A lot of people want to build an exercise habit that sticks. (A 2012 survey analyzed the top ten habits of thousands of people and found that exercise was number one by a long shot.
Of course, wanting to make exercise a habit and actually doing it are two different things. Changing your behavior is difficult. Living a new type of lifestyle is hard. This is especially true when you throw in very personal feelings about body image and self-worth.
But there are some strategies that can make it easier to stick with an exercise habit.
I have been using the three strategies below to build my personal exercise routine, which I have stuck to for two years without skipping a workout. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned so far and how I have successfully made exercise a habit that am I excited to do each week.
Here are three simple ways to make exercise a habit.
1. Develop a ritual to make starting easier.
Habits are behaviors that you repeat over and over again, which means they are also behaviors that you start over and over again. In other words, if you don’t consistently get started, then you won’t have a habit. In many ways, building new habits is simply an exercise in getting started time after time.
This means that if you can find a way to make getting started easier, then you can find a way to make building a habit easier. This is why rituals and routines are so important. If you can develop a ritual that makes starting your workout mindless and automatic, then it will be much easier to follow through.
2. Start with an exercise that is ridiculously small.
The best way to make exercise a habit is to start with an exercise that is so easy that you can do it even when you are running low on willpower and motivation. In the words of Leo Babauta, start with something that is so easy you can’t say no.
3. Focus on the habit first and the results later.
The typical approach to diet and exercise is to focus on results first. Most people start with some type of goal. “I want to lose 20 pounds in the next four months.” Or, “I want to squat 50 pounds more six months from now.”
I think this is the wrong approach. It’s better to focus on the system rather than the goal.
What matters most in the beginning is establishing a new normal and building a new routine that you will stick to; not the results that you get. In other words, in the first 6 months it is more important to not miss workouts than it is to make progress. Once you become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts, then you can worry about making progress and improving.