BPF Blog

Creating a daily exercise habit

Someone asked me recently how I help people develop a daily habit of exercising. I have a few methods.

As a starting point, I ask people for their “why.” Why do you want to change your habits? Change is hard and you need a good reason for it. What do you think will change in your life when you develop an exercise habit? Not “my doctor said I should,” or “my blood pressure numbers need to go down.” What makes you -excited- to do the work? What’s important to you? And can you -see- it and -feel- it? How will it feel when you achieve your goal? Imagine it. Visualize it. Be present in that feeling and hold on to it. Revisit it often. Is there a picture, or words that help you bring it to mind? Post that up on your bathroom mirror or somewhere you’ll see it all the time. Let it be ever present in your mind.

As practical matters, consider your obstacles. Run out of time at the end of the day? Get it done first thing. “Too busy” to get a “full workout”? Break it up. Something is better than nothing. Do short spurts when you have a break in your day.

Keep track. I recently discovered habit trackers as part of paper planners, which I’ve fallen in love with and will write a separate post on soon. But here’s how they work: you make a grid (like this), and write down the habits you want to track for the month or week or whatever period of time you want. Then, each day you complete the habit, color in or check off the corresponding box. (You can, of course, use a variety of phone aps for this, and if that works better for you then do it. I’ve found I like seeing the sheet of paper and coloring in as I complete the habits. It makes me feel more accomplished.) Don’t worry when you have a day or two or three where you don’t get the box checked. Just try to fill as many as you can. And next month, try to get more.

Don’t view it as a temporary thing. It’s not. If you make some herculean effort to get fit, get to whatever your goal was, and then stop doing what it was that got you there; you’ll go back to the way things were. There can be periods of heavier training to get to particular goals, but you’ll never not have to exercise. Same for nutrition. If you go on a crazy diet then go back to your pre-diet habits, you’ve gotten nowhere. Make sustainable changes, and don’t try to make them all at once.

Finally, if you’ve been trying all of these and you’re still struggling, reflect on the negative. How do you feel when you don’t complete your habits? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? What are the consequences of continuing not to make the changes you had decided to? What will your life be like in 6 months if you continue on the same path? In a year? In five? In ten? Don’t like the answers you get? Then go back to the drawing board. What happened? Maybe you tried to change too much, too fast. What’s a smaller change you can make? Maybe half an hour of exercise every day was not something you were ready for. Maybe ten minutes is a better starting point. After you’ve got that down, you can build from there. Don’t be in a hurry to do everything all at once (but don’t put off doing anything at all, either). Small, sustainable change leads to big, impactful change over time if you build on it.

Has something else worked for you to build a daily exercise habit? Tell me about it in the comments!