4 Ways to Build a Better Exercise Habit

Simple tips for learning to make exercise a regular part of your routine

We’re now more than a week into 2014, which is right around the time that those resolutions you made might start to fizzle out and die. Last week, you probably got up early to workout and went to the gym every day, but maybe now your motivation is starting to wane.

Maybe you hit the snooze button one too many times this morning or are thinking of swapping your evening run for happy hour instead. Going to the gym every day doesn’t seem like such a hard task, but when it actually comes down to keeping a consistent exercise habit, it’s much easier said than done. But why?

First, let’s look at the root of the problem: There are a few reasons why humans are not the best at sticking to new healthy habits.

Reason 1: We’re Overly Ambitious
Maybe you hardly worked out at all last year and now your goal is to workout every single day. That sounds great, in theory, but it can be a lot to accomplish all at once, especially if you’re going from zero weekly workouts to seven. The problem with biting off more than you can chew, according to a study from the ACSM Journal of Health & Fitness, is that experiencing one small slip up tends to feel extremely overwhelming. When attempting to tackle a really big goal, falling slightly off track makes us more apt to say, “Screw it,” because even the smallest setbacks can feel exceedingly disheartening.

Reason 2: We Want Results Right Away
Lack of immediate results can be discouraging and it prevents us from understanding the value of our new healthy habits. It’s easy to think, “I’ve been working out for three days straight, and I stopped eating cookies but I don’t feel any different. Screw this.” Unfortunately, change takes time, and depending on your goals it could take weeks, months, or even years before you accomplish what you set out to achieve. It takes time and a little bit of patience to see things through.

Reason 3: We Like Routine
Maybe you’re used to waking up with just enough time to get to work or your evenings consist of hanging out with friends; To find time in your day for new habits you’re going to have to “re-wire” your brain a bit in order to break old ones—another practice that’s easier said than done.

So, how can you build better exercise habits? And, more importantly, how can you build them so that exercise feels less like a chore and more like a part of your routine, and maybe even something you look forward to doing?

Start Small
Work out for five minutes a day. Run one mile. Go for a walk at lunch. Any kind of movement is good movement, and sometimes all it takes to get you going is getting out the door. As Isaac Newton says, a body in motion stays in motion.

Pin Point Your Motivation
Why do you want to change your habits? Do you want to feel healthier or look better? Or did you make your resolution just because everyone else was too? Keeping a clear focus on the reasons why you’re working out, and ascribing a tangible goal to the work you’re putting in, will help keep you motivated and make exercising feel worthwhile.

Make It Social
You know what friends are great for? Peer pressure. Recruit your friends to act as outside influencers who will help keep you motivated. If you make plans to workout with a friend you’re much less likely to flake, and you’ll also have more fun. Plus, workout time will count as hangout time, so the two of you can catch up while you sweat it out. Two birds, one stone.

Make It a Priority
This step can be particularly challenging.  Rearranging your priorities to fit exercise into your schedule can feel impossible at times, especially when you’re already overscheduled and maxed out. But if you’re serious about fitting it in, you’ll have to let other, less important things slide. Try skipping one TV show or waking up a half an hour earlier. The key is to make the shift mentally, don’t just try to squish it in.

Build Momentum
Have you started running for five minutes a day or going to one spin class a week? Add more incrementally; Tack on another minute of running every couple of days, or up your routine to two classes per week. Adding little manageable bites will build into big habits before you know it.