So want to make exercise a habit. Excellent! You’re off to a great start. You’ve probably realized that:
- You can’t get the big benefits of exercise (like health improvement, living longer, etc) without exercising consistently.
- If weight loss is a goal for you, exercise helps lose the weight, and most importantly, keep it off.
- You’re tired of starting and stopping exercise, not really trusting yourself that you’ll follow through because of all the times you’ve given up.
So today I’ll tell you exactly how to sign up for the mini habit week, to start exercising next Monday, and never stop again. Ever. And the best part is – it won’t feel like a struggle. It’ll feel like you’re taking the “natural” next step for you. You won’t have to force yourself to do it, fight with yourself, or threaten yourself to get off the couch or off the bed.
Instead, you’ll just do it, naturally, no big deal.
Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t it be great if exercise was a part of your life, just like brushing your teeth? Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to debate it with yourself and you just did it, just like you drink your morning coffee?
Yes, it would.
And yes, I know that it may sound impossible right now.
But I’ve helped a lot of people make exercise a habit, and I know that this system works. It can help you too.
So stop checking Facebook or your e-mail, and stay focused until you reach the end of this article. Let’s start.
First, stop thinking you need more “motivation.”
The biggest barrier that’s right now preventing you from making exercise a habit is that you erroneously think that you need more motivation. But isn’t it true that if you were more motivated you’d never given up in the first place?
That’s not how motivation works. You’re trying to misuse it. Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. It’s just that nobody is teaching us about habits and the conventional wisdom on exercise is still extremely old-fashioned.
Motivation is supposed to get you started, not to keep you going.
That’s the proper use of motivation.
Trying to use motivation to keep you going is like trying to make a car behave like an airplane. Sorry, not matter how much you try, your car is not going to fly.
Your efforts are futile.
You’re gonna get yourself exhausted trying to make that happen, and you’ll still be getting no results for your efforts.
Talk about frustration!
Most of us call motivation the surge we feel when we suddenly get hit by the “motivation wave.” That’s when we enroll at the gym, buy a yoga class pack, start learning a new language, or start writing a book.
(yes this has applications that range far and wide beyond exercise)
This surge is not supposed to be there, all the time, for the rest of our lives. The surge will come, get us into action, and then go.
That’s when you need something other than motivation to keep you writing that book – if you ever want to see your book finished.
No matter how many motivational quotes you put on your desk, you still won’t be able to make your car fly. It’s not supposed to do that you know.
So what do you do?
Well, now that you’ve recognized that motivation is not what you should be trying to boost, let’s review what you should actually be doing.
The Habit Difference: What will happen when you make exercise a habit.
Let me guess: As soon as you get in the car you put your seatbelt on, right? I’ll take another guess: after you wake up in the morning, you go to the bathroom. Right?
And if I’m right, you don’t consciously think that you should put your seatbelt on, or that you should go to the bathroom, you “just do it.”
In fact, if I were to ask you right now which hand you use to put your seatbelt on, you’d have to pause and think about it. Even though you do this all the time, the whole thing has become so automatic that the information is not consciously available right away.
Let me break the news to you: Putting your seatbelt on and going to the bathroom after you wake up are already established habits.
When you do something without fail, without even thinking about it, that’s when you know that this behavior is a habit.
According to dictionary.com:
habit: an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary
Now imagine if you were to make exercise a habit.
- Would you have to think about it? No, you’d just go along with your routine.
- Would you have to motivate yourself to do it? Not at all. Do you need the motivation to go the bathroom or put your seatbelt on?
When exercise is an established habit, you don’t have to play the motivation game at all. Only people who haven’t made exercise a habit (and still don’t know that motivation is not the answer) worry about motivation.
People who’ve made it a habit do it consistently, almost religiously, not because they force themselves to do it, but because it’s what they do. Just like they eat breakfast every day. Or make dinner. Or read stories to their kids at night.
And that’s exactly why habits are so powerful – because once you make the right behavior a habit, you can then set it on autopilot. You’ll keep doing the right thing, no problem!
(and that’s also why bad habits are trouble – they make you do the wrong thing, automatically! Oops!)
Make Exercise A Habit: The Ultimate Guide
So now you know that, yes, you need to make exercise a habit. You’d love to become like the people who “just do it” and live a healthier lifestyle. But the question is, how?
Well, you won’t be making it happen by trying to boost your motivation. I repeat that because trying to boost your motivation has already become a habit, a bad habit that we’ll need to break.
