I’m constantly struggling with how to make exercise a habit. I have this unbelievable ability to come up an exhaustive list of excuses for not having the time to work out! Seriously, I’m no different than most people out there. We all know that exercise makes us feel good afterwards, but beforehand and during the actual activity, I can always think of a thousand other things I’d like to do with my time. Even my husband, who works out regularly each week, often says the favorite part of his workout is the shower he takes when he’s finished. Exactly.
But I am fresh off of my feel-good high from completing a 30-day plank challenge (my longest plank: 3 minutes and 37 seconds!) and the sense of accomplishment has left me feeling energized and very motivated. I am excited to now transform this momentum into a more regular routine, especially since ski season is not far off and I’d like to be in top shape. So, just how do you make exercise a habit and not just a random endeavor? I’ve compiled the six strategies that helped me the most:
How to Make Exercise a Habit
1. A no excuses approach.
My good friend and founder of the Client Attraction Business School, Fabienne Fredrickson, taught me many years ago that when you want to accomplish something, you need to adopt a “no excuses” approach. This mindset is critical if you want to start building any new habit. When I find myself making an excuse to get out of exercising, I stop and ask myself “how true is that statement?” or “is that REALLY the case?” Once I take even a short moment to reflect on what is fact versus what is my own made-up fiction, I often come around to the realization that I actually do have time to work out. You may have heard the expression that “there is no such thing a a time problem. It’s really only a prioritization problem.” Ah yes, indeed it is!
2. A single-minded focus.
Having a single-minded focus is critical when trying to learn how to make exercise a habit. Pick one exercise to start and do it every single day. When it becomes too easy, lengthen the time your are doing it or add in a second exercise. Remember that little tweaks over time add up to big changes. Whenever you are trying to make something a habit, the surest path to failure is to try to change too many things at once and overreach for your goals. Having a single-minded focus will make reaching your goal easier. Small, repeatable successes help build your confidence and give you the feeling of control necessary to reach your goal.
3. Find a buddy.
While I sometimes cherish a long walk alone, I know from experience that my most powerful motivator is when I have an obligation to a friend to meet up for exercise. Not only does it pretty much guarantee that I won’t skip a workout, I gain valuable time socializing and feeling connected with others. Good, strong relationships pay dividends in terms of my emotional wellbeing and happiness. It’s a win-win situation. Having a friend to hold me accountable and keep me on track was probably the single most effective strategy for me when I was struggling with how to make exercise a habit.
4. Count everything.
Once I realized that gardening was a legitimate form of exercise, I was able to see that I was getting several hours more vigorous exercise each week than I had previously thought. And unlike doing a workout in the basement with bands and weights, I tend to “lose track” of time when I’m gardening. I head outside to garden for 30 or 40 minutes and wind up spending two hours! So, don’t forget to count things like cleaning the house, walking the dog (walk vigorously!) and other routine chores that get your body moving and heart pumping. If you enjoy your time exercising, it won’t feel so onerous and will quickly put you on track to making exercise a lifelong habit.
5. Go easy on yourself.
I feel like I have turned the corner on this one and am making steady progress. Having many responsibilities with my work, my husband, children and various school and community commitments, means that some days I just can’t fit it all in. And guess what? That’s ok. I’ve realized the importance of rest days and know that I need some flexibility with my often crazy schedule. So, when I don’t get in the exercise I had planned, I don’t beat myself up for it. I move on and get over it. Fast.
6. Have a plan.
I like to remind my health coaching clients that “failure to plan is like planning to fail.” There is no way to free up extra time unless you plan ahead to reorganize some of your regular routines. With that said, take a good look at your week ahead on a Sunday evening. Plan out on your calendar when you will fit in the new exercise regimen you want to follow. Just like a doctor’s appointment or parent-teacher conference, scheduling it in ensures you will not miss it!
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