You know you need to exercise more, but doing it consistently never works. If only you could make it a real habit, like putting on your seatbelt. You’d be healthier, and exercise wouldn’t feel like such a chore. Can that really be done? Let’s explore the idea of making exercise an automatic habit.
The Many Rules
If you ask a dozen people how long it takes to form a habit, you’re going to get a bunch of answers. A lot of people subscribe to the 21/90 rule, which suggests that you can form a habit in 21 days, and after 90 days it’ll really be locked in.
Other people parrot the 66-day rule. A study by the European Journal of Social Psychology says that it takes an average of 66 days to truly form a habit. Other studies have produced different numbers, but every answer has something in common. It takes consecutive weeks of consistent behavior for something to become a habit.
If you want the ultimate answer, habit forming depends on the person and activity in question, and it can take anywhere from a few days to a whole year. That might sound tough, but for most of you reading this, you can have a reliable exercise habit if you can stick it out for at least three weeks without missing a day. Unfortunately, weeks two and three are where most people crack.
So, how do we avoid falling off the wagon? A few pieces of knowledge can improve your odds.
Stick to a Schedule
If you’re going to build a habit, you have to be consistent. A schedule is your best friend. Use reminders and make your exercise time inviolate. You can’t do favors for anyone. You can’t catch up on work or chores. You definitely can’t use it to try and relax and rest a little. Your exercise time has to be for exercise.
It will be far more difficult and frustrating in the beginning than later. Ultimately, you’ll find that your scheduled exercise is part of how you maintain peace of mind and get some steam back, but to get there, you have to stick to the schedule.
This is the trickiest and most useful way to make exercise a habit. Some people thrive on a pseudo-masochistic punishment of their bodies. They enjoy gasping for air and feeling the burn. Most of us don’t have that mentality and just plain don’t enjoy exercise. Instead, we have to find something we enjoy that happens to give us a workout. It’s even better if we can find multiple somethings that can be rotated to avoid burnout. This works best if you can join any type of team for your exercise. The peer pressure is extremely useful for getting you going in the early days of building your habit.
Focus on the Habit
A powerful mental trick is to focus on the habit more than the results. Your primary goal is to make exercise an unshakeable part of your daily routine. You don’t need to be the pinnacle of fitness by next month — or even next beach season. You just need the habit. When you’ve made it 90 days (or however long it takes), you know you can trust yourself to keep working out. From there, you can adjust the specifics of your workouts to get the physical results you want. You have to overcome your desire to see change right away. When you accept that you’re more than 90 days away from looking the way you want, it’s easier to build the habit first.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to building this habit is overcoming rest. You know that you have to rest, or else you won’t get good results from your exercise. Unfortunately, rest days disrupt your habit building. But you can’t just exercise every day. That’s not a good answer either.
There are two tricks that can help you rest without disrupting the psychology of your habit. The first is to schedule active rest. Notice the emphasis on the schedule. Your rest can’t be done because you feel tired. It has to be part of the schedule, and it should be scheduled for the same time of day that you normally work out. But instead of a grueling bit of exercise, your rest period will be an activity that doesn’t strain muscles. You can schedule stretching, breathing exercises, or anything else that is restful and requires your participation. Watching TV is not active rest. You get the idea.
The second trick is to sub in light activity on rest days. You can go for a leisurely walk during your scheduled workout. This tells your brain that you’re keeping to the schedule, but it lets your body do some much-needed recovering.Those tips should help you avoid the biggest traps and get that habit forming. Of course, a little external reinforcement can go a long way. NuBody focuses on helping people make important lifestyle changes and can be the reinforcement you need to finally make exercise a lasting part of your daily life.