Getting into it can be challenging but even exercise can be made into a habit. Find out what things you can do to make it easier.
Having a habit of doing a healthy activity like exercise can be helpful since you just do it instead of having to go through that internal battle first.
In turn, this leads to a more pleasant experience and better consistency.
1. Remove barriers
This first tip is very underrated in both exercise and other areas. There is something about an extra barrier, even a small one, that makes you want to do things a lot less.
In this setting, you can describe a barrier as any extra step you have to take before doing the main thing. Here, exercise.
These can be more obvious things like not using your treadmill as a coat hanger. You don’t want to have to do 10-minute cleaning sessions before working out if you have trouble making it a habit.
However, there are also more sneaky things like having to select your workout outfit. This is not necessarily annoying to do but does make taking the step to exercise harder.
To find barriers that stop or hinder you from making working out a habit, you can write down all the steps involved and think about how you can make them easier to do.
Instead of having to select your workout outfit before your session, you can do this the day before. Instead of having to drive or cycle to the gym, you can invest in home exercise equipment or train outside. Etc.
2. Choose a good time to train
A habit is something you do more or less consistently after certain triggers. In the case of exercise, you likely want to do it regularly since this seems to be good for your health.
To help you with this, you want to choose a time in the day when you will generally be able to stick to your plan.
For example, one of the benefits of morning exercise is that there are fewer unexpected things that can get in the way of your (new) habit.
On the other hand, some people like working out later in the day more and have no issues sticking to their routines at those times.
When it comes to a good time to train, different people can have different preferences. The important thing is to think about what will suit you best.
3. Make your workouts enjoyable
One of the benefits of habits is that they can help make something that used to be uncomfortable to do an automatic process.
However, if you have trouble making working out a habit, something that can help is making your exercise more fun.
This always applies to some extent but especially initially, you don’t have to do the exercise that burns the most calories or builds the most muscle.
It is okay to do things like golf, tennis, rock climbing, walking, dancing, etc.
You are trying to make moving more of a habit. On top of that, you will likely still get a nice amount of positive results.
Then over time, you can consider implementing other types of exercise like weight lifting that you know can offer great health benefits but feel too much of a leap right now.
4. Draw out a habit loop
Habits typically follow a certain structure. Knowing how this works can be extremely helpful for implementing new habits and removing old ones.
This habit loop consists of a trigger, the action (here exercise), and then a reward (physical or mental).
In the setting of this article, the questions will be what you choose as a trigger and reward.
Some examples of triggers are certain times and actions like waking up, being done with work, or finishing breakfast.
Rewards can vary from things like a coffee to mentally patting yourself on the back or imagining all the benefits you will get from sticking to your workout habit.
Exactly how long it takes to make exercise a habit can vary a lot.
Some publications estimate that on average it takes 66 days to form a habit (1). However, this can vary a lot for different individuals, approaches, and actions.
5. Start with small steps
A common reason why people have trouble implementing a habit like exercise is that the step feels too overwhelming.
Luckily there is something you can do about this. More specifically, break down the habit into smaller steps and start with these. Over time, you can then add the rest of the steps until you are doing what you set out to do.
For example, let’s say you want to make lifting weights at the gym a habit but you find it too challenging right now.
In that case, you can wait for your trigger, start with just putting on your workout clothes, pat yourself on the back, and call it a day.
The next time, you can put on your workout clothes, go sit in the car, again reward yourself, and leave it at that.
This may sound and look silly but dividing habits into smaller steps like this makes things feel a lot less overwhelming and easier to create a strong loop.