of year it is, or the weather, I know there is something I can do.
8. Find your fit
For me, finding the right time of day was a huge deal. It made being consistent so much easier. I had tried for years to exercise after work but kept quitting. There was something (many things, really) about going to the gym after work that made it inconvenient for me. For years, my workdays left me stressed and numbed. This meant I had to push myself to go to the gym and I didn’t always manage to. And when one other thing (on top of my sucky job) was going wrong, that was it. I would quit. That all changed when I started getting up at 5:30 and getting to the gym by 6:00 a.m. I did a few other things to tailor my exercise routine to fit me. I made sure when I worked out, the activities I did, my music, who I worked out with, and if I worked out with others, all sync up with my preferences.
Whatever those conditions are for you, figuring them out and setting them up will make it easier to fit exercise into your life.
9. Put it on the calendar
If you don’t see it, you might forget. Putting your workouts on the calendar helps you remember and getting notifications repeatedly can have an effect called classical conditioning. That’s when a cue (in this case, the dings on your phone or calendar) can condition you to perform a certain behavior (in this case, get up and exercise).
10. Have the right attitude about it
You may never become an all-out exercise enthusiast, but I bet you can grow to love it in your own way. You can find the right attitude about it by first appreciating what exercise does for you, then work to find things to love. It’s from appreciation and time invested that love for anything (and for anyone, if you think about it) grows.
So commit to the courtship of seeing if you can fall in love with exercise. I believe you can and I KNOW that it will transform your mind, your body, and your life if you do.
Christine is a Life Strategist and Emotional Health Coach living in Los Angeles. She's big on meditation and believes in systems and routines, and in personalizing everything you do to help you get where you want to be.