I’m no stranger to struggling with sticking to an exercise habit. Running once or twice a month isn’t so bad, but doing it on a consistent daily basis is hard! You might do really well for a week, and then the next week completely fall off the tracks. I’ve definitely had weeks where I thought I was doing great and had the habit down at last! …only to fall out of the habit completely for the next six months.
However, I think I’ve finally managed to nail down a solid running habit- I’ve been running about 6 days a week for the last three months! And I’ve never felt better! Today I’m going to share with you my best tips for creating a running habit that you love. Of course, if you’re not a fan of running you can apply these tips to creating any kind of exercise habit.
Before you set out to create a habit of exercise, you have to pick a form of exercise that you enjoy. You won’t be able to stick with something that feels like a chore. Personally I’ve always enjoyed running. I love the rhythm of running and the feeling of moving, especially if it’s outside. So when I set out to start an exercise habit, I chose to focus on running. But no matter what kind of exercise you pick, creating a daily exercise habit will help you stress less, give you more energy, and generally feel better about yourself and life!
The Key to Starting a Running Habit
What’s my secret? Focus on doing the exercise and how much you enjoy it every day for a few weeks. Don’t shoot for a certain distance or a ridiculous amount of time. Don’t watch your weight or spend hours staring at the mirror looking for results. Just choose to run every single day, even if it’s a very short run. The goal is simply to run every day, even for just 2 minutes.
I know what you’re thinking- “that’s it? really?” But that’s really the key to building a habit of exercise. You may not think that 2 minutes a day could make a difference, but it does. It makes all the difference. It’s the difference between doing 2 months worth of good, hard “work-up-a-sweat” runs for a whole year (my personal average for the past couple years) vs running a little slowly or a short distance at first but building up your running and improving every day for a year.
I’ve been running nearly every day for 3 months, and this is what the process looked like for me.
- Decide I need to make exercise a habit so I can be a healthy mom for my baby girl and just feel good about myself again.
- Make my goal just this- every single day, I will put on my running shoes, step out that door, and run for as long as I feel like it and enjoy it. I give myself permission to have good days and bad days. I give myself permission to start out sucky. But most of all, I give myself permission to actually enjoy running, instead of focusing on a distance or a weight goal.
- Then do just that every day.
- Track the days I run. I DON’T track how much I do (at least for the first month) because I know that if I do I will start to feel like I did “bad” today by running less than yesterday. I put a tiny “R” in the corner of the day on my calendar so that I know I ran that day. Watching the month fill up with those R’s feels awesome! And I didn’t want to skip a day and break the chain, so it was a great motivator.
You’d be surprised what a difference this makes. I’m not gonna lie, almost EVERY SINGLE DAY as I’m lacing up my running shoes, I tell myself I’ve had a really exhausting day and I’m just going to do a block. Then you know what? Almost EVERY SINGLE DAY I run much more than that. Half a mile. A mile. Something in between. Why? Because once I’m out there, I’m enjoying myself too much to do just a block. I want to challenge and push myself! I want to make it a little farther than yesterday!
For me, the biggest part of starting a running habit was choosing to make my goal very, very small so that it would be ridiculously easy to do every single day. Of course I often did more, but I never felt guilty for doing less. And because of this, I was able to stick with it day after day until it became part of my daily routine, like brushing my teeth or eating lunch. But there are some other things that were really helpful for making a solid running habit:
- Run at the same time every day. Choosing to run every day at the same time was a turning point for me when I was creating my running habit. I’d been running during in the evening, but the time itself wasn’t inconsistent. Sometimes it was right when hubby got home to watch baby girl, sometimes it was after dinner, and sometimes it was well after dark. I always managed to get out there and run, but I always had to make a conscious decision to do it. Some days were much harder than others. Then I switched to running at the same time every day right after a light breakfast snack. This was revolutionary for me! After a few days, the struggle and decision making disappeared and it was just another thing I did automatically. Brush teeth, drink smoothie and feed baby breakfast, lace up shoes and go running!
- Earlier in the day is better. The later in the day it gets, the less likely you are to do it and the more opportunities to skip it will come up. Do I actually run in the morning? Not at first, but this past month I switched my run to the morning and it has made a big difference. Now I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll have time or energy in the evening, or whether something will come up that will interfere with my run. It’s already done by 9am and the whole rest of the day feels awesome!
- Wear the same thing every day. This takes one level of decision making out of the mix, so you don’t have to worry about it. If you need several changes, keep 3 shirts and know that every day, you will wear one of those three shirts. You just grab a clean one and go.
- No fancy equipment needed! You don’t need a fancy gym membership or anything, though you can get one if you like. I just run in our neighborhood and nearby. This makes it super easy because I don’t have to drive anywhere or pack anything, and I can shower at home. Will this work for everyone? No. Do what works for you. Pick a gym on the way home from work so you don’t have to drive past your lovely house to get to the gym. Make it as easy as possible on yourself.
- If you like mixing up your exercise routine, that’s great! Then your goal is “I will do some form of exercise that I love for 2 minutes every day. Then if I’m enjoying myself, I can do more.” Personally, I like the rhythm of doing the same thing every day. I’ll add to it sometimes with some yoga or a workout video, but I always get at least a tiny run in. Why? Just personal preference. I like running! My goal is to run every day.
30 Days to a Solid Running Habit
I recommend running every day for 30 days. For me it helps really solidify the habit if it’s a daily thing. After a month though, you can start adding in rest days. I started adding in one rest day a week on whichever day I really needed the rest the most. And to my surprise, the past 3 weeks my rest day has been on Monday. I didn’t expect it, but I decided to be flexible about which day I “rested” on and that has been the day that I need it most right now.
Also, don’t beat yourself up about it if you miss a day. Just count that as a rest day that you probably really needed anyway. Then try to evaluate why you missed a day. Was it because you saved running for the evening and then went out with friends instead? That’s okay. Plan to run in the morning or at lunchtime tomorrow instead. Remember, you don’t have to run a certain distance. The goal is to make a solid running habit, so it’s more important to run every day than it is to run for a really long distance just a few times a week. Trust me, you will have more opportunity to ramp up your running distance if you make a solid habit than if you just focus on distance but only do it a couple days a week.
So there you go. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I really believe this is the easiest, best way to start an exercise habit. It has transformed my life over the past 3 months- that’s the longest I’ve ever kept the habit up! And still going strong!
I would love to hear from you- have you ever struggled with creating an exercise habit? What did you do to make it work? Leave a comment below! 🙂