3 Simple Steps To Create An Exercise Habit That Sticks!

[Ben’s Note – That’s my buddyTrent McCloskey from GTMFitness]

 

My friend Dave is disappointed with life.

His job sucks, his life lacks meaning, his income is low, and he’s not confident.

All of these issues stem from what he see’s in the mirror. He’s skinny. Like really skinny.

It may be a compliment to call a girl skinny, but It’s the kiss of death for a guy. It not only insults his general manliness, but makes him feel weak, feminine, and soft.

Because he hates the way he looks, he finds it hard to be happy, grateful and assertive in his daily life. You would think this would be enough to start lifting weights and pounding down protein shakes. It isn’t.

Like most of us, he has tried to start an exercise habit, but failed.

Here’s how the cycle goes:

  1. He looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what he sees.
  2. He say’s “Dammit, tomorrow it the day that I get my ass back in the gym!” (followed by a fist pumping motion).
  3. Tomorrow rolls around.
  4. He say’s “I would start today, but i’m tired. I worked hard, and I deserve some time to just chill.
  5. He never does anything.

The cycle repeats itself on a hourly, daily, and monthly basis and the procrastination causes a downward spiral in motivation. The downward spiral acts like a ice auger drilling down to the depths of the antarctic tundra. With each day, he feels more stuck, more unsure of himself, wondering what happened to his childhood dreams of being a ripped and powerful businessman. As each day bleeds into the next, his life becomes one big ball of uncertainty. He stops believing in himself and the downward spiral disrupts all areas of his life.

His work, personal, financial and spiritual life all suffer.   

 

Approach The Problem Differently

Most of us want the fitness model physique, the washboard abs, the perfect frame that turns heads as we walk into a room. We know that our physical appearance could change the way people view us, yet we can’t get motivated to stick with our exercise habits.

If we do decided to do something about it, we’re consistent with it for a few weeks (dabbling) and then our motivation drops and we stop.

How many times have you tried to start an exercise habit? How long did you last?

It’s time to approach the problem differently. Let’s walk through some exercises that will get you motivated. These exercises will get you motivated , get leverage on yourself, and help you achieve your fitness goals.

What follows are a few mental exercises I walked Dave through to help him get motivated and create momentum. If you want to start an exercise habit of your own, follow along.

Step 1: Start with WHY

In Simon Sinek’s classic book Start With Why, he says:

People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it

Applied to marketing, persuasion, and sales understanding WHY, motivates consumers to pull out their credit cards and buy. [1]

Applied to starting your exercise habit, understanding WHY, motivates you to timeblock and start exercising.  If we flip around Sinek’s golden rule, and apply it to your exercise habit, it looks like this:

You must understand WHY before creating an exercise habit

Your Takeaway: Those who get motivated and stick with it, have a very strong reason WHY. It goes way deeper than superficial and surface level desires. To find your WHY, start digging deeper.

What’s in it for you? What’s in it for your family? What will you gain by becoming a healthier version of yourself? Will you make more money? Will you have more energy? Will you stand out from the crowd? Will you turn more heads? Will you attract that special someone? Will you be more confident? Will you get that promotion?  Will you be a better role model for your children?

Dave doesn’t have a strong enough reason WHY. His life is comfortable. If he just wants to look good and feel confident, it’s not enough. In order for him to change, he needs to link up intense reasons that reinforce the new exercise habit. If he understands WHY, he’ll get enough leverage on himself to create the new habit. If he doesn’t figure out WHY, the cycle of pain and disappointment continues.

Using the mental exercises below, we found the core of Dave’s motivation. Follow along If you want to start your own exercise habit.

 

Motivational Exercise 1:

Write out 10 reasons why you want to create an exercise habit and then narrow it down to your top 5.

 

Now were getting somewhere. The goal with this exercise is to go deeper than surface level motivation. We want to go into our depths and find out what really motivates us.  

Most people skip this step and most people fail. It’s your choice.

 

 

Step 2: Stop The Negative Self Talk.

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole….. If you take resistance at it’s word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit

— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Every time Dave wants work out, a little voice inside his head starts talking to him. Here’s how the conversation goes:

“Dude! You worked really hard today. Let’s just chill out for a bit. You can exercise after dinner. Let’s just watch a little TV and rest before you do anything. It wouldn’t be a good time right now.”

Do you think Dave is really tired? Or that things will improve if he waits? I don’t. We can’t trust every thought that enters our heads.

