All habits require a loop of trigger -> action -> and reward in order to become fully engrained into our minds and become automatic. If we can harness the power of habits for exercise, we can make durable and positive routines that help us be healthier, happier, and possibly longer lives.
Step 1: Create Exercise Triggers
In order to have a habit, one needs a trigger that helps remind you to execute the habit.
For instance, when people wake up in the morning, they generally have a a habit of brushing their teeth because their mouth doesn't feel fresh, and their teeth have a film of gooey build-up overnight.
The problem with exercise is that usually, there isn't a strong trigger set in place that helps us to remember to exercise. Hence, as an exercise motivator, one of the most common complaints my clients have about building an exercise habit and committing to a routine is related to "forgetting" to exercise.
Out of sight, out of mind!
My favourite exercise triggers involve things that we do on a daily basis during which we will be able to put into action an exercise routine in that moment.
Triggers that make me think about exercise:
When I feel lower back pain, I think about back and core strength exercises
When I can't reach for something, I think about mobility exercises
When I feel like I can't focus -> exercise helps increase our ability to focus
When I feel like I need to relax -> low-intensity exercise is like meditation and mindfulness
When I feel soreness from previous exercises -> low-intensity exercises and mobility to loosen things up again
When I notice that my weight is creeping up on the scale
When I feel restless because I have too much energy
When I eat a meal, I think about whether or not I exercised today
When I'm upset or depressed
When I'm tired
When I eat dessert or something not healthy for me
...the list goes on and on.
With this many triggers, it's no wonder that I almost never forget to get my exercise fix for the day!
Step 2: Take Action - Make Exercise Second-Nature
After noticing a trigger for exercise, it's difficult to take action unless we know what we're doing. Having an existing exercise plan and a list of exercises to do really helps us to get to the point where ultimately, we have our exercise routines memorized by heart.
Moreover, the clothes we wear, the time of day, the place where we exercise, and how and where we will shower and change afterwards all need to be prepared so that it is practical for us. Thankfully, this is something we can plan for and adjust as things change.
The less time and thought it takes to prepare to exercise, exercise, and recover from exercise, the more likely we will be able to take action when we have an exercise trigger let us know that we should exercise!
Step 3: Feel Rewarded for Exercise
If it feels good, you just might do it again. After you've been triggered, and while you're exercising, maximize your chance of building a successful exercise habit by enjoying the experience.
Some of the biggest barriers to feeling truly rewarded from your exercise efforts include:
not enjoying the sensation of breathlessness
not liking sweat
not enjoying the pump of the muscles when strength training
not being aware of all the immediate benefits your body is getting form immediate exercise
exercising in a way that actually hurts you
exercising too much, so that you overtrain and stress your body too much
being too focused on being self-conscious when exercising in a public setting (like at the gym)
As you can see, a lot of factors can rob us from being able to enjoy working our own bodies. I am of the opinion that one of the most liberating and freeing experiences in life is enjoying exercise. It is a unique gift that everyone can give themselves.
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To start learning about exercise, read the "learn to exercise" post.
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