Exercising regularly is important to improve your heart health, fitness level, and overall wellbeing. However, for some people being active, fit, and healthy seems to come more easily than it does for others.
Why? For most, it’s because they’ve built the right habits over the years to help them grow their wellbeing. When something becomes a habit, it becomes more automatic, easier to do, and requires less willpower or motivation.
The good news is that you can choose to start building a habit at any time:
- The more you CHOOSE to be active, the more active you ARE.
- The more active you ARE, the fitter you BECOME.
- The fitter you BECOME, the EASIER it is to be active.
- The EASIER it is to be active, the more you ENJOY being active.
- The more you ENJOY being active, the more you’ll CHOOSE to be active.
And so, it repeats.
In this article, I’m going to share 9 strategies to make building the habit of exercising at home easier and more likely to stick.
1. Do something every dayBuilding a habit is not about effort or intensity, it’s about repetition. As the famous quote goes, “We are what we repeatedly do.”
When building a habit like exercising, especially when doing it at home, it’s useful to practice more often so that it becomes quickly reinforced and ingrained.
Now, I know that when it comes to exercising, it’s not always practical or realistic to do a full workout every day, but you should still look for ways to reinforce the habit in some way. For example, perhaps you only want to exercise 3 days per week…
On your “off” days or “rest days” you could:
- Do active recovery (stretching, yoga, walking, light cardio, etc.).
- Do a fun activity (dancing, playing physically with your kids, walking your dog, doing a sport, gardening, etc.).
- Spend some time reviewing or tweaking your upcoming workouts.
- Learn how to better perform the type of exercise that you do (running techniques, yoga breathwork, exercise forms, etc.).
Even if these things only take 5-10 minutes to do, they’ll help to solidify your new identity of being the kind of person who exercises regularly. Every day is an opportunity to vote with your actions for what kind of person you are and what habits you want to build.
2. Make it easyWhen trying to build a new habit, first make it so easy that you can do it consistently and repeatedly. This can feel very counterintuitive and contradictory to the results that you want when it comes to exercise. However, in the beginning, your priority should be to build the actual habit itself so that it will stick. Making the habit easy will help you to master the art of “showing up”. Over time, as exercising becomes more automatic and part of your daily routine, you can scale up the difficulty to be more challenging.
- On good days, you can show up, do a manageable amount of exercise, and then do some more if you’d like to (you almost always will).
- On bad days, you can show up, do your easy amount of exercise, and then stop. It might feel terrible, but you’ve kept your momentum going and continued to build the habit. Tomorrow it will be 1% easier and more automatic.
It’s far better to have an easier exercise routine that you do regularly and benefit from for many years to come than to have the perfect exercise routine that you can’t sustain for longer than a week or two.
3. Help “future you”Borrow some time and energy now to make it easier for yourself to exercise in the future. Has anyone ever done an unexpected favour for you that saved you so much time and effort? Their small gesture just made your life so much better in that moment, right? Well, doing something to help “future you” uses the same concept:
- Lay out your exercise clothes the night before.
- Organise your equipment so that it’s ready to be used straight away.
- Block out time in your diary to exercise so that you don’t have to search for the time (we all know how that goes).
- Have a back-up plan in case something goes wrong (rain, kids, work, emergencies, etc.).
- Invest in equipment or exercise gear that will support your habit.
- Find an accountability buddy or hire a coach.
Opposite tip: When it comes to bad habits that might compete with your habit of exercising, do the opposite. Make them harder to do in the future.
4. Don’t be “all-or-nothing”It’s not the single daily action that transforms your life and grows your wellbeing, it’s the lifetime of consistent and repetitive daily actions that does. When it comes to building the habit of exercising, try to avoid being “all-or-nothing” about it. Rather, aim for “always something”.
- When you have an “all-or-nothing” mindset, you tend to think to yourself things like: “I don’t have enough time or energy for my perfect workout, so there’s no point in doing it.”
- In contrast, when you have an “always something” mindset, it means that no matter what happens, you’re always trying to do the best you can. You recognise that doing something is better than doing nothing. It doesn’t have to be perfect to help you make progress.
With the all-or-nothing mindset, we tend to miss the bigger picture of long-term sustained success. Building long-lasting healthy habits will require a more adult and wiser “always something” approach where you’re OK with things not being 100% perfect all the time.
5. Use a habit trackerA habit tracker is a simple way to measure how consistent you’re being with your habit. Each day, you check off “yes” or “no” as to whether you did or did not do your habit. There are many habit-tracking apps out there, but you can also use something like the 1Life Healthy Habit Tracker.
