Did you know that, on average, it takes 66 days* to form a habit? Or, and perhaps even scarier, it only takes one week to break a habit? I find that slightly terrifying because many of us are okay with taking a break from our exercise routine. Of course, sometimes a break is both needed and necessary, but it’s easy to find one day turning into two days, three, four, until before you know it two weeks has slipped by. Eek! The more time away from your routine, the harder it is to get back into it. So what strategies can you use to form an exercise habit that sticks? I’m so glad you asked! 😉
7 Strategies you need to form a habit that sticks:
- Modify one behavior at a time. Probably the number one reason people fail at forming a new habit is because they try and change too many things at once. We see this most often with New Year’s Resolutions when people pledge to eat healthier, exercise more, eat out less, lose weight, lift weights, and on and on. In fact, trying to form even two habits concurrently drops your success rate to just 20%. Much of this also has to do with willpower. See more about willpower here.
- Have a measurable goal. The clearer and more defined you make your goal, the more likely you are to achieve it. “I want to exercise more,” is not a measurable goal. “I want to exercise for 30 minutes, five times a week” is a clearly defined and measurable goal. You can also use distance (miles, kilometers) as a way to define your goal. For example, “I want to ride 100 miles weekly, averaging 35 miles a ride” or, “I want to run 5 miles daily, three days a week.”
- Acknowledge and embrace that this is a process. I love this piece of advice. A habit isn’t something that you do for a certain amount of time and then stop. A habit is something you do continuously—that’s why it’s called a habit! The same study that found it takes on average 66 days to form a habit also found that habit formation is dependent on the behavior, the person, and the circumstance. Meaning that it can take as little as 18 days or as much as 254 days to actually form a new behavior.
- Keep track along the way. This is a must. To see how far you have come, you have to track your progress. Tracking your progress is also an excellent motivator (it also adds a bit of a guilt factor that will hold you accountable). I keep a fitness journal that I log all of my workouts in. It is a great way to see if I am meeting my daily/weekly goals and any holes or patterns that may occur that I need to address. I also write how I felt during that workout, draw—if I feel in the mood to be creative—or write motivational quotes.
- Go public! For some, like myself, this is probably the hardest step. I am actually a very private person and internalize most things. BUT, sharing your goals with others has been proven time and again that it will keep you accountable and on track to forming a habit! So, feel free to share your goals in the comments below. 😊
- Plan for challenges that may occur. Another key to successfully forming a habit is to have an action plan in place for when challenges arise. For instance, you may have a day when you have zero motivation to get your workout in. However, in order to form your new habit and reach your goal of exercising for 30 minutes, you need to workout. Maybe to get yourself motivated—your action plan that you created—you look at your journal of motivational quotes and images to get you in the mood. The more challenges you foresee occurring and the more action plans you create from the beginning, the more successful you will be.
- Allow yourself to be okay with a missed day or a set back. Don’t let one missed day steer you completely off course of creating a new habit. We all slip-up. The best thing you can do is let it go, refocus, and make tomorrow better. The more you get bogged down in self-blame, the further you will be from creating your habit and reaching your goals.
Don’t be daunted by the fact that forming a habit takes time. Instead, embrace the fact that it does! You will make mistakes and slip-up along the way, but that’s okay and perfectly normal. Make tweaks as you go and refocus as needed. Remember, the only way to form a habit isn’t to think about how long it will take you, but just to start, right now, day one. As James Clear said so perfectly, “The only way to get to Day 500 is to start with Day 1.” 💜
*In a study conducted by Phillippa Lally and her research team and published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, they found that on average it takes 66 days before a new behavior becomes automatic—aka a habit. Depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances, forming a new behavior could take as little as 18 days or as much as 254 days and anywhere in-between.