Tuesday, June 13, 2017

4 Tips to Make Working Out a Habit

One of the hardest parts of starting any new workout routine is making it stick. Getting to the gym each morning, afternoon, or evening is a challenge, but the latest research on how habits are created can make it a lot easier.

1. Use micro quotas to make macro goals happen

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you do something small every day. That’s the idea behind “micro quotas”, where you set a small, achievable daily quota to help you get to your “macro goal”. Want to run a marathon? Your micro quota may be just ten minutes on the treadmill every day. The key is to take your macro goal, whether it’s running that marathon or just getting in shape, and break it down into a daily action that’s small and easy enough that you’ll feel a little ridiculous trying to talk yourself out of doing it.

My personal micro quota is a 7-minute workout. Exercising for just seven minutes is easy enough that even in the beginning it wasn’t hard to get it done every day. Some days I’d do more, but if I didn’t feel like it, I didn’t worry about it. Instead of feeling bad for not doing a more intense workout, I simply focused on enjoying what I was doing and hitting that easy micro quota. As my exercise habit became stronger, the intensity of my workouts naturally increased simply because I got bored of the simple workouts I started with.

2. Create habit chains to get to the gym on autopilot

Hacking into your existing habit chains is one of the best ways to get yourself to the gym regularly. The strategy is simple: pick a set routine in your schedule and build a new “link in the chain” for your workout.

The routine I hacked into was getting off work for the day. I knew that if I made it home (and onto my comfortable couch) I’d never get to the gym no matter how good my intentions, so I began going directly to the gym after finishing at work.

If-then planning can be helpful for building the new chainlink. Instead of saying, “I’m going to work out every day,” you can say, “If it is my lunch hour, then I will jog for 30 minutes.” Or “If I’ve just gotten off work, then I will drive to the gym.”

3. Make it as easy as possible on yourself

It comes as no surprise that we’re more likely to do things that are easier. So one big key to creating a new exercise habit is to address every pain point (or “ah-screw-it” moment) that comes between you and getting to the gym. Author Remit Sethi addressed his own “ah-screw-it” moment:

When I sat down to analyze why I wasn’t going to the gym, I realized: My closet was in another room. That meant I had to walk out in the cold [to] put on my clothes. It was easier to just stay in bed. Once I realized this, I folded my clothes and shoes the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I would roll over and see my gym clothes sitting on the floor. The result? My gym attendance soared by over 300%.

Take the time to analyze exactly where your new exercise habit is breaking down. It may be as simple as making sure your bag is packed every evening and ready to go for the next day.

4. Track your streak

Winning streaks are always fun, so whether you’re following Jerry Seinfeld’s advice to draw a giant X on the calendar every day you’re successful or using a habit tracking app that does it for you (like my personal favorite Habitica) make sure you keep track of your streak. Once you have a few X’s on the calendar, you’ll naturally want to to keep the streak going.

There’s a slight danger with this tip, though: once you break your streak it can be very easy to throw in the towel altogether, also known as the “what-the-hell” effect. Combat this by implementing a Never Miss Two Days rule. Rather than getting caught up in breaking your streak, the Never Miss Two Days rule helps you focus on getting back on track as quickly as possible.

Habits over life hacks

We often turn to life hacks in the hopes they’ll make something difficult become easy. Unfortunately, there’s no hack for the work needed to get in shape, run a marathon, or do a triathlon. Instead, these tips will help you build a consistent habit so that inch by inch, 7 minute workout by 7 minute workout, you’ll hit those goals—and the new ones you develop after accomplishing them.

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