Have you ever paid attention to that little voice inside your head? What does it say?

We all experience negative self talk when trying to improve or grow. The inner voice, will lead us back towards the couch and away from the weight rack. It’s what it does.

We all experience this, and It’s time to change the approach. What follows are two exercises that I walked Dave through. Follow along and write out your own answers.

 

Motivational Exercise 2:

Write out 5 amazing/great/wonderful things that will happen if you take action and create your exercise habit. Focus on both short term and long term benefits. Be vivid. 

 

Motivational Exercise 3:

Write out 5 awful/terrible/bad things that will happen if you don’t take action and stay on the couch. Focus on both short term and long term consequences. Be vivid. 

 

Do both exercises. I’m watching.

Can you feel the seesaw tipping? Are you getting motivated?

Now we are getting your brain to link up intense immediate pain towards not taking action and extreme pleasure towards starting your exercise habit.

No more crazy rationalizing voices. No more inner dialogue telling you to chill when you clearly have energy and time. No more time wasted on the couch eating snacks; unable to get up.

Anytime you fail to create successful habits, it’s because your brain links pain and pleasure to the wrong things. You must change this if you want to regain control.

One of my gym buddies is an IFBB pro bodybuilder, which means he is the in top %1 of the top %1. He actually starts to feel sick, if misses more than 1 day of exercise. His nervous system has linked up so much pleasure to exercise and so much pain to laziness, that he literally starts to feel sick if he rests too much.

Is this extreme? Yes. Does it work? Yes.

Do the exercises and to get motivated and start working towards your fitness goals.

Final Note: You will probably need to do this a few times. That’s OK. It’s not about how long it takes you. 

Once again, most people fail to do this, which is why most people fail. It’s your life.

 

 

Step 3: Build Momentum Slowly

 

When a spaceship is taking off, It barely moves. The amount of force required just to get it off the ground is astronomical. This force is so strong that the thrusters burn most of the available fuel. However…. once it clears the atmosphere, it’s smooth sailing and requires very little force to maintain momentum.

Starting a new exercise habit works the same way.

People fail to create new habits, because they try to do too much, too fast. I see it every January at my gym. They say: “I’m going to workout everyday for 1 hour and eat nothing but low fat yogurt and blueberries!!!!” This enthusiasm last for about two weeks until they stop.

We know from Baumeister’s Willpower, that willpower is like a muscle. A muscle that fatigues easily, especially when starting a new habit. The harder you push it in the beginning, the sooner you get tired and stop working towards your goals. Just like the battery on your phone, when it’s dead… It’s dead. [3]

If you haven’t properly built your momentum, your willpower will decline rapidly and so will your motivation.

The fix? Start slow. Really slow. If you think you are doing too much, you are.

Instead of committing to 1 hour a day, commit to 1 minute per day. Instead of going to the gym 5x this week, commit to putting on your athletic shoes. Lower your criteria for success so low, that any positive action is considered a win. Anything in addition is a bonus.

This is the foundation you build from. 

It’s about building a series of small wins and creating life-long success habits, not “in the moment” glory. When you are starting something new, you have no momentum and your focus must be on building the habit first. Results come after.

Start small, focus your attention, build the habit slowly and win big.

 

Win At the Sport of Life

Most people are not focused enough to do the work that is required to get motivated. This article isn’t for them.

If you are ready to make change, use this article as your starting position. Go back through the exercises listed and actually do them. Right now is the best time to start, not later today or tomorrow.  

In a year from now, when you have built an exercise habit that allows you to achieve your fitness goals; you can thank me then.

 

PS: These motivational strategies aren’t just for exercise. They work for any new habit. Start with your WHY, stop the negative self talk, and build momentum slowly. Then you can leverage the power of true motivation.  

PPS: If you liked the model for the cover art, check out Trent’s blog at GTM Fitness. 

Sources:

  1. Robbins, T. (n.d.). Personal Power II (Vol. II).
  2. Pressfield, S. (2012). The war of art: Break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles. New York: Black Irish Entertainment.
  3. Baumeister, R., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Press.
  4. Hardy, D. (2010). The compound effect: Multiplying your success, one simple step at a time. New York, NY: Vanguard Press.

 

About Ben Austin

My friends call me the illegitimate love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Nye. I’m a bodybuilding-yogi-science loving-foodie bringing an engineering approach to lifestyle design. Join me as I analyze the systems that go into optimal mental and physical performance and explore the stories and tactics of people who set the standard for the rest of us.
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