A habit is something you once had to think about doing, that you now do automatically or subconsciously. Your body likes habits because it allows it to function without having to exert too many resources or require a great deal of focus to get it done. Sometimes, you don’t even realize that you’re doing it!
You may wonder then if exercise can actually be a habit?
Well, it can, and I’ll show you how to do it.
How is a habit formed?
A habit is formed when these 3 parts are repeated consistently.
- Trigger – The cue that causes you to act, even without your choice. Think brushing your teeth every day. Something you do triggers you to brush your teeth. For each person it’s different, but for each person, the result is the same.
- Response – The cue triggers a response. When something is a habit, the response is ‘automatic’. We don’t think about it. The action is on a subconscious level.
- Reward – After we take action, there is typically some sort of ‘feel-good response’ that sears this action to our emotion and makes it something you are likely to repeat.
How long does it take to create a habit?
The most comprehensive studies have shown that it takes 66 days of the repetitive (trigger, response, reward) cycle to form a new habit. Not 21 days like most people have been taught. This explains why most people give up on their new year’s resolution after a month or even two – it takes a little more than that.
Plus, it takes 66 consecutive days, so if you miss a few days, it takes a little longer. Which is why I teach the 80/20 approach. This approach basically means you repeat the habit-forming actions 80% of the time or about 5.5 days per week. Using this approach means it will take you 92 days to form your habit or about 3 months.
Step 1 – Create a Trigger
To form a new habit, you have to consciously create a trigger, choose a response and also choose a reward, if the natural reward that results from that response is not enough to create that strong positive effect.
My trigger is literally walking through my front door when I get home from work. As soon as I do that, I basically walk right to my room (after saying hi to my loved ones of course), changing and going to my patio to do a workout routine that I have already planned and ready to go! Having a plan and knowing which workout you’re going to do is also very important. It eliminates any time you have for contemplating, which can easily be your downfall. The more time you spend thinking about something, the less likely you are to do it.
Your trigger must be something you do every day. It could be simply when you wake up, or after your morning coffee, or at 6 pm every day. It can be after you walk the dog in the morning, or at lunchtime. It doesn’t’ matter what you choose, the important thing is that it must be something you do or see every day.
Step 2 – Create a Response –
In this case, the response is always the same: to exercise. However, you may need a tool to keep you on track. I use the “5-4-3-2-1-Decide and Act” method. Basically, you have a choice to make, and for whatever reason, you’re contemplating that action. Immediately start the countdown in your head, 5-4-3-2-1- decide to exercise, and go do it! Don’t’ spend another second thinking about it. I guarantee you that the hardest part of any exercise routine, is getting started. Once you get started, there’s no stopping you. You’ll feel great when you’re done, and you can check off another day, on the 92 days to your new habit.
Step 3 – Choose a Reward –
Exercise has many natural rewards. Weight loss, cardiovascular benefits, mood-lifting endorphins and so much more. If however, these benefits are not enough to raise that feel good response, you can create some other fun rewards.
For example, you won’t eat a certain treat (within reason), or some other food you may crave unless you work out. You may reward yourself with a gift at the end of a successful week, or create a friendly competition with a friend. Some people use money, and actually pay a fine if they miss a day. This is a negative response or consequence, but it can sometimes result in the positive reinforcement you are looking for.
To be honest for me the rewards is being able to eat more, and I love to eat! (who doesn’t). Also, looking in the mirror and seeing my body change, and seeing my abs form is not a bad reward either.
The final step I would highly recommend is to pick a start date, and then count out 92 days from then to write down your New Habit Date!
This allows you to visualize your goal and embrace the process. It took you a lifetime to develop the habits you currently have, so changing them and creating new ones will not happen overnight. Some days you will fall short, and knowing you have time allows you to forgive yourself, and get back at it.
One thing I do want to stress is that 80% is basically the minimum threshold to create the new habit, meaning it take at least that much repetition for your mind and body to internalize the process.. There’s no doubt that if you achieve 50% or 60% that you will still make amazing progress and reap lots of great benefits, but it won’t quite reach that level of repetitions you need to make it a habit.
So, all progress is progress, and all exercise is beneficial, but to create a new habit, make sure you are focused on the trigger, response and reward, and that you stick to your 80/20 plan.
Here’s to your health!