Most of us know that exercise in one form or another is good for us, so How Can We Turn Exercise Into a Permanent Habit?
What is a Habit?
The Merriam-webster dictionary definition of a habit is:
- an acquired mode of behaviour that has become nearly or completely involuntary.
- a behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.
Establishing a Habit
To make something a habit, we must use a three-step process:
- Select the activity
- Establish a “trigger”
- Create a reward
1) The Activity
In our case, we want to make exercising a habit. By doing so, it takes out the negotiability factor. After it is a habit, you won’t even think twice about not doing it.
We are all busy, so it is easy to put off exercising when something else with a higher priority gets in the way. However, once exercising becomes a habit, it will become something you do mostly without thinking, like tying your shoes, regardless of what else you have going on at the time.
2) The Trigger
Part of establishing a habit is creating a “trigger” – an event that, when it happens, you don't even think about it; you just do the activity. If your time to exercise is in the morning, right after you get up, then getting out of bed is your trigger. If you exercise in front of the T.V., then when your favourite program comes on could be your trigger to exercise. If you exercise after work, it could be the commute at the end of the workday that is the trigger for you to stop at the gym on the way home.
3) The Reward
When going through the process of making something a habit, we need to establish a goal. Once we reach that goal, we need to reward ourselves and set a new and higher purpose. Having that goal in front of us gives us the incentive to keep doing the activity until we get the reward.
If exercising is your activity and losing weight your goal, a reward could be a new outfit or a movie after losing 10 pounds, or …; it can be anything that you want that supports your success in reaching your goal.
How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?
The University College London conducted a habit formation study whereby 96 volunteers choose a behaviour change they wanted to make over 12 weeks. Each volunteer was responsible for daily reporting on the behaviour change. After performing the data analysis, the study found the time it took participants to establish a habit took anywhere from 18 to 254 days. The average was 66 days. Other studies support their 66-day findings.
Don’t get discouraged if it takes you longer than average to establish your exercise habit; as you can see, habit formation varies significantly by individual. Keep persevering, and the new habit will come eventually!
Forming a new pattern (or getting rid of an old one) takes time, patience and commitment. But by selecting a trigger, goal and reward, you can make exercising a habit.
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