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Deciding to start exercising again after many quits can be difficult.
We’ve all gotten the motivation to start working out, probably after watching a motivational video, reading an inspiring story, or one of the most common: a New Year’s resolution.
You get this huge burst of motivation, and then you tell yourself, “This time, this time around, I will stick to it; I will achieve my body goals.”
At first, you start strong, but this willpower doesn’t last very long.
This is the inevitable fate of 90% of people who start exercising.
This leaves us at some point asking, “Why can’t I build the habit of exercising?”
In this article, I will go through some ways to make exercise a daily habit and also answer this common question: Why do we always end up quitting?
Let’s get into it.
This is the standard approach most of us take towards beginning to exercise, which has led us to quit time and time again.
You dive right in, intending to finally achieve your dream body.
There’s a huge gap between your current and your goal body, so you feel you need to go heavy. Without much thought, you go straight into it, guns blazing.
Motivation and emotions fuel this approach to exercise. Motivation is limited and does not last very long, and our emotions change all the time.
It is very difficult—or, might I say, nearly impossible—to build a habit depending on these two factors.
We need a guide and a routine to follow that allows us to stick to this new habit, reduces the amount of mental friction required to execute that habit regularly, enables us to make starting decisions quicker, and holds us accountable when we don’t.
Here are some tips that will give you just that.
It all starts with a mindset and perspective change, along with some smart planning and the will to want it.
I stumbled upon a rule called the 2-minute rule from the book “Atomic Habits”, by James Clear. The goal of this rule is to make habits as easy as possible to start.
It suggests we start with short iterations when we’re trying to build new habits. Check out some examples:
Why is this the best approach? Starting small or slow ensures you don’t hate the exercise; it also ensures you show up again.
In the beginning, your goal should be to show up for the exercise instead of trying to do it perfectly.
Think consistency and volume over time instead of “going hard once every 2 weeks.”
It’s not enough to just say “I’ll start exercising again”, because, without specific goals for how you’re going to begin and continue exercising, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
You need to take it a step further; you need to set exercise goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
Let’s take a look at some examples.
By setting your goals this way, you break them down, making them look attainable and clear.
When we know exactly how we’re going to do something, it reduces the mental friction we go through when deciding to start a habit.
You’re more likely to carry out that activity now.
Picking only exercises you actually like doing is essential, especially at the beginning, if you want to stay consistent.
“Faysal wants to start working out again after five months of inactivity, so he searches for a random 30-minute fat-burning follow-along exercise and decides he’s going to do this workout daily.”
It’s not hard to see why he will not stick to this routine long-term.
If you make the process of building a habit too difficult by picking random workouts and exercises you don’t like, don’t suit you, or just feel like you can’t get the movement right, then 9/10 times you will give up.
#1: Use your first few days to search for workouts and exercises that suit you. Everyone is different, so the type of exercise that we like or that will suit us varies.
#2: Your next step is to learn how to do those exercises well.
Learn proper form, so when you do start exercising daily, you feel those exercises target the right areas, and you feel encouraged because you actually know what you’re doing.
Take me, for example. They say, “Hate is a strong word”, but I hated jogging, and whenever I’d try to create a routine to do it, I’d usually quit after a few weeks.
I decided to try taking long walks instead because I at least preferred it to jogging, and guess what?
I stuck to it long enough to see results!
If you need the stars to always align for you to do your exercises, then you’re going to struggle to build this habit.
Everyone suffers from this “perfect or nothing” syndrome, including me, to this day.
“Faysal decides to start working out again; he creates a SMART goal that states that he has to get to the gym by exactly 5 p.m.
But the next day he’s running late, and he estimates he’ll get to the gym by 6 p.m.
He decides that since he can’t follow his perfect plan that day, he might as well just relax, order a pizza, and ‘try again tomorrow’.”
This scenario that we all go through is detrimental when building a new habit.
You need to accept that things won’t always go your way and that when they don’t, you’re still going to exercise anyway, even if it’s just for a tiny bit.
If you’re able to do what’s required in unfavorable situations, guess what?
Doing it regularly becomes way easier. So, let’s start going with the flow, people.
A bit similar to the “perfect or nothing syndrome,” the all-or-something mindset is when we feel like if we can’t do everything, if we can’t do the entire exercise, then we should just not do it entirely.
This stems from the feeling we get when we start and can’t finish an activity; we feel disappointed, so we just avoid it.
But what’s worse? Doing something, or nothing at all? I hope you also picked the latter.
