We have all heard that 21 is the magic number when it comes to establishing a habit, but that isn’t exactly true. When it comes to making exercise a habit there is no magic number of days it will take to cement the practice. Instead, the key to forming a workout routine lies in the strength of your plan. When you know why you are choosing to exercise, how you will benefit and what the anticipated reward is you are more likely to stick with your routine.
Understand your motivation
Any exercise habit needs a driver. A personally meaningful driver will get you in your sneakers even when you would rather camp out on the couch. Your big why might be an upcoming class reunion or vacation. It might even be your health. Maybe the doctor says you are prediabetic. In each case, exercise is tied to something that is important to you and motivating for you.
Know how you will benefit
Humans are logical beings. We thrive in situations where we can clearly identify cause and effect. That means exercise needs to answer the question, what’s in it for me? If you are prediabetic the effect of exercise might be a 5% reduction in weight or a smaller waist. Both of these would mean a reduced risk of diabetes and a gold star from the doctor.
Visualize your reward
What does having a smaller waist, more energy or better health outcomes mean to you? Maybe they mean you can enjoy more outdoor activities with your children or spouse. Maybe you can start enjoying a new hobby or building enough confidence to see yourself asking for a raise or promotion. Experiencing the anticipated reward as you work toward it will help you keep moving, even thorough periods of discouragement.
Set your plan in motion
We have all been there. You make a promise to yourself that this will be the time you stick with your exercise routine. Then you don’t. This really will be the time you do it if you set yourself up for success. After you determine the why of exercise it is important to figure out the how. For example, how will your exercise routine fit in with your work or family schedule? A good way to establish a routine is to make a plan – including a trigger – that supports it. For someone with young children this might mean hitting the gym after work before you get the kids from after school care. Soon the routine of exercising after work becomes as natural as drinking coffee before work. Just like you always read the paper on Sunday you always exercise after work on Wednesday. You do these things automatically, as you will with exercise. In other words, you will have created an exercise habit.
Don’t be discouraged if you have tried many times before to form a workout routine. Begin again and again. Begin as many times as you need to. Once you start, increase your chances of success by getting clear about your motivation, getting excited about the payoff, and getting a plan in place. You really can do it.