How (& Why) to Make Exercise a Daily Habit
This might not come as news to you, but it turns out that not moving is pretty bad for your health. Between desk-based jobs, commuting, television and internet use, the average UK adult spends around 1/5th of their life sitting down. That’s 78 days a year. No wonder your back hurts and your spare tire is growing.
We know we need to exercise. It’s fun, it’s (potentially) free and the benefits list could take up the rest of this article. Everything from mental health, concentration, weight-loss, life expectancy and relationships have proven benefits through exercise. So why are we not doing it?
The fact is the human brain is very good at avoiding pain and discomfort. If we find something uncomfortable, there is a good chance we will find a reason not to do it (‘I don’t have enough time’, ‘it’s boring’, ‘I get embarrassed in the gym’, ‘I’m too tired after work,’). Short-term willpower and pushing through discomfort might sustain your new year’s resolution through January, but it is unlikely to last until March, and certainly not for a lifetime.
Re-Frame the Issue
So, are we doomed to fail forever in the quest for better buns? Of course not. We just need to re-frame the issue. Instead of pushing through that 4-mile slog in the rain on January 1st feeling so uncomfortable that you almost wish you would pull your hamstring so you could stop running, try starting small. Start so small you would barely even call it a workout. The thought process here is to avoid challenging willpower too much or too soon. We are going to form a daily habit and through tiny, incremental change expand it to reach your fitness goals.
James Clear talks about setting an upper bound; the maximum amount you will do, instead of a minimum. This helps you to avoid burnout, which is one of the key reasons that people give-up on their exercise quests.
Try one of the following
- I’m going to run for a maximum of 5 minutes a day
- I’m going to lose no more than 2 kilos this month
- I’m going to spend a maximum of 10 minutes in the gym
The daily bit is important, however, as we are attempting to build a habit. A habit is something we do without consciously deciding to do it. Brushing your teeth, taking a shower, hanging your coat in the same place every day. In his fascinating book ‘The Power of Habit’ Charles Duhig says;
When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.
By doing our 5 minutes of daily exercise, we are ingraining a habit slowly and painlessly. When we increase to 10 minutes, then 20, we will need almost no extra effort. Within a few months you’ll have set a habit that could last you a lifetime.
One more to think about from Duhig before we finish for a bit of extra motivation:
Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.