Kicking off an exercise schedule needn’t be complicated – building habits is far from an all-or-nothing process. Don’t sign up to five workout classes a week, tell a buddy you’ll meet them every morning at 6am for a three mile run and promise yourself you’ll cook every meal from scratch. Changing multiple habits at the same time is impossible to maintain. Your mind will be all over the place and you’ll exhaust your willpower. Instead, set the bar low with one small change – like exercising for 30 minutes every day – and stick to it. It’ll soon become routine.
To break a negative cycle and get back into a healthy routine, you must first understand what’s causing it all in the first place. There are the three basic habit components laid out by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. He calls it ‘the habit loop’:
In Duhigg’s case, he discovered what he really needed was a bit of interaction to break up the work day – not the cookie. Instead of going to the cafeteria, he’d chat with colleagues whenever his cue (boredom) kicked in and lost weight as a result.
Find out what negative routines you’ve made into habits and replace them with positive ones. In Duhigg’s words: “Once you diagnose the cue, the routine and reward – you gain power over it”.
What works for one person might not work for you. If that blast of sparkling, feel-good endorphins aren’t enough to get you back into your workout routine, try technology.
Fitness apps provide a visual record of your victories, giving you an instant reward that you may not see in the mirror straight away. The motivating features of apps such as Runkeeper are designed to help you stick to a routine – it’ll even send the reminders to get out and run so you don’t break the chain.
The data-driven side of workout gizmos are great, but these apps also have another behaviour-forming trick – social competitiveness. When you share a workout, your friends can see it and give you a supportive well done, even if it’s just in the form of a ‘like’. That reward Duhigg was talking about? There are few more powerful than that.
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