Top 10 Tips for Making the Gym a Habit
by: Jayden Perez
Top 10 Tips for Making the Gym a Habit
Starting any new routine can be a challenge. For many of us, regular trips to the gym can be a tough habit to keep. No matter how many times we make a New Year’s Resolution, download a new fitness app or mentally make a commitment, sticking to a gym schedule is one of the toughest habits to create.
For some people, getting up and heading to the gym is a no brainer. We applaud those who have managed to create a gym habit and stick to it. For those who need a little extra help, know that making the gym a habit doesn’t have to be another unaccomplished item on your to-do list. Here are the top 10 tips to creating — and sticking to — a gym habit.
Understand Why It’s Hard to Create a New Habit
It doesn’t matter if you’ve committed to read more, exercise regularly or call your mother more often — a new habit is tough to create. The human mind is an intricate organ. It works in patterns that are comfortable and familiar because it comes down to efficiency. Some scientists believe the brain is used to functioning by habit, so it nearly shuts down and works using energy-efficient frequencies to accomplish things we do every single day.
Take the way you make coffee in the morning as an example. You get out of bed, head to the kitchen, reach for the coffee filter, fill the carafe and scoop out the grounds. It’s all part of a habit that’s been ingrained in your brain. The sound of the steam coming from the coffeemaker and the start of the drip indicate your caffeine fix is nearby, and they act as a part of your morning coffee habit. When you put the hot drink to your lips, take a sip and feel a rush of energy, you’ve created a reward system for your brain. You know that if you go through each step, you’ll soon taste the brew that gives you the energy to jump start your day.
Habits are powerful, and yet we rarely think about the steps required to complete them. If you were to change a habit and, for example, skip the coffee for a green smoothie, creating that new morning habit would be a challenge. It likely doesn’t take any more time than making coffee, and the steps are fairly similar. Yet sticking to the new habit can be a challenge. Our minds are wired to do what’s easy, efficient and familiar.
So, how do we rewire our brains to take on a new habit?
Consult the Brain on Your New Habit
It’s going to take more than a mental pep talk to familiarize your brain with a new habit. You might crawl into bed at night and tell yourself you’re going to get up at 5 a.m., put on your new gym attire and work out bright and early. You feel excited for the challenge ahead and you’ve prepared yourself for success. But by the time the alarm goes off in the morning, things don’t seem as thrilling. Your bed is comfortable. That warm-up jog around the block is far less appealing.
Before you roll over and hit the snooze button, remember that habits take time. If you understand how habits are formed, you can help your brain become familiar with a new one. There’s a reason why 80 percent of New Year’s Resolutions fail, and it has a lot to do with the brain.
The brain functions on habits based on cues and rewards. It’s uncomfortable to create new habits because it isn’t easy for our brains to remember the steps, but if you play on your mind’s cues and rewards function and work through the transition period, you might set yourself up for a gym habit you can finally stick to. Here are the top 10 ways to stick to a gym habit.
- Prepare Ahead of Time
Make getting yourself to the gym as easy as possible. If you don’t prepare to go, putting forth the effort might not seem worth it. Keep your gym clothes in an easy-to-find place. If you go straight to the gym in the morning, lay your workout clothes out the night before. Make sure you have office attire, shower gear and other items in another bag if you need to head to work right after your sweat session. If you go after work, keep your workout clothes, sneakers and other items in your trunk, so you always have what you need.
It's also a good idea to keep a water bottle handy, throw a few granola bars or protein packets in your glovebox and make sure you have headphones or earbuds in a handy spot. If you set these items out ahead of time, it’s much less effort to head to the gym when you have time.
- Reward Yourself for Getting There
Getting to the gym is half the battle. Sometimes it’s the whole battle. Once you aren’t at home on the couch, it’s only worth your time to squeeze in a workout. Don’t worry about how much you’ll workout when you get there, how many miles you’ll run, the reps you’ll complete or how you’ll perform in a group class. Just get there and see how it goes.
Rewarding yourself makes it much easier to push yourself to go to the gym. Have a friend meet you at class, pack your favorite recovery snack or plan to splurge on that coffee shop java when you’re done.
- Commit With a Friend
Having someone keep you accountable for your new gym habit is a huge motivator for many people. You probably won’t leave your friend waiting for you at the gym in favor of a few more moments of sleep or your favorite sitcom. When you know someone is waiting for you to show up, you are less likely to let them down. Be sure to choose an accountability partner who will help you stick to your guns. If you both show up at the gym ready to workout but talk the other into donuts and coffee instead, you probably don’t have the gym buddy that’s right for you.