Some of the benefits of tracking your habits:
- It’s visible, noticeable, and prompts you to take action every day. Print your tracker out and put it somewhere that you’ll see it often (mirror, fridge, desk, etc).
- It’s motivating and encouraging. Change can take time, so it helps to immediately see that you’re actually moving towards your goals as you fill up your habit tracker with ticks or crosses.
- It holds you accountable. A habit tracker gives you a bird’s-eye view of your current habits so that you can see whether you’re putting in the work or not.
- It’s satisfying. You can even build winning streaks and challenge yourself to tick off multiple days in a row as you become more consistent.
6. Never miss twiceConsistency is the DNA of habits, especially when it comes to growing your wellbeing. Even the most successful people have a bad day or skip a workout from time to time, but what sets them apart is that they get back on track quickly. While the “amateur” might have one bad day and then fall off the wagon for weeks or months at a time, the “professional” gets back on track the very next day.
- If you miss a workout, try to get one in at the very next opportunity.
- Similarly, if you have one unhealthy meal, try to make sure that the next one is a healthy one.
Things happen. Life can be messy. Sometimes we can’t help but miss out on doing our good habits once in a while. But don’t make not doing your habit the new habit. Never miss twice.
7. Create an Implementation intentionImplementation intentions are a plan you make about how you intend to implement your habit. You’ve probably heard of S.M.A.R.T goals before. This is similar, but for habits that you repeat. When you make a clear and specific plan for when and where you will do something, you’re much more likely to successfully follow through.
There are two ways that you can design Implementation Intentions:
- When [EVENT] happens, I will do [HABIT].
- For example: When [MY ALARM GOES OFF AT 7AM], I will [DO YOGA IN THE LOUNGE].
- For example: When [I’M FINISHED WITH WORK FOR THE DAY], I will [GO FOR A RUN].
- I will [HABIT] at [TIME] in / from / at [LOCATION].
- For example: I will [DO YOGA] at [7AM] in [MY LOUNGE].
- For example: I will [GO FOR A RUN] at [IMMEDIATELY AFTER WORK] at [THE PROMENADE].
The more specific you can be with your implementation intentions, the better. Growing your wellbeing is an intentional choice, it doesn’t happen by accident.
Other than being clear and intentional about your habits, another advantage is that it helps you to prioritise your wellbeing. You’ll need to protect that time as if it was an important appointment (which it is) or you’ll have to prioritise it over doing anything else when your trigger event happens.
8. Use habit stacking:Piggyback new habits that you want to build on top of existing habits that you already do. Remembering to do new habits can be difficult, especially in the beginning. So, stack your new habit of exercising on top of an existing habit that you already do consistently.
Here’s how it works:
- After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
- For example: After [I POUR MY MORNING CUP OF COFFEE], I will [PUT ON MY EXERCISE CLOTHES].
- For example: After [I CHECK FACEBOOK], I will [DO 10 SQUATS].
- For example: After [I FEED MY DOGS IN THE AFTERNOON], I will [DO A WORKOUT].
- For example: After [I GET OUT OF THE SHOWER IN THE EVENING], I will [DO 10 MINUTES OF STRETCHING].
While the current habit and new habit don’t have to be related, it can help if they are similar in nature.
9. Pair habits togetherPair a habit that you want to do with a habit that you need to do. To do this, you make an agreement with yourself that you can only do something that you want to do after you’ve done the habit that you need to do. So, the want becomes an incentive or reward for the need.
Here’s what it looks like from an incentive perspective:
- After [HABIT I NEED TO DO], I can [HABIT I WANT TO DO].
- For example: After [I WORKOUT], I can [MAKE MY FAVOURITE SMOOTHIE].
Here’s a more restrictive perspective:
- If I don’t [HABIT I NEED TO DO], I can’t [HABIT I WANT TO DO].
- For example: If I don’t [GO FOR A RUN], I can’t [WATCH TV TONIGHT].
Or a more conditional perspective:
- Any time I want to [HABIT I WANT TO DO], I first have to [HABIT I NEED TO DO].
- For example: Any time I want to [CHECK SOCIAL MEDIA], I first have to [DO 10 PUSH-UPS].
As you work on building healthy habits to grow your wellbeing, remember that it’s not about trying to be perfect or superhuman. It’s about making small, simple lifestyle choices on a daily basis that will add up over time.