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Thursday, 25 August 2016 11:00

How Do You Make a Good Exercise Habit Stick?

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Did you know that having a particular kind of habit can make you stick to exercise much better?

We know how it is….you come home after a hard day of work at the office or maybe you've been running around with your kids all day. All you want to do is just veg on the couch! Either way it's just downright hard to motivate yourself to trek off to the gym for a workout.

Health Psychology has a solution for you as you drive up your driveway with that dragged out feeling that you cannot possibly do one more thing. 

What research has found is that people who exercise consistently have made exercise into a specific kind of habit - one that is triggered by a certain cue, whether it be an alarm by their bed or even as a reminder on their phone. The thing about this kind of cue is that it requires no thinking. In fact, thinking works against you. You hear the alarm and you do it, whether it's a walk around the block or a trip to the gym. Again, no thinking about it.

According to the research, "It's not something you have to deliberate about; you don't have to consider the pros and cons of going to the gym after work," explains L. Alison Phillips, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University and one of the study's authors.  It’s simply an automatic decision you make without pondering over it. You literally, "just do it," just as Niki always promotes!

This habit is known as an instigation habit, and it seems to work seems better determining who will stick with the exercise habit more than with other type of habits. A study was done with 123 university students. At the beginning and end of the month long study, researchers asked 123 university students specific questions that assessed how often they exercised and how strong their exercise habits were. From these questions, the researchers decided whether a person had a strong instigation habit—one where a cue triggers the instantaneous decision to exercise—or whether a person has a strong execution habit—that is, knowing exactly what kind of exercise they'll do once you get to the gym, or being able to go through the motions of an exercise routine while being mentally checked out.

The end result amounted to one single factor, the core strength of their instigation habit. The good news is the more participants did the exercise, the stronger the instigation habit became. Even if students zoned out while exercising it did not deter them. They kept up with the habit.

Even those who got bored with the same routine kept the exercise going. It seems that some repetitive behaviors simply reinforce exercise. "When you're just starting to develop an exercise routine, I think it might be helpful to engage in the same behaviors, to have this patterned action." But sticking with a cue, like Pavlov’s dog if you will, appears to be what will keep you going with work outs on a regular basis.

It cannot be emphasized enough, you act simply according to a specific cue alone, and you do not go through the decision making process at all. This is the real key here to establishing the habit. What can happen with a lot of people is that they might start literally talking to themselves about whether they will exercise or not. There's a stronger probability they will talk themselves out of exercising, especially if they do not particularly enjoy activity. Then once the debate starts to go on in the head it's easier to dismiss exercise and decide not to do it. The answer is not to allow a debate to go on in the head in the first place! To really make an exercise habit stick for the long term - exercise is NOT optional! You have the cue and you do it. There's simply no question or debate.

"Don’t give up you want most, for what you want now."

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