Let me guess: At the start of the new year, you planned to workout everyday and hit your fitness goals by March. A week in, you skipped a day. Then that one day gap turned into an entire month of missed workouts.
Does the scenario seem familiar? We’ve all been there.
We all know the physical benefits of working out regularly, but there are very few people who can maintain a sustainable exercise schedule. Be it lack of motivation or packed schedule or the late night party that didn’t let you wake up in the morning, there are a lot of distractions and excuses that lead to inconsistency. So, how does one make exercise a daily habit?
Here are five easy and sustainable ways to make your daily workouts a habit and create consistency in your exercise regime.
1. Plan Your Workout
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Benjamin Franklin knew a thing or two about getting stuff done. The same concept is true for building any kind of habit, especially exercise. If you’re struggling with consistency in your workout routine, you should start by planning out your workout every day, the night before. Your plan should include;
- The time for the workout;
- The place where you will work out;
- The type of workout that you will do.
Once you have created a plan with these specific details, you’ll have fewer decisions to have to make when the time comes to work out. With the process made more automatic, there is less opportunity for excuses, procrastination, and distractions to creep in.
Most people plan their workout as the first activity that they do in the morning. If you are someone who always has a busy day and does not get time to set aside for a workout, early morning is the best option for you. Even the best intentions for an afternoon workout can get swept away when the chaos and business of the day sets in.
Set your workout clothes near you before sleeping, and maybe even lay out your yoga mat the night before so that as soon as you wake up, you can walk through your pre-planned steps to get ready and do your daily exercise.
2. Start Small
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they start working out is that they dive headfirst into the toughest training they can find, thinking they will be able to lose weight or get healthier faster. However, this is not sustainable, won’t help you build a habit, and is likely to crumble a week or two in.
Even though you might get through the tough exercises the first few days when you are feeling motivated, soon you will get tired of it. Motivation is great, but consistency is based on habits, not feelings of motivation. It is better to start small and think long-term.
To make a habit of working out, start as small as 15 minutes. There’s always time for 15 minutes of self-care, but if you are planning for an hour workout, you’ll be likely to keep pushing it off when it’s not convenient or feels overwhelming. Fifteen minutes of activity is much better than planning for an hour of heavy weightlifting and then ultimately doing nothing. Make it a point to move your body every day, even if just for small time increments.
When you begin working out, at home or a gym, you may start with easier or beginner workouts. Once you have gotten in a habit of doing those exercises, only then advance to the higher level. This will help you avoid injury, over-exertion, or feeling discouraged — all which can get in the way of you continuing your consistent exercise routine.
3. Do Something That You Enjoy
Working out does not only mean lifting weights at a gym or doing 100 pushups. You can exercise in many different ways. If you like to take long walks, brisk walking is one of the best low-impact exercises. You can also try cycling. In addition to this, swimming is also a good option. If you like to dance, learning a new dance form can also be a good exercise.
Even when it comes to more traditional “fitness” activities, the possibilities are endless. Someone may love working out on the machines at the gym, while another person may prefer listening to a podcast on the treadmill. Others may love yoga, or a barre class with fun upbeat music, or short HIIT classes you do on YouTube. Maybe instead you try kickboxing, or Zumba, or pole-dancing. You might find that you love working out alone, or in group classes, or that you prefer doing a sport like surfing or soccer.
The key is to find what works and is enjoyable for you, and don’t be afraid to switch it up if your mood changes or you get bored of a certain fitness activity. You are most likely to do something regularly if you enjoy it. Even on the days you feel demotivated, you will go and indulge in the activity because it boosts your serotonin levels, and hence your brain associates it with positivity.
4. Set A Reward System
The best way to build a habit is to immediately follow each practice of that habit with positive reinforcement. That will help you look forward to your daily exercise and feel positive about it, rather than associating it with punishment, or seeing the activity as a chore. A good option is to treat yourself to a healthy smoothie after your workouts, or a cup of coffee.
Longer-term, set some goals for your exercise routines and once you reach them, reward yourself. Whether it’s a goal-marker of weight loss, finishing certain hours of exercise or a certain number of steps, or reaching a weight lifting goal, pick something based on your fitness goals and celebrate your accomplishments along the way.
With the number of health apps and fitness bands available, such as Google Fit and Fitbit, it is easy to assess your workouts and create tangible goals. In fact, with the Fitbit device and the app, you can join an amazing community of like-minded fellows and compete in various challenges.
Rewards can act as your motivation factor and your brain will start associating exercise with positive results and you will be more likely to exercise regularly.
5. Focus On The Process Rather Than The Goal
A lot of people lose motivation to exercise when they do not see the desired results, or they stop exercising when they see the desired results. Exercise should be more about the process than the result. So, if you have a target of exercising 30 minutes each day, your focus should be on exercising 30 minutes each day and not the weight that you are losing.
It Is good to have fitness goals, but they should be smart and process-oriented. For example, If you want to lose 10 pounds, your goal should be realistic and divided into smaller goals. So, it should start with a workout 15 minutes a day, and then increase in time gradually; or start with a goal of working out 3 times per week, and then increase to 4, 5, and 6 days over time. When you focus on the process, you automatically reach your goal without losing motivation.
It’s also helpful to meet with a personal trainer who can help you set realistic goals for your body time and activities. Professionals will help remind you that you’re still on track, even if weight loss has plateaued (as is very common with health goals).
The Bottom Line
Working out regularly is a lifelong habit, not a short-term sprint.
To make working out sustainable, it needs to be made into a sustainable habit, not a binge activity that leaves you burnt out and quitting a couple of months later.
Just like brushing your teeth or having breakfast is a habit that you have developed over the years, exercising regularly should also be made into a habit that is nearly automatic, because you already have all the systems in place. You will have to make conscious efforts to make sure you follow through with your exercise plan each day for some time. Once you have fallen into a habit, you will stop struggling with motivation.
One piece of advice if you want to take from this entire piece is that consistency is the key. Move your body every day even if it is for as little as 10 minutes. Create a habit for a sustainable workout routine and you will see lifelong results.