- Log Your Workouts
Keeping track of your workouts is a great way to see your progress — and see where you fall short. Your workout log doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by writing a quick note on the calendar, such as “Gym — 30 minutes elliptical” or “1-hour yoga class.” When you look back over the month, it will be clear when you worked out and how you worked out. Seeing those blocks fill up with details can be very encouraging.
It’s also helpful as you move through the month. If you see the week is nearing an end and you’ve only been to the gym once, you’re more likely to squeeze in some extra workout time. You won’t want to leave all those squares empty. Writing “2 hours — Seinfeld reruns” is not as satisfying as “1 hour — neighborhood jog.” Trust us. You’ll feel
better seeing those workouts fill the calendar, instead.
- Crawl, Walk and Run
It can be tough to wake up one day and commit to working out five times a week — especially if you go from working out inconsistently or you can’t remember the last time you wore elastics that weren’t pajamas. Try committing to small amounts of exercise before immediately selling your soul to the gym.
If your goal is to work out for 30 minutes a day, try spreading it out at first. Aim for 10 minutes of jogging in place in the morning, 10 minutes of weights in between folding laundry after work and another 10 minutes of abs while you watch TV in your down time.
Another idea is to go to the gym twice a week and build up from there. Start with 30 minutes each visit and then work up to a full hour. When you feel you’ve made a consistent habit, increase how often you go by adding a day at a time. Keep slowly adding those days, making each addition a habit, instead of rushing into it all at once.
- Make Exercise ‘Me’ Time
If you’re a busy professional, working parent or overwhelmed student, it can be tough to make exercise a priority when so many other things are grabbing your attention. If you’re a busy mom who wants to get in shape but also wants to catch up on the latest thriller biography, download a digital version of the book to your iPod or phone and listen to it while you work out. If you’re a business professional who can’t help but be tied to your email all day long, use that hour in the gym to think about business strategies, professional growth and other goals related to your field.
Exercising is a rewarding goal, but you might have a tough time making it a priority. Mix it in with other things you want or need to accomplish, and it might become a habit that leaves you feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and mentally rested.
- Turn Fancy Gadgets Into a Reward
Many people buy workout gear at the start of the year, use it for two weeks and then never touch it again. If you’ve been eyeing a FitBit or other fitness tracker tool, it can be tempting to buy it to give you a strong start.
Remember, expensive gadgets don’t necessarily create positive habits. Instead, consider using them as a reward. Show yourself that you can truly commit to working out on a regular basis and when you reach a certain goal, reward yourself with a workout tracker, sign up for a fun new class or buy a piece of equipment to use at home.
This way, you’ll know you’re truly committed to your new habit and your new gym toy before you buy it.
- Measure Your Progress
Seeing how far you’ve come in a workout routine can often be enough reward. If your goal is to hit the gym three times a week by the end of the month, track your progress and see how well you’re doing. You also can record your workout progress and see how you’ve physically changed. Doing more pushups, running another mile, working out for 15 minutes longer or fitting into a smaller outfit are big accomplishments that can keep you motivated.
- Don’t Give Up Once You Hit Your Goals
Many people start to see positive results, whether it’s inches dropping from their waist or the number dropping on the scale, and then abandon their gym habit. When exercise starts to show results, people often think they can indulge in another scoop of ice cream or skip that regularly scheduled trip to the gym because things are progressing. However, once you break that habit, it’s tough to get back into it.
You should always have other goals in your pocket. It can be helpful to create a larger picture, such as wanting to run a marathon by the end of the year. Create small goals as you go, such as dropping 5 pounds, losing an inch on your waist or simply increasing your speed. Doing so will keep you motivated as you reach your big goal.
Once you finally meet your big goal, have a plan for what’s coming next. Crossing the finish line on your first marathon is a huge accomplishment, but you don’t want to stop there. Keep going with your new fitness habit! Create additional goals, such as beating your own time, running different races or beginning a whole new challenge.
- Do It for Yourself
Complete your workout routine with you in mind. If you’re going to the gym for any reason other than your own personal health, goals and fitness, you’re only going to disappoint yourself with what’s ahead. You have to believe in your goals to keep your new habit. It will be tough some days. Sometimes it will feel like the biggest challenge in the world to lace up your sneakers day after day while you sweat away those miles and lift until your muscles start to ache.
Making the gym a habit is only a great accomplishment if you believe it to be so. Once you engrain it in your routine, you’ll find this new, healthy lifestyle is one you’ll want to keep for a long time.
In Search of More Gym Motivation?
Check out the rest of our blog to see what other tips might help you stick to your gym habit.
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