How to Build Fitness Habits That Stick

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When we set our minds to a goal or decide it’s time to make a change, we often come out of the gate full throttle and genuinely willing to do anything and everything we can to get to where we want to be. The problem is, at some point we run out of that excited, anxious energy that fueled us at the beginning. That’s the point at which, unless we’ve built a solid foundation of good habits, we’re likely to run into trouble.

The problem is that habits are incredibly tough to build. The process takes time, and it’s anything but exciting or sexy. But the fact is, burnout is more likely due to a lack of habits than a lack of ability or motivation. Luckily, with a little know-how, you can make the process of habit-building easier on yourself. Here are four ways to help build habits that stick.

Start small

While it’s tempting to tackle the biggest, most impactful changes first, or change everything that needs changing all at once, resist the urge to take on too much at one time. Start small. In fact, start with changes that are so small that they feel easy.

For example, if you’re just getting started with exercise, don’t try to jump straight into a five or six day training program. Start with just one or two days instead. Once you’re consistently doing that and it feels easy, then reassess whether it’s a good time to shoot for an added day.

Or maybe you don’t start with gym training at all. Remember, no change is too small. If you’re a complete beginner to structured exercise, you’ll probably do fantastic starting out with a few bodyweight exercises at home, or even a daily walk around the block.

Likewise, if you’re just starting to eat better, don’t try to change everything you eat at once. Similarly, don’t try to start with a nutrition approach that’s geared toward people with more advanced fitness goals, and don’t go on an extreme diet. Try just one change, like adding more vegetables or cutting out soda.

You might be surprised how much of an impact small changes make. Start slow, then build from there. Realistically, there’s no finish line that you need to sprint toward. The only thing that rushing accomplishes is that it increases the likelihood of burnout and rebound.

Find support

Accountability and support are crucial. Being an introvert who is decently self-motivated, I discounted the power of accountability and support for a long time. I thought I was fine being a lone wolf and figuring everything out on my own. But hiring a coach completely changed the game for me. It got me engaged in a way I’d never experienced prior to that.

Having said that, while trainers and coaches are wonderful resources, you don’t have to hire one to be successful. There are a lot of ways to find accountability and support. The most important thing is that you build them into your life in a way that works for you.

A workout buddy is an amazing support system, as is an online group of like-minded individuals, or a regular class where you get to know people and they’ll miss you when you’re gone. At the very least, tell a supportive person about your new habit or habits, and ask them to check in with you about them from time to time.

Celebrate often

Don’t wait until you achieve the end goal to acknowledge how much ass you’re kicking. Recognize and take pride in each win, no matter how small. When I say, “celebrate,” I don’t mean go drink champagne and eat a cupcake. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the occasional champagne or cupcake, but routinely rewarding weight loss with food can not only negate your efforts, but it can also evolve into something of a vicious cycle.)

What I mean is, allow yourself to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. Write your wins down so that you can later reflect upon how far you’ve come. If you have a trusted friend or family member who genuinely supports and encourages you, share your victories with them.

If you’re starting from a completely sedentary lifestyle, even something as small as putting your shoes on and actually driving to the gym and walking inside can be a win, regardless of how long you decide to stay. So what if you only decide to stay for five minutes? That’s five minutes longer than yesterday. Maybe next time you can try to stay for eight or ten minutes.

The point is, never discount the power of small changes, and try not to minimize any positive change that you make, no matter how insignificant you think they are. Change is hard as hell, and you rock for making any change.

Enjoy the process

Waiting for the outcome is akin to watching paint dry. And the harder you watch for that elusive finish line, the longer, more stressful and frustrating the process gets. Merely surviving between fleeting moments of achievement keeps you from enjoying the present. And, let’s face it, the present is all we’ve got, and those moments of achievement may never arrive. So put your energy into what you can control, which is the now.

Get really freaking good at the day-to-day things you have to do, and find contentment in that. Understand that your fitness journey has no end point. Seriously. There is no point at which you will be “done” and can just enjoy the fruits of your labor without any additional effort required. This is a lifelong effort. That’s not to say that it will be a neverending arduous effort, but it will always require a degree of mindfulness and intentional action.

So if your approach or level of effort makes you miserable, either change your perspective or change your approach–or a little of both. Whatever you do, find a way to enjoy the process. There are many ways to accomplish the same end goal, so I encourage you to explore and figure out what suits you best while also getting you the results you want.

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