By Leo Babauta
How do you form the exercise habit — really make it stick?
Take the first step.
Then take another. Make each step so important that you can’t miss it. And enjoy each step.
That’s my method, honed from eight years of forming the exercise habit. It works, for me.
But everyone has a different method, and it’s inspiring and massively useful to learn from others who’ve successfully created the habit themselves.
Today, we’ll look at a great list of those methods, submitted by folks on Twitter who have overcome the odds and successfully formed the exercise habit.
First, thank you, to everyone who submitted their successful methods. It was more than I’d hoped for, and incredibly powerful reinforcement of what works. But there were so many submissions that I had to whittle it down, tossing out good ideas and picking others that I thought were more universally applicable. Many of the ones listed here were echoed many times over in the submissions.
Let’s dive in!
I asked people who had successfully created the exercise habit — what worked for them? They answered (note – ones without a name after them were submitted anonymously):
- Stop looking at it as a habit and instead as a lifestyle and an important part of my self-care. ~Lara Rininger
- Work out first thing in the morning. You get it out of the way and it provides you with an abundance of energy for the rest of the day. ~Jen Zeman
- Crank up your favorite music! I often see suggested play lists for workouts, but just listen to what excites you. It will get you moving. ~Jen Zeman
- When I started running I started out at .5 miles and increased in .25 increments (I usually average 4 mile runs). It didn’t happen overnight – give your lungs and muscles time to adjust. Same with weight training – start light and build your way up. Results will start to show in about 3-4 weeks. ~Jen Zeman
- Making it my #1 priority and doing it first thing in the morning.
- 30 day yoga challenges for myself that I then give updates on my Blog. Accountability. ~Kira Elliott
- If I workout in the morning, before my day starts, I “earn: chocolate/beer/carb later in the day. Otherwise, no treats for me!
- No excuses. I never miss more than 2 days. You have to insist on it and protect it.
- Also: just put your workout clothes on. Once you do that it feels silly not to start. Just commit to 10 minutes. You will probably do more.
- Also: no one ever regrets working out. Is there anything else in the world you can do, and know 100% you won’t regret it?
- This is the one that’s helped the most: I’ve made a point to really, really, REALLY notice how much better I feel now that I exercise regularly; I’m sleeping better, my mood is better, I’m much less sluggish. It took about 3-4 weeks to see it, but it’s helped a lot. ~Polly
- Make it a habit, don’t rely on motivating yourself to workout, consciously think of it as just something you do after ‘x’. This was a huge aha moment for me. ~Mark Feinholz
- On that note, do it in the morning, habits are much easier to establish in the morning. the triggers are much more dependable (finish cup of coffee – put on gym shorts). Morning triggers are always there and the day has not polluted your plans yet.
- A daily morning ritual to mark the beginning of training. In my case, tying up my bandana on my head meant ‘It’s running time’. ~Alfonso Acosta
- I started running consistently the month before I got divorced. In theory it was the lowest part of my life — but I’d never felt better. I couldn’t get over that. I was sold on exercise, though it took me a while to make running the nonnegotiable part of my schedule it is now. After I got married again and when our daughter was a baby I used to run at the high school track near our house. I’d pretend the bleachers were filled with people cheering me on. “Good job!” I imagined them hollering. “Way to go!” And, “It’s great you’re leaving the baby with Dad for a while on this beautiful summer evening to do something nice for yourself.” Well, nice — and hell. It was hell. I wasn’t in shape, I didn’t want to miss a second with our new baby, and that was that. The pretend cheerleaders must’ve helped. Certainly they didn’t hurt. Because eventually, through a series of learning and unlearning and relearning the importance of exercising, it’s what I do. No discussion. No bargaining out of workouts unless I’ve made them up in advance. It’s soothing, really. There are no decisions to be made about exercise. I just do it. To the extent anything else good happens, I attribute it to this: running is magic. ~Maureen Anderson
- Fixed a time of the day that HAS to be the workout time. Cleared away tasks around that time to make sure I don’t get stuck with something else. ~Elle Kaiye
- Mentally preparing myself during the day for the evening workout helped.Mental preparation was important to prevent talking myself out of workout on the pretext of being “”exhausted”" or having “”more important stuff to do”". ~Elle Kaiye
- Sometimes even looking at the pictures of Victoria’s Secret Angels helped ;) ~Elle Kaiye
- I don’t have a workout buddy now but that had helped me to stay on track in the past. Support from my Mom helped me a lot! ~Elle Kaiye
- Doing a sport that you love and try new types of exercise/sports. ~Chris B.
