Motivation is overrated

One of the questions I receive most often is “Where do you get the motivation to exercise all the time?” This is prompted by the fact that my exercise is consistent and has been for so many years.  I have to admit that I don’t always know how to answer this question because I rarely have to “make” myself exercise…in fact that only happens when I’m really not feeling well and even then as many of you have seen over the last year, I often still head out because running always makes me feel better.

Luckily, I may have stumbled upon the answer listening to an audiobook while running (The Power of Habit )! While running obviously gives me some endorphins, it turns out that at some point I crossed a line from motivating myself to do it to NEEDING to do it. Running has become a habit.   Something that I do without thinking because it is a regular part of my day.

“As behaviors are repeated in a consistent context, there is an incremental increase in the link between the context and the action. Habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously.” – wikipedia

Have you ever noticed you have a pattern when you wake up? You head to the bathroom, brush your teeth, start the coffee pot, etc. Exercise has been in a morning time slot for me for ages, which is why I’ve had a very hard time committing to the evening running clubs…they simply aren’t part of my habitual patterns.  If I start the day without some kind of exercise things feel off for the rest of the day and I’m restless until I can get in a workout.

Identifying your own habits is important if you want to create a new habit or break an old habit. It will be important to understand what cues trigger you (i.e. an angry call from your boss always leads to an ice cream binge) and what you use as a reward (i.e. if you finish a workout you get to have a soda).
Many of us have long quoted the statement that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but in reality it’s more complex than that.  First you need to focus on making one change at a time. In progress not perfection, I noted that science proves you are more likely to be successful when changing 1 thing at a time and this may be why. It gives you a chance to develop a habit.

Next identify a very specific habit that you want to create. If you want to start running, get more specific and find a consistent pattern that will trigger you to go for a run and reward yourself after the run.

Example: I want to be a morning runner. Start setting your shoes in the bathroom so you see them as soon as you get up or reach out to a friend to meet you a couple mornings each week. Then determine how you will reward yourself for following through. Maybe it’s that any morning you run you get Starbucks, but on days you don’t only home brew for you.  I generally try not to use “treats” as a reward, but if you drink coffee anyways and this will get you started with the habit go for it.  Overtime hopefully you will begin to find the run itself is the reward!

With continued repetition, your brain begins to associate running shoes with a reward and you’ll start getting excited before you even run. This is how habits work…they create a pathway in your brain that makes things automatic because of your expectations.

You can’t eradicate a habit,” says Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. “You can only change it, because once the neural pathways are there, you’re not able to ignore them completely.”  Here is a handy dandy chart he created to help walk you through the process of breaking any bad habit.

All of this is why I believe the Holiday Bootie Buster Challenge has been so successful over the years. Not successful for me, but for the participants. I get feed back every year from people who have run farther, lost weight, tried something new, the list goes on! Read more about this years challenge and join us to create some great holiday habits.

Do you have a habit you haven’t been able to break? Do you think this process would help? 
Gratitude Journal
Oct 31Running_motivation
I am grateful for Asics being such a generous sponsor for the NYC marathon. They have set up some amazing stuff and the gear is so cute…yes I’m getting excited!

When you wonder if you can’t and NYC Goals
Announcing HBBC 2012

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