It’s funny that I’m writing about building habits when I completely missed writing a blog post this week… however, I also recognize that even with the most engrained habits, there will be some days when life gets in the way and despite all the motivation in the world, things won’t work out. You’ll wake up for a 10 K run but there is a lightening storm or a migraine. You’ll plan to eat a packed nutritious lunch but your colleague brought in her world-famous brownies. You’ll vow that you won’t have a drink this week, before remembering that your friend is defending her dissertation and you’ll just have to celebrate with her (twist my arm!)
Building a habit takes persistence, acceptance and perseverance. I think where habits fail people is because of the immediacy of results that we expect. Especially for people like me, the “couch to half marathon” type, we’ve had years of positively reinforced, self-indulgent habits. Just like exercise is a habit, so is sedentary non-exercise. A watching-TV habit is, in many ways, the same as a gym habit. The fundamental difference lies in which is immediately pleasurable, convenient and not painful- and what we’ve had more experience with in our lives of habit.
I have a few tips for “building a habit.” I’m not going to include sources, because I’m not reinventing the wheel here. These are all incredibly well-researched motivational phenomena. These just happen to be the ones that I saw work for me, first hand. I hope you’ll find them helpful.
Before September 2014, I was donating $40 a month to Goodlife- money that could go to a much more deserving “charity”. But in that September, I started to (very slowly) build a habit that would make that $40 donation become a well-spent investment in my own health. Here’s how I did it:
- Start small. I didn’t start going to the gym doing the same routine I’m doing now (push day, pull day, leg day, repeat endlessly….) I went to the gym “afraid of the machines.” I started on cardio equipment because it felt the most comfortable to me. I found mats at the back of the gym and spent a lot of time doing some weird combination of yoga and stretching that literally embodied the “dance like nobody’s watching” concept. I slowly integrated equipment to build strength, mostly with my partner’s very patient help.
- Take advantage of freebies. A few months ago, I took advantage of a free personal-training session that involved a trainer watching form on compound lifts. It was the worst at the time- I recall fighting back frustration tears- but it created the foundation of my strength-training now, and I’m able to squat, bench press, and deadlift with reasonable enough form.
- Make it “me” time. Whether you are running, practicing yoga, or strength training, use that opportunity to be incredibly self-indulgent. For the first six months at the gym, I read books on my kobo on the elliptical. I maybe ellipticalled one mile in each hour, but it’s still better than what I would do on the couch. It made the gym a much more comfortable place. I would read the most chick-lit novels and loved every second of it. Make playlists. Run to parks to meditate. Strength train with images of yourself running up the Rocky steps. Do what you need to do to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of your new habit.
- Hold yourself accountable. There are plenty of ways to do this. Buy nice workout clothes, if you can. Keep a workout schedule. Make friends with the staff at the gym and always say “see you tomorrow” when you leave. Recruit a workout buddy. Start pedometer challenges if you have the same one as your friends. Do whatever it is you need to do to hold yourself accountable, whether that be personally (“I just spent almost $200 on these shoes, I have to get my money’s worth) or with the help of our human desire to impress others (“What will the other regulars think if I miss spin today?”) One benefit of Goodlife is they have a contest where you get an initial from a staff member every time you work out. 6 initials gets you a ballot for a draw to win money. I’m not sure if it’s the idea of winning money that’s motivating me anymore or the fact that I want more signatures on my workout card…
- Set goals. OK, so this is the oldest motivational mechanism in the book. HOWEVER, I’m for setting whatever kind of goal will motivate you. For some, this might mean a weight goal (these are often the most tricky, because muscle weighs way more than fat, so these aren’t the ones I’d suggest). For me, it’s a “how do I fit in my clothes?” goal. I don’t want to have to buy a new wardrobe, so I have to fit comfortably in the clothes that I own. Most people I know benefit from “before and after” shots. Show as much skin as you’re comfortable showing and snap a pic. Try to wear the same outfit everytime you take an “after” shot. Remember that your first pic is your before shot, and EVERY subsequent photo is an “after” shot. Working on our health and fitness is a journey, not a destination– said the cheesiest person ever.
I hope that you find these helpful as you build new habits. There’s all sorts of habit-building advice out there, so it’s all about what is going to work for you.
Best of luck and happy heathy habit building!