One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to start a new exercise habit is that they get very ambitious.
“So what I think we’ll do is….run five, no, make that five, no seven days a week. And let’s supplement with a strength training program four times a week — we’ll take it easy on the weekends with moderate hikes!”
The initial enthusiasm is commendable but, the match generally burns out just as fast as you lit it. So, the first rule of thumb is…
Start Small and Build Up
Incorporate what’s called micro-habit model, where a fitness habit is broken down to only the most basic steps.
You don’t want to give yourself the power of choice in the morning. Eliminate the possibility of finding an excuse NOT to go.
If you, for example, wake up with your gym clothes already on, you forego the whole decision-making dance around changing into them and you’re far more likely to commit to your workout.
Another example: If you eat breakfast, you’ll have helped your morning self by knowing beforehand what you’ll be eating and what time you’ll wake up to have it without upsetting your stomach for the gym.
Maybe that means waking up earlier to eat a whole bowl of oatmeal and eggs; or perhaps just a banana 30 minutes prior.
Take it a step further and have a 30-day plan ready to roll out.
Here’s a four-week sample plan to start building an exercise habit:
Day 1: Sleep in gym clothes
Day 2: Sleep in gym clothes. Do 1 jumping jack.
Day 3: Sleep in gym clothes. Do 5 jumping jacks.
Day 4: Sleep in gym clothes. Do 5 jumping jacks, Do 1 push-up.
Day 5: Sleep in gym clothes. Do 5 jumping jacks, Do 5 push-ups.
Day 6: Sleep in gym clothes. Do 5 jumping jacks, Do 5 push-ups, do 1 air squat.
Day 7: Sleep in gym clothes. Do 5 jumping jacks, Do 5 push-ups, do 5 air squats.
Increase daily from 1 set of 5 jumping jacks to 3 sets of 20 jumping jacks, 1 set of 5 pushups, 1 set of 5 air squats.
3 sets of 20 jumping jacks. Increase daily to 3 sets of 20 push-ups, 1 set of 5 air squats.
3 sets of 20 jumping jacks, 3 sets of 5 push-ups. Increase daily to 3 sets of 20 air squats.
Reward Yourself to Make Exercise Habits Stick
According to Charles Duhigg, author of the bestselling book, The Power of Habit, a habit is formed via a three-step process:
- Cue: This is the subconscious trigger that starts your habit. Maybe walking into your kitchen is the cue to drink coffee in the morning.
- Routine: This is the habit: drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, working out, etc.
- Reward: This is ultimately what reinforces the habit. For coffee, that would be the feel-good alertness and the perception of increased productivity.
In order to successfully form an exercise habit, it’s best to associate it with a positive reward.
For example, if you went to the gym 5 days this week, reward yourself with something nice like a massage or a spa day.
Also, note that none of this will be as effective as it could be if you’re not getting enough sleep. So before you even start to build an exercise habit in the morning, get plenty of those Z’s in.
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