When it comes to exercise and building habits, what matters most is how often you show up.
Just the way you put in reps for a workout, you’re also putting in reps for how many times you show up, whether you’re going full effort or not.
Next time you find yourself in this situation, do this:
When you take this approach, you end up showing up more times, doing even more reps over time, and getting accustomed to your new exercise routine.
Having someone or something hold you accountable is extremely important when trying to build a new habit.
The stakes are a lot higher when you know that if you don’t get that workout in, you’re disappointing someone other than yourself.
For instance, imagine you set a goal to lose a certain amount of weight within 3 months, and then you tell your partner, best friend, wife, or boyfriend about this goal.
When the time comes to do the exercise required to achieve that weight loss goal, you’re more inclined to do it now because you don’t want to disappoint the people you love, right? Yes!
#1: You can go the conventional route of getting a coach.
#2: Tell your loved ones about your goals; you can choose to tell them to hold you accountable or not.
#3: Put a board or calendar on the wall and mark each day that you exercise.
You’re more likely to exercise when you know that you can’t check that box at the end of the day.
The little wins matter too! You don’t have to wait until you achieve your ultimate goal before you celebrate.
That’s way too long! And we need positive reaffirmations to keep us feeling motivated long enough to build this habit.
Now, I’m not saying you should get a tub of ice cream after a run; instead, reward yourself in ways that won’t hurt your goals.
(Of course, ice cream is still needed sometimes.)
If you enjoy playing video games, watching movies, or having that evening dessert, do your exercise first, then reward yourself with the things you already enjoy.
It may be true that we’re only as good or disciplined as our environment allows us to be.
Imagine trying to lose weight, yet your fridge is filled with all the unhealthy junk food you love… You’re definitely not going to lose any weight.
The same goes for exercising.
Let’s take a look at some situations:
By making sure that your environment aligns with and encourages your goals, you make it a lot easier to show up and build that exercise habit.
No matter who you are, no one is above slacking off sometimes. It’s totally normal, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it.
But in the early stages of building this new habit, you want to limit how often you skip as much as you can; you need wins.
So, if you’re supposed to go for a run on Thursday and you miss it for some reason, make sure you don’t miss your next planned running day.
You may miss once, but make it a rule not to miss twice in a row.
Before getting into the habit of exercising, we need to understand what a habit means.
Habit is an acquired behavior pattern that we perform subconsciously; to put it simply, they are behaviors, actions, or tasks that we’ve performed so many times that we now do them on autopilot.
The kind of person you are now is a result of all the repeated patterns from your past.
For example, if you consider yourself an honest person, it is because you have a track record of being honest for a substantial amount of time.
For a habit to stick, the particular action has to be performed over and over again before it can then be performed near autopilot.
Habits are difficult to stick to because it takes time for them to align with your identity.
Creating the habit of exercising goes along with the same principle.
Most of us did not grow up exercising regularly; we haven’t performed enough exercises consecutively to make it an established habit.
People greatly underestimate how long it takes to build an exercise habit; we start and give up after some weeks and wonder why it didn’t stick.
You have to exercise over and over again to create a track record in your mind.
The habit of exercising starts to align with your personality when you now have this track record to prove to your mind that you’re the kind of person who exercises.
This is when exercising starts becoming a part of your identity.
On your journey to building healthy exercise habits, here are some tips to remember when things don’t go well:
Do not beat yourself up for missing a routine.
A common problem we often run into when getting into a habit is thinking we have to be perfect. This “go hard or go home” mentality usually leads to quitting.
You’re making progress; you’ve gone from 10-minute sessions to 1 hour, and now you feel like you can’t go below that time, and so the days you don’t feel like going for an hour, you skip the session entirely.
However, it is completely fine to go below; some days are going to be slower than others, so what’s important is that you show up, even if it’s for 2 minutes!
If you get to a point where exercising starts feeling like too much of a hassle, reduce the duration, as this tends to lead to quitting.
It sucks to go back when you’re progressing, but you’ll be thankful in the long run that you slowed down to stay consistent.
Before the habit of exercising can stick, you have to exercise over and over again to create a mental log that proves to your mind that you’re the type of person who exercises.
There will be times when you won’t want to exercise, when you don’t even want to do the 2 minutes.
This is when your desire for change has to outweigh the desire for instant gratification.
If things don’t work out, don’t be too hard on yourself.
It happens to everyone, even the best. Just keep going, keep trying, and eventually you’ll get the hang of it!