How to make fitness a habit
Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations about motivation remaining high all the time. But it doesn’t, in anyone. What we need is the ability to do things even when we don’t feel motivated. Especially when we don’t feel motivated.
We frequently do things we are not motivated to do. We do them either because we view them as non-negotiable (going to work, cleaning the sink), we don’t think about them at all (automatic habits like cleaning our teeth) or we know from experience we will feel awful if we choose an option (staying up reading til 2am when we have to get up early).
We want to make our healthy and fit choices more like these – unavoidable, automatic and good options we actively choose. So even when we do not feel like working out, we still do.
If we really, really want to avoid a workout we will, but we can make it less easy for us to avoid by creating strong habits. The first strong habit for good fitness is to PLAN! If we don’t plan when we’re working out and what we’re going to do, it is more likely that we will skip a session.
At the start of the week, write down your plan for working out. Be detailed. What day and time will you work out? What will you do? Not just ‘running’ or ‘lower leg workout’ but how long or how far, how fast, which exercises or particular workout.
Once you’ve written your plan, assess how likely it is you will stick to it. If it feels unlikely now, it’s probably not going to happen. If it feels too much, look at what you need to reduce until it feels like a likely option. Is it frequency, intensity or duration of workouts?
Now look at why you would be most likely to skip a workout. If you think you may not have time, could you switch the workout to a different time? If you are not sure you will feel up to a higher intensity workout, can you add a back-up like a walk instead?
Make it automatic
Look at what you need to do to support your workout decisions. Getting kit ready, working out pre/post workout nutrition, having someone with you, organising childcare, downloading workouts, booking gym time. What needs to be done so that the likelihood of you doing these workouts is the highest it can be?
Once you’re satisfied with your plans, put them in your planner or calendar, physical or digital. Treat these as an appointment where you just have to show up.
Reward yourself for sticking to your plan. Not with food, but with something else that will make you feel happy. My favourite reward for a winter run is to have a bath when I get back (regardless of if it is still the middle of the day). Perhaps you can save up for some new fitness kit, or give yourself a day off work, or treat yourself to an extra episode of your favourite program. Honour the choices you have made and really thank yourself for making them.
You’ve already made good steps to making it more automatic to work out by planning like this. The next step is to review the plan, as you go. What has worked and what hasn’t? The things that haven’t worked, why is that? And how can you change it to make it more workable. Be honest, but kind to yourself. If you planned 6 workouts, but did 4, instead of assessing that you were just lazy and under-motivated, look clearly at why the other 2 workouts didn’t happen? If you felt tired, perhaps you need to adjust the intensity of the other workouts. If you felt as though you didn’t have the time, is that likely to be repeated or were there unusual circumstances? If it is likely to be repeated, how can you adjust that workout (the timing, the duration) to make it more likely to happen. If you just really didn’t particularly want to do that exercise, what could you replace it with that you would want to do?
You know that feeling you get when you finish a really hard workout and you are like ‘I AM A WARRIOR!’ (I know that’s not just me!)? When you feel really proud of yourself and pleased that you chose the workout? Document it. Whether that’s in a journal, sharing on social media, adding a note to your Strava activity, recording yourself, make sure you actively tap into that feeling. Even if the feeling is that you are sooooo tired and it was hard, but you’re just happy that you did it. By consciously associating good feelings with the workouts that you have chosen to do, you will make it more likely that you will actively choose to do them.
Conversely, if you choose to skip a workout, record how you feel about that. It might be that you feel like it is a good thing as you feel you need to rest. That will give you a good insight into whether or not you are over-committing yourself. You might feel bad for skipping the workout. Whatever it is, record it honestly. By doing so, you may feel that you should just go and do it anyway. Perhaps you can do a lower intensity, lesser duration workout instead. Swap HIIT for yoga or weights for a walk. When you really decide that you are not going to workout, be 100% honest with your intention and say ‘I am consciously choosing not to do this workout because……’.
Over time, you can build a pattern and you can see how choosing to do a workout or skipping it makes you feel and why you’re making the choices that you are.