The Foolproof Plan to Make Exercise a Habit
It goes without saying that bad habits are hard to break. Whether it’s cutting out processed foods or sugar, to limiting the amount of television time each week. We always have the best intentions of sticking with our plan, but all too often the cycle seems impossible to break.
Fortunately, the same can be said about healthy habits. Once healthy habits are established, the behaviors can be ingrained into your lifestyle. Sooner or later, pizza doesn’t edge out salmon and veggies nor does television time over exercise. Sure, it takes effort to make a positive change, but sooner or later, it doesn’t feel so overwhelmingly difficult to convince yourself that movement is better than the alternative. It becomes a part of your daily routine – a habit.
Research suggests that it can take up to 66 days to form a new habit.1 That means that for many of us, it can take more than two months before a new behavioral choice becomes automatic. Coaches often refer to the “Transtheoretical Model,” a psychosocial model used to conceptualize the model of intentional behavior change.2 Studies have found that people move through a series of stages when modifying behavior. Determining which stage of the model you are in may help you reach your goal. By doing so, we create action based tasks in order to move through the stages, thus reaching our desired outcome.
Pre-contemplation: Not ready. You don’t workout, nor have any plans to.
Contemplation: Getting Ready. You’re thinking about starting.
Preparation: Ready. Perhaps you’ve signed up for a membership or have a plan of action.
Action: You’ve begun to exercise regularly.
Maintenance: You’ve been exercising regularly and it has become a part of your daily routine.
We all want to make it to the “maintenance” phase right? The only way to do that is by taking baby steps towards the bigger end result. The smaller, seemingly insignificant choices we make over time can have a larger impact, thus eventually becoming habits. Whether you want to lose a few pounds or improve your health by exercising, here are some foolproof ways to reach your goals:
Establishing behavior goals is pretty straightforward. These goals are the most important behaviors to which you can commit to right now that will immediately effect whether you will attain your outcome goals. The idea is to pinpoint and highlight areas that need improvement and direct your efforts towards the weaker areas. By following this step, you will end up with an initial set of behavior goals designed to guide your actions. In addition to listing some goals, write down 3-4 of the most significant limiting factors that you can identify and create strategies to overcome them. (i.e. food-related goals like eating breakfast every day or eating protein with each meal. A commitment goal might be as simple as making it to your scheduled training session or attending a class anyways when your buddy can’t go with you). Write down your goals and carry them around with you. Read your goals 10-times during the first few days to remind yourself what to be focusing on. Throughout your program, continuously assess your limiting factors and create new goals as necessary. Tackle only a few at a time, otherwise, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed. Tackle the biggest fish first.
- Adherence & Monitoring
Once you’ve established some goals as mentioned above, you’ll need two things to get great results: first, you have to obtain a great program and second, you need to comply with said program. Many people feel helpless with program design. Don’t sweat the details and recruit resources to help you. There are many online and paid personal training programs available in 1-3 month durations. Once you find a program, stick with it for a pre-determined duration and track your compliance. Without monitoring your physical activity or nutrition quality, it’s hard to see progress or setbacks. The likelihood of you sticking with the program in the long term greatly improves by tracking alone. Furthermore, by seeing the progress, you may be more motivated to increase your activity level and/or continue, further promoting long-term success. It’s the snowball effect!
- Reward System
Creating an incentive can be enough excitement to help you stick with your commitment. There will be limiting factors and challenges along way, let’s face it. Research has shown that incentivizing exercise can help you stay committed. Whether it be a new pair of Lululemon pants when you reach the 30 day mark or a date night to your favorite steak house with no more than 2 missed workout days, use a reward system to reach your goal.
- Constantly Varied
Keeping your routine and exercise program just that, “routine” is the enemy. Not only with the spontaneity increase your excitement and enthusiasm towards your goal, it also does wonder for physical change. When the body performs the same functions daily or weekly, it reaches the hated phenomenon of homeostasis (a body composition killer). We want to vary our cardiovascular and strength activities as much as possible. Play new sports, learn a new skill, and keep things ever changing. The body wants homeostasis so the goal is to keep it guessing. Seems like that goes against “having a routine” right? That’s not to say your routine can’t have a plan for variance. There is a difference between random and varied.
- Find a Buddy
When all else fails, having a friend to keep you committed to the 5pm after work yoga class or CrossFit workout may aid in overcoming your limiting factors. Social support can play a major role in your adherence to your program. Being habitual about working out with friends has been proven5 to increase the likelihood that you’ll reach the end of the rainbow, the maintenance phase.