Now here’s how to make daily exercise a habit in 3 steps.
Step 1: Start small, so ridiculously small you want to (almost) make fun of yourself.
In the Mini Habit Week that starts on Monday, we start with just 2 reps, yes 2 reps, a day. Then in the Exercise Bliss course, we gradually start working our way towards more exercise, 5 minutes at a time.
And then gradually build that up to 10, 15 minutes, and beyond.
But we didn’t even start with 15 minutes. We start with 2 reps.
And doing two reps, e.g., 2 squats, or 2 push-ups, or holding the plank for 2 counts, will feel extremely easy.
So easy you’ll want to do more.
But why not start big, you may ask? Why not start with 30 or 50 minutes of exercise?
Doing a big chunk of exercise without having made exercise a habit first is like trying to build a skyscraper with no foundation. Can’t happen. Sorry. You’ll be building castles in the sand. As soon as the first wave (i.e., obstacle) hits the shore, your castle will crumble. And you’ll start skipping workouts. And then eventually give up.
Does this ring any bells?
- That’s how home treadmills end up getting used as clothes hangers rather than as exercise equipment.
- That’s how gym memberships don’t get used.
- That’s how to exercise DVDs collect dust.
But we don’t want to do that.
And that’s why we can’t keep doing what we were doing before. We can’t keep trying to go big, and then relying on motivation to save the day. It just won’t happen no matter how much EFFORT (and you’re gonna need a lot of it) you put into it.
Step 2: Fit exercise after an already established habit.
The Plank: A great exercise for your abs!
So say you’ve picked holding the plank for 2 counts. When will you do it? In the morning, after work, after your put your kids to bed?
Insert those 2 reps after an already established habit, preferably one that you do Monday through Friday.
For example, if you come home from work every day, Monday through Friday, you could use that as your “anchor.”
You could indeed hold the plank for 2 counts after you come back home from work. Or you could do it after you visit the bathroom in the morning. Up to you.
But even coming home from work is not specific enough. Let’s think about this.
Maybe you get in, take your shoes off, then hang your coat, leave your keys on the table, and leave your bag in the drawer. And now you can hold the plank.
Or maybe your routine is different. You take your shoes off and go to the bathroom to wash your hands. And now you can hold the plank.
So be specific – what’s the exact thing you’ll be doing? What’s your preparatory step?
Is your new routine “after I come home from work, I’ll leave my bag in the drawer, and then hold the plank for 2 counts?” or is your routine “after I come home from work, I’ll wash my hands in the bathroom, and then hold the plank for 2 counts”?
The more specific you are, the easier it’ll be to make exercise a habit (and the lowest your chance of either forgetting to do it, or getting confused about when to do it.)
Step 3: Congratulate yourself.
This is the hardest part of building habits. Not because it’s actually hard. But because our old-fashioned thinking is so twisted.
Your brain creates the habit when there’s a carrot for it. If you feel good when you exercise, those good feelings serve as a reward that tells your brain to wire that habit and fast!
(and that’s why eating chocolate is so easy to become a habit – it tastes so good!)
So you came back from work. You held the plank for two. Now give yourself a mental pat on the back for doing something so good for yourself. Think that you’re a badass. Smile. Do a little dance. Whatever feels natural to you.
Any small gesture that makes you feel great will give your brain the incentive it needs to build the habit.
“But Maria, why did you say that it’d be hard? This sounds easy and fun! Yay me for building the habit!”
Because you will think that you don’t deserve the pat on the back. After all, you only held the plank for 2 counts. You’ll think that’s not a significant achievement that’s worthy of *any* praise.
How cruel, but let’s be honest, you may think of that, and that’s why you may not give yourself the extra happiness that’d delight both you and your brain.
Again it’s not your fault, it’s how we grow up. “Being too strict” is another habit that you may have picked up. A habit that’s now actively getting in our way and preventing us from making exercise a habit.
So what do you do if you’re reluctant to smile to yourself for taking that step?
Tell yourself that you’re not awarding yourself the Nobel prize. You’re smiling to yourself for taking the first toward living a life of health and vitality. And that’s a worthy goal that is worthy of praise!
And now do your little dance 🙂
Make Exercise A Habit This Monday.
I know you may have many questions right now. What if you forget to do your plank? How do you scale from 2 reps to 5 minutes and beyond? What if your “after work” anchor doesn’t work?
We cover all that in the mini habit week. The next one starts on Monday. Sign up here (or drop your e-mail below.)