The easiest thing in the world to do is to go with the flow.
The hardest thing in the world to do is to take a stand for self-improvement.
Think about every self-improvement effort you’ve ever made:
- I want to read a book a week.
- I want to eat healthy all the time.
- I want to pray for an hour every day.
- I want to exercise every single day.
Unless you’re a dedicated “gym rat,” and you’ve built a lifestyle around zumba or pumping iron, you have probably struggled with being consistent with exercise.
I get it.
Sticking with a diet, an exercise program, a reading plan, or any other kind of significant change to your daily behavior can be difficult.
Why is that?
We Live By Habits
Humans are creatures of habit and we tend to operate on auto-pilot as much as we can. I think some of it has to do with how complicated and fast-paced our lives have become. We have so much on our minds all the time that we live our lives without giving it much thought.We simplify our over-exposed, over-complicated, over-stimulated lives by forming habits that we can do without thinking.
But more often than not, we live in habits because they are comfortable. We go through the same morning routine every morning, take the same route to work every day, and order the same thing at our favorite restaurants. Habits are a powerful way to manage our lives, but they are also extremely difficult to break, and the longer we keep them, the stronger they become. Have you ever gotten into the shower without first reaching your hand in to see if the water was warm? We are creatures of comfort, and to change your life, you have to be uncomfortable for a time.
(I know I’m stepping into “Think Right Thursday” territory here, but I promise I will get to exercise here in a minute).
Any time you want to form a new habit, you have to replace an existing habit. We only have 24 hours in a day – no exceptions – so in order to give time to a new behavior, you have to take it from another behavior. In order to increase my morning prayer and study time, I had to take time away from my sleep. In order to protect my sleep, I had to give up some TV time in the evening. These are the kinds of simple changes we can make to make huge changes in our lives. You’d be amazed at what changing 30 minutes in your day can do to change your whole life.
The hard part isn’t getting started; the hard part is continuing when the excitement, fun, and motivation have worn off.
What You Can Do To Change Your Exercise Habits
If you want to be more consistent with your exercise (or any behavior change), there are a few things you can do to improve your odds.
1. Accountability: when you partner with someone who will commit to keeping you accountable, you improve your odds of being consistent. Whether your friend has to exercise with you, call you, text you, or come to your house an push your sorry keister out of bed, an accountability partner is one of the best tools available to help you start a new behavior (or eliminate an old one). Also, when you run out of energy, you can draw off the energy of others in a group.
2. Competition: Some folks are naturally competitive. One form of accountability that is especially powerful for these people is a sense of competition. If you and a partner are moving toward a goal together, make it competitive. Put a prize at the end. Some people use a special dinner, a bottle of wine, a cash prize, a trophy, or some other token of achievement.
3. Fun: If you can find the fun in the new behavior, then you can leverage the power of hormones like dopamine and oxytocin to keep you looking forward to the activity and enjoying while you’re doing it.
4. Follow to Lead: If you want to really learn a new skill, put yourself in a position where you will have to teach it to someone. If you know that someone will be counting on you to teach them, you will give much deeper attention to every aspect of the activity, like your posture or how your body feels when you do it.
5. Reward the Small Victories: I used this to build my practice, and I use it to maintain consistency in the behaviors I want to reinforce. Celebrate the small wins. If you want to lose ten pounds, celebrate each time the scale tips a little lower. If you want to grow from 100 reps to 200 reps, give yourself a cheer when you reach 110, 120, and so on. Use the positive energy to keep you motivated.
6. Identify Your Reason: Why are you exercising? So you will live longer? So you will have more endurance? So you can play with your kids or grandkids? To keep your mind clear and active? To look better in a t-shirt? Those are all valid reasons. Pick the one that will push you forward when you don’t want to.
7. Find A Bigger Pain: If you avoid exercising because it is uncomfortable, remember, insulin shots are much more uncomfortable. Taking twelve medications every day to stay alive is uncomfortable. Preventative lifestyle choices are hard, but they are worth it.
8. Replace Your Furniture: This may sound far-fetched, but if you are a couch potato (and you know if you are), it might be time to replace your couch. Why? It’s too comfortable. Same for your bed. Yes, you need to get a good night’s sleep, but if your bed is so comfortable that you don’t want to get out of it, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Every positive change comes with discomfort.
It would be easy to tell you, “It’s OK…everyone has a hard time getting motivated…it’s OK to give up sometimes.” But why would I want to feed an excuse that could permanently hold you back from your health goals?
There are probably other mental games you can play in your own mind to help you get through the discomfort and on to the goal. I’d love to hear what you do. Be sure to share your thoughts with all of us on Facebook. Your idea might be the one that pushes someone else to success, so don’t keep it to yourself. We’re building a community on Facebook and everyone who wants to move right, eat right, think right, and live right is welcome. When you share these articles, it’s like a personal invitation to the community. Do it.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles (and a little DISCOMFORT) is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas (and me)