Create a New Habit : Critical Moves For Exercise

November 10, 2010

HH B-Boy Pose

Trying to make a regular behavior into a habit

My Big Goal these days is to become a Regular Exerciser.

Right now I’m going into what should be my 5th consecutive week of “Regular Exercise”.

I’m trying to develop this new behavior into more than something I push myself to do, I want it to become a deeply ingrained habit in my life.

I’m exploring the whole concept of habit change and formation using “Regular Exercise” as a case study – so if you have something else you want to change into a habit you can follow along with your own thing.

Critical Moves For Exericse

One of the principles in Switch is about finding out the critical moves to make a change.

I’ve given some thought to what it is that indicates I’ll actually exercise.

1. Get Dressed for It

Getting into my gym clothes helps me actually get to the gym.   I live in Paris and the only time the French wear gym clothes is to actually exercise – you don’t see women at the grocery store in yoga pants, nor men out running errands in basketball shorts.  It’s just Not Done.  So when I have my gym clothes on without being at the gym (or en route) I get funny stares from all the French people (including my husband).

I’ve also learned recently that the motivation factor also comes from actually putting on the sports bra … I’m always happy to get that thing off and I won’t sit around with it for hours.  The “Get Dressed” thing is also true when I’m trying to go at the end of the day – the faster I switch into gym clothes and walk out the door, the better.

2. Go Early

Morning sessions are great in theory (so many of life’s distractions can’t sabotage your good intentions) but I often am running short on sleep and it’s often not realistic for me to go to exercise in the morning.  I learned a few years ago to try to get ONE morning session per week – which is often do-able from both a schedule and a sleep perspective.

“Go Early” also applies to whenever I was planning to go – if in the evening sooner is better than later, same is true for nights, weekends, whatever.  The phone might ring, I might get distracted or find some other excuse later – no matter how busy it is, how much it’s raining, etc, it’s always better to Go Early.

3. Just Start

Usually if I go to the gym I try to do a 45 minute session on the elliptical.  If I walk for exercise I try to make it about an hour to count towards exercise.   But sometimes I have less time available and that image in my head of what an exercise “session” should be often turns on me – and if I end up with a shorter window of time I often will decide not to go, “it’s not worth it”.

I also apply the “just start” idea for times when I really don’t feel like going at all.  I tell myself I have to get to the gym and do 5 or 10 minutes (whatever I can psych myself into) and then I can decide to leave.  Part of that whole “Progress, not Perfection” thing… In fact, it’s very rare that I do leave (only twice that I can remember) but I like to know that I give myself the out and that I at least get a check mark for showing up.

4. Pack Shoes

I travel a lot.  I take a small carry on suitcase with me (considerably smaller than what is allowed on US carriers as carry on).  The decision to take workout shoes is always a tough one, but I’ve learned as long as I give up casual evening clothes and can travel in one of my work outfits I can squeeze in sneakers as long as I don’t have a trip longer than 4 days.  My thinnest pants come with me, and I now have tried several options of more compact sneakers.

Solomon makes a line of sneakers designed for going in the water (for things like white water rafting) and they have a collapsible heel so they take up much less space than regular sneakers.  I don’t find them terribly comfortable, but they work fine.  I also have Easy Spirit slide on sneakers (which work okay for being on an elliptical machine but aren’t good for much else) and a close cousin with a slingback.  The slingback one is considerably more stable (but probably wouldn’t work for running) and both are more padded and supportive than the Solomon shoes although they take up a bit more room.

When we go away for a weekend I also make a point to pack comfy sneakers or other good walking shoes, even if it means a bigger suitcase (I tend to be less disciplined about packing when it’s for pleasure).

Having sneakers with me doesn’t guarantee I’ll fit in a workout, but not having them with me gives me a pretty good excuse.  Other ways I apply this general rule : packing a swimsuit, having yoga videos on my iPhone.

5. Wear the Pedometer

I bought this silly pedometer that works with a Nintendo DS 5back in May and I’ve noticed that I definitely am motivated to move more when I wear it.  I offer to go make the copies, I take the stairs not the elevator, I take two or three trips instead of trying to carry everything with me at once.  Little things, but they add up, and my step counter is set at a level where I don’t hit “green” without extra effort, yet it’s low enough that it’s reachable (it’s below the 10,000 steps a day target, but not by much).

When I apply these things I’m much more likely to actually meet my “get regular exercise” goal.

  1. Get dressed
  2. Go early
  3. Just start
  4. Pack shoes
  5. Wear the pedometer

What does your list look like?

Creative Commons License photo credit: tibchris

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