How to create a fitness habit that sticks
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
You have every good intention to make exercise a part of your everyday life, but you just can't seem to find something that sticks.
Part of the challenge may be overwhelm. Paralysis by analysis. Maybe you don't know where to begin or what to try next.
Yoga, running, Crossfit, pilates, bootcamps, spin, kettlebells. The list goes on and on.
So let's say you do pick one: lifting weights—because you want to build a little muscle, lose fat, and feel strong and connected in your body.
But then you walk into the gym and find yourself with a whole new, overwhelming set of questions. Which exercises are best? How do I do this exercise without hurting myself? Is that guy judging me? How many reps should I do? Do I need to confuse my muscles? Is that even a thing? I'mconfused. 🤯
Hey, that's a lot to think about. And you're busy! You have other things to care for. A family. A job. Friends. Pursuing your own dreams. You don't have time to do a bunch of research about exercise science and how to lift weights [or insert other workout of choice]. You just want to get fit, feel good, have lots of energy, and get on with living your best life!
Well I have good news and bad news.
The bad news... If you're looking for an easy solution that you can just add to your life without having to think about it at all, while also creating lasting change, I honestly don't think it exists. You may feel overwhelmed or short on time, but if you want to become that fit person, you've got to engage in the process.
The good news? You've likely been making it waaayyy more complicated than it needs to be. The process can be simple. In fact, the process should be simple.
You see, it doesn't really matter what type of workout you choose. Maybe you're worrying about the ideal number of reps or whether or not you have the right workout shoes, but none of that matters if you don't first establish the habit of working out.
Real quick. What's a habit? (Because that word is thrown around, a lot.) Now, this is no official definition, but I'm referring to a behavior that has been performed enough in your life to the point that it is automated. So you know that whole internal dialogue you have with yourself about whether or not to go to the gym...
"Do I have time? ... I deserve to rest ... I'll workout tomorrow ... No, I should go."
Yeah, that hardly happens anymore. If it's a habit, you've performed this behavior enough to the point that your brain decided to accept it and automate it so you can get on with other things. Your brain always wants to be as efficient as possible, so if we do something frequently enough, we end up not having to think much about it. Sweet.
So basically, when working out is truly a habit, you may end up at the gym and forget how you even got there! And the cool thing is you hardly find yourself making excuses for not going because you're simply just not having that conversation with yourself anymore (remember, efficient brain).
So here's what we're saying. A habit has to be established before it can be improved. Only once you've automated going to the gym should you start worrying about how to optimize your time there.
So if you want to get into a routine of exercising 3 days per week, what you're really saying is that you want to get into the habit of showing up at the gym 3 days per week. Because technically, working out isn't the part that gets automated anyway. The actual workout deserves your attention. 😉
When you simplify your objective, then it becomes a little less paralyzing. The overwhelm of which program to follow, which shoes to wear, and whether or not to take a pre-workout supplement goes away when the goal is really just getting yourself to the gym.
So if you're feeling overwhelmed by all of the logistics that come with getting into fitness (or really, any new habit you want to build), start with something that doesn't overwhelm you.
And guys, there really is no step that is too small. Like, if the only thing you can realistically handle right now is putting your workout clothes on when you get home from work, then fine. Start there. But just do that consistently.
The beauty in even the smallest steps (even if they seem useless at the time) is that you're beginning to change the way you think about yourself. And this is huge.
If your identity becomes tied to a behavior then it's much more likely that you'll stick to it long term. This goes for good and bad habits, of course.
If I spend time writing every morning, I start to see myself as a writer. If I go to the gym consistently 4 times per week, I consider myself a fit person. You can see, it's less about any single action that you take and more about the sum of the small actions.
Think about it this way. If I'm generally really messy and disorganized but one day decide to take 3 hours to clean my room from top to bottom, that single action doesn't suddenly make me an organized person. It's the small daily decision to make my bed, or put my shoes in the closet when I kick them off that strengthens my belief that I'm an organized person. As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says, "every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become."
And just like actions can influence our belief, so can our belief influence our actions. Perhaps you hold a belief about yourself that is limiting you from really changing.
A limiting belief might be something like: "I'm not compliant." "I don't control myself around food." "I'm not good at lifting weights." "I'll never have a toned or muscular body."
And this is where small, small actions can really help. Because whatever belief we currently hold, it's hard to convince ourselves overnight that we're a radically different person. We're just too smart to believe that. But if we slowly change our behavior over time, we allow our belief time to catch up.
So with the example of simply changing into your workout clothes, each time you do that, you'd want think positively about yourself and this new behavior. Allow yourself to believe "I care about my health," or "I am a fit person."
If it feels weird or uncomfortable, that's expected at first. You're doing something that isn't consistent with your current belief. But remember, that current belief is what is limiting you. Eventually, as your beliefs grow, you'll feel more and more comfortable with your new action, and you'll soon be able to take the new habit to the next level.
So the small action not only gets you into the habit of starting the new desired behavior, it also provides a breeding ground, so to speak, for your beliefs and identity to grow along with your actions.
And last thing before I sign off. If you don't believe in yourself right now, hear this. I believe in you. It doesn't matter where you are currently, if you feel too stuck, too far gone, too old, too messed up—whatever, I believe in you. I believe that you can grow, you can change into that person that deep down you know you are. There is just so much potential for each of us. We just need to let go of that part of us that wants to remain the same.
A habit has to be established before it can be improved.
Don't let the overwhelm of minutiae limit you from taking consistent action.
The belief you hold about yourself is just as important as the action you take. Assess your current beliefs and question them.
Start with small actions (rather than radical ones) and do them consistently. Allow your belief (and identity) the time to catch up to your action.
I believe in you, you're freakin awesome, and good things are absolutely possible if you believe it, too.