One of the questions I receive most often is: “Where do you get your running motivation to stay so consistent?”
This is prompted by the fact that my exercise routine is consistent and has been for many years. Because regular exercise has been a part of my life for so long, I left the NEED for motivation behind years ago.
Skipping a workout for me is rare, something that only occurs when I’m really not feeling well. Thus, I haven’t always had a good answer to this question…what was it that helped me to keep going when others would fall off??
I believe may have stumbled upon the answer while listening to The Power of Habit (while running, of course).
How to Make Exercise a Habit
And so, dear readers, I can finally share with you my knowledge about how to create an exercise habit.
It’s so much easier than we want to think.
But I’m going to give you the tools that have kept me running consistently since 2002 through many cross country moves, job changes and life changes.
Commit to One Month
Most of us have heard the statement that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. While there is more to it than that (more on that below), the key here is getting over that initial hump of starting out.
Moreover, it’s easy to think in terms of one month increments. This way it doesn’t seem so daunting or permanent, leaving you feeling stuck with a dreaded goal you must accomplish every day for the rest of your life.
One month is temporary.
See how you did by the end of the month and make adjustments as necessary to keep you going long term.
“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
Create a Daily Habit
Repetition is more important than the time frame to create a habit, which is why I say start small with mini habits!
Pick just one new habit to start.
A lot of people fail when they set out to create a new exercise habit because they only try to go to the gym three or four days per week. Consistency is essential if you want to make a habit stick, which is why we want to show up at the same time everyday for ourselves.
This is one reason that I LOVE active recovery days, instead of complete rest. It allows you to maintain the habit, while still getting in the necessary rest between runs.Stop relying on #motivation - here's how to create an exercise habit! #runchat Click To Tweet
Set a Consistent Time
The other crucial element is picking a time that works for you on a daily basis. This is one reason so many runners turn to mornings, less excuses:
- You have to stay at work late
- Your partner can’t pick up the kids, so you have to
- You’re too tired from a long day
- Friends invite you to an impromptu happy hour
It’s easy to make or create an excuse to skip a run in the evening. The morning, however, you can shape however you like.
Yes, waking up earlier isn’t easy, but you can take steps to make it more convenient, by setting the coffee timer or making overnight oats. Set your phone on the other side of the room, so you have to get up to turn off the alarm.
Get the full list of morning runner tips and motivation to wake up early!
If you want to start running, rather than setting a goal to run a marathon in six months, if you’ve never run 5k before, start out with something you know you can accomplish.
Focus on the process rather than the goal. Let’s break this down in to an example:
- Start out by committing to one day of running per week for 20 minutes, or even just 10-15 minutes if that’s all you can handle.
- Then increase to two days, adding slowly until your body adjusts to the new routine.
- As the habit begins to settle and running feels easier, you can start to increase your duration.
- Eventually add additional elements like strength training.
Wait, didn’t I just tell you that in order to create a new habit, you have to commit to it daily?
Yes, let me explain. As you’re starting out, run one day per week and walk the rest. Then, run for two days and walk for five. The idea is to pick a goal that you simply cannot fail at because it’s that easy. If you need help finding ways to create time to workout, see my handy dandy tips.
Set a Trigger Cue
Most of your life is a set of habits, you just didn’t realize that’s what they are! A few of the most common ones:
- You brush your teeth right after you wake up and just before you go to bed.
- You start the coffee pot after brushing your teeth.
- You put your seatbelt in as soon as you get in your car.
Charles Duhigg, brilliantly tells us that we should piggyback on our existing habits to trigger a new one. Instead of starting from scratch, we’re taking advantage of something our brain is already doing unconsciously to implement something new.
Here are some examples:
- Brush your teeth in the evening then set your shoes in the bathroom so you see them as soon as you get up.
- Start your pot of coffee and then get dressed for running.
- Do your strength training exercises while you watch TV in the evening.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Everything about habits seems so clinical, let’s talk about one that sounds exactly like running motivation!
Combining a guilty pleasure with a healthy habit may encourage you to stick with your new habit. Watching Real Housewives is absolutely how I handle long winter treadmill runs.
Rewards can be anything from a Starbucks coffee on days you run, to only listening to your favorite podcast only during a run. Maybe you want to go on a trip, so consider paying yourself for running. Each run earns you $5 toward that trip.
I generally try not to use “treats” as a reward, but if you drink coffee anyway and this will get you started with the habit, then go for it. Over time, you’ll hopefully begin to find the run itself is the reward!
With continued repetition, your brain will begin to associate the feeling after you finish running as a reward and you’ll start feeling motivated to work out before you lace up. This is how habits work. They create a pathway in your brain that makes things automatic because of your expectations.Love this photo from RunTriTam which shows multiple tips in one!! They save these treats for after long runs and enjoy the miles more together.
Find a Buddy
If you have a friend waiting for you outside in the dark and cold, then it’s highly likely that you’ll stick with your running habit, because you can’t be the jerk that makes her suck it up alone.
- Set a weekly running date with several friends to help keep the motivation and fun high
- Join a running club, which will have set times for group workouts and push you to try speed workouts or just be comfortable in a group.
- Hire a personal trainer to help you gain confidence in the gym and not talk yourself out of strength training.
- Hire a running coach who will provide you with accountability and spending money on your goal reinforces to your brain that this matters and you want to stick to it.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Don’t just join a gym only to step inside and feel overwhelmed by all the equipment and people. Or pick out a race then try to wing the training. Doing a little bit of preparation will boost your running motivation by turning it in to a habit that you do without even thinking.
Here are a few ways to prepare for an exercise habit:
- Make a Pinterest board of exercise routines to have ready when you go to the gym.
- Have your running route for the following day picked out. Map My Run or Strava are great ways to find new routes in your area.
- Set out your running clothes the night before so all you have to do is get dressed.
- Have your lunch and/or breakfast ready to go the next day. This way, you won’t have to think about it before you head out the door.
- Pick a podcast or playlist the night before you run so all you have to do it hit play.
What are your tips for starting and sticking with a new habit?
Have you used trigger habits to form a new one?
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