- Do it a few days in a row, you – your body and mind- will get used to it. ~Chris B.
- Enter a race or contest. ~Chris B.
- I had to stop setting goals – as is advised by pretty much every source out there! I just got discouraged that I wasn’t moving as fast as the ‘programme’, or that I still felt no closer to running a marathon I seriously didn’t want to. >What works instead: feeling great about just turning up. I do what I feel able to when I’m there, and if it’s not much or not as much as last time – fine. I showed up. I get to say “I went to the gym” which impresses on its own, without me detailing what I did! ~Sarah
- A lot of people take days off when they’re exercising, which I think is great and important for your body to recover. However, I’ve found the habit of going to the gym (or wherever you go to workout) is important for me to do EVERY DAY. I run and do some strength training most days, but when it’s time for a recovery day I still go to the gym- to play racquetball, take an easy walk, shoot a few baskets, whatever. ~Dave Hall
- What worked for me was strong commitment to myself that I do exercise on these days on this time NO MATTER WHAT. I do not accept situations I wouldn’t exercise on my planned day if for example I felt tired, or couples of friends invited me for a meeting, or it was raining (running is essential part of my routine) or anything else. These are all small excuses that we have to actually struggle with. They are too small to prevent us from fulfilling the plan. I only omit my exercise session if I’m on vacation or if I’m seriously ill. In other cases there is no way to break the habit. ~Przemyslaw
- Don’t think about it, just do it. Even though I’ve consistently worked for over 15 years, it doesn’t mean I don’t have days that I just don’t feel like working out. I do have those days, but I push through it and do the work out anyway. ~Caroline
- Schedule time for exercise and keeping to it like you would any other appointment or meeting. ~Katie
- First I picked some awesome skills I wanted do be able to do from this website for motivation. While working towards them I basically only had a single goal: Do at least a single exercise every day, one pushup, pullup, sit up, … If I didn’t feel like it, wouldn’t do more, just a single one. Now I’m can do one armed pushups, one legged squads, l-seats and quite a few pullups. What also probably helped was that I didn’t need a single piece of equipment. ~Michael
- I exercise every single day. Every. Single. Day. That’s my secret. I don’t give myself the choice of whether to exercise or not. Every time that you give yourself a choice, you give yourself the opportunity to decide not to do something. ~Mark Cancellieri
- Sleep in my exercise gear (makes me feel mentally ready for action the next day). ~Ruth Seatter
- Plan to exercise with a friend (running or gym class etc). $20 wager if you don’t make it. ~Ruth Seatter
- Make it into a game or do it as a social activity with a friend. the more enjoyable it is the likelier you are to continue it. ~Matthew
- Accountability. I am a very lazy person and I hate being answerable to people. I like to do things at my pace which is why I never stick to anything for long. But this time when it came to eating healthy and losing weight, I made myself answerable and accountable to my cook! I asked my cook to keep a check on what I eat and not offer me any junk or fried. So each time I entered to kitchen to grab some snacks, I saw him standing there and to avoid answering to his questions, I would step out with eating. This worked for me and now I am used to ‘not’ eating when I am not hungry. ~Surabhi Surendra
- Focus on effort: Set yourself goals around effort, not around results. ~Chiranth
- Don’t let weather deter you. Once you do one or two runs in the rain you’ll see that they are liberating. ~Patty
- I started very small. Starting small cancelled any excuse not to practice daily. I have refrained from overdoing in the first two weeks. This left me more energy to become more stable in practicing daily. I have committed with my girlfriend on a feasible outcome in a medium term, like being fit for our summer vacations. After some weeks the reason of my motivation shifted from being willing to satisfy the external source (girlfriend’s expectations) to being more confident and happy with myself. Starting one single habit is giving me the confidence to change other habits and the clarity to identify which other habits do I want to develop. ~Niccolo’ Stamboglis
- No more than 1 day off in a row. Find an exercise you really enjoy (I love lifting weights!). Try new types of exercise. You will be tired when beginning a new exercise program so eat well to fuel exercise and get enough sleep. Religiously stick with it for the first two weeks, then you will begin to notice an improvement in your energy levels that is very motivating. ~Patty
- I joined a sports team (soccer), which is a fun way to exercise and ride my bike to work daily. This way I am physically active without really realizing it. I lack motivation to do exercises on my own. I almost need a team or coach or class to do well. (i.e. if I go to the gym solo, I get less results than if I joined a class). ~Bradlinn