This morning, my alarm clock went off at 6:00 a.m.
Within minutes I was out of my bed and had my running gear on: I’d put on running shoes and socks, a t-shirt, and my favorite workout shorts. At exactly 6:15 I was out the door, and within a few minutes I’d started warming up for my run.
Today was Thursday, so my training schedule says it’s tempo run day. Tomorrow I’ll be waking up at the same time but with a different goal in mind. I’ll be doing a yoga workout, and later in the afternoon I’ll be hitting the gym for a CrossFit WOD (Workout of The Day)-I prefer going to the gym in the evening for “productivity” reasons.
This is my exercise schedule, and for me, most of it’s on autopilot. I don’t even have to think about it anymore.
And no putting off things.
In fact, nowadays, ‘though my workout schedule looks full, it requires almost no willpower for me to stick with the routine. It just happens on its own.
Naturally, every now and then I can stray a bit off-course — it’s just a part of life. But I always come back stronger.
A Very Common Struggle
I’m well aware that forming an exercise habit isn’t the easiest thing for most people Most folks’ start a healthy habit—whether it’s running, eating clean, reading, or just spending less time on social media—then stop, then re-start again, then stop again.
What I’m about to share with you today will help you learn how to break that endless cycle and turn your running (or any other workout routine) into a lifelong habit.
The Power of Habits
In my three decades on this planet, I’ve come to learn a crucial truth about life. It’s a shattering realization that can mean either disaster or bliss. You choose which.
Ready? Here it is.
We, the members of this remarkable species, pride ourselves on our high levels of ingenuity and creativity. But if we study our behavior—just as an alien visiting the plan and trying to understand us would—we will wake up to a sobering and really painful realization:
We are nothing but creatures of habits.
In fact, our life today is basically the sum of habits.
We—mostly unconsciously—repeat 95 percent of our physical and mental patterns from one day to the next.
Good vs. Bad Habits
Habits can make your or break you. It all depends on the type of habit you build.
If you’re out of shape, or overweight, if you can’t climb a set of stairs without gasping for a breath if your life depended on it, then you’ve undoubtedly spent a lot of time (mostly in front of the TV, eating junk food and whatnot) building the habits that led to your condition.
The good news is that you can also use healthy habits to turn things around. Good habits are what sets healthy people apart from the rest.
Note: Are you serious about learning more about the power of habits then you should check out “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. In my humble opinion, it’s the best book on the subject and has helped me on so many levels. Get it here.
Another book I highly recommend is “The Power of Full Engagement” by Tony Schwartz & Jim Loehr. This book was a real breakthrough for me, especially when it comes to time management and productivity. Get it here.
The Habit Building System You Need
Even though we humans are creatures of habits, the truth is that developing and maintaining healthy habits—especially the running habit—is no easy feat.
But no worries. Today you’re going to learn some valuable lessons to help you turn your existing running routine into a habit.
Are you excited? Here we go…
Most people who start a running program sabotage their new resolution by running too much too soon. This is the wrong approach, and a recipe for disaster. It will only lead to injury, severe burnout, and unneeded resentment.
As a beginner, you must start with an extremely manageable and realistic goal and work up from there.
Starting small—like opting for the walk-run method, or just doing a short run around the block—will make running easy to stick to in your first few weeks. This can make or break your running resolution.
“A short run is better than none” is one of my favorite affirmations, and it usually gets me out the door when I’m running low on willpower and motivation. This mantra resonates even more with beginner runners.
Whatever you want to achieve—whether it’s losing 20 pounds, running a 10K, or just being able to jog for 20-minutes without losing your breath—make sure your goal is realistic and small.
The walk-run method
The ideal approach to making running a habit—especially if you are beginner—is to start with the walk-run method as the gateway to your running program. Here’s the beginner running program you need for that.
Come Up with a Running Plan
Once you’ve decided to start running and have set a goal, you must back up your vision with a concrete plan.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This golden management adage often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, applies 100 percent to managing exercise plans of any kind. It holds a lot of truth to it.
So, make a list and plan thoroughly everything that’s related to your running, from identifying a running route to choosing the time and type of run you’re going to do. Preselect your music playlist and anything else that’s a part of your training routine.
Just as important as planning your run, you must also plan your rewards. Maybe it’s a delicious post-run smoothie, a massage, or a hot shower. It can be anything that gets you going. These rewards will motivate you to run, and that’s a good thing for achieving your long term goal.
When you’re done with your planning, write it all down in detail and post it where you will see it on a daily basis.
Turn Your Plan into a Ritual
After coming up with a concrete plan, your next step is to “ritualize” your running.
This is something I learned from Tony Schwarz, the author of “The Power of Full Engagement”, a highly acclaimed book on productivity and personal management. This is a must read if you’re serious about making lasting changes in your life.
So, what’s a ritual and how can having one help you?
A ritual is a specific set of behaviors that you do at the same time every day, or on the precise and exact days you select.
To form a ritual, you have to define the specific behaviors—whether they have to do with running, weight lifting, meditation, you name it—that you’ll be engaging in. Once they’ve been defined, they need to be performed at the designated moment.
By laying down an exact time for your running routine, you no longer have to burn up energy planning when to get it done.
Rituals also have the advantage of having a spiritual and religious connotation that makes them more enticing, even if you are not a religious or spiritual person.
Set a Specific Time for the Ritual
It’s important to choose a particular time of day to run.
You need to decide whether you’re more likely (and have the time) to stick with your running ritual in the morning, midday or evening, and once you select a time you need to stay consistent with that time, no matter what.
I’ve set my time for 6:15 a.m. every day, and I usually do my best when I don’t stray from it, whether I’m going for a run or doing yoga.
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” ― Benjamin Franklin
To increase the chances of success, schedule your runs the same way you schedule an important work meeting or family obligation. Make it a must by carving out a slot from your calendar. That’s how to do it if you’re serious about making it.
Get into the habit of drawing a big red “X” through any day on the calendar you plan to go for a run. This means roughly three to four big red “Xs” should be on your weekly calendar.
Run First Thing in the Morning
We lead busy lives. We have endless work hours and kids to take care of, the excellent but sabotaging world of social media and our daily obligations all take a toll on your running lifestyle.
With all that said, I think the best way to get around a hectic life schedule is to run in the early morning when willpower is high and the rest of the world is still asleep.
Research shows that consistent exercisers make an effort to work out first thing in the morning, so do your best to start running in the morning before the whole world, especially your kids, start waking up.
How? It’s really simple. All you need to do is to wake up an hour earlier, have a light snack (if you want one), then go for a run. Once you’re done you can shower, have a delicious healthy breakfast and you’ll be ready to take on the rest of the day, knowing that you’ve already accomplished more than most people do.
Remember that morning people aren’t born: they’re built.
Running first thing in the morning will boost your metabolism, and you’ll be more productive for the rest of the day, which is coooool.
For more on how to become a morning runner, check my post here.
Lay Out your Running Gear
If you have a run scheduled in the morning, make sure to get your running gear ready the night before. Doing this will help you head out the door with minimum friction, as there’s nothing worse than waking up early and having to hunt through a dark room in a semi-awake state for gear that you need.
This is especially important if you’re not naturally a morning person: if your running gear is nowhere to be found, you’re much more likely to drop the whole plan and say that you’ll run another time.
So what do you need to lay out? Your clothes from underwear and socks to your hat. Earphones, shoes, watch, hydration belt, headlamp, reflective vest, gels, even post-run rewards—everything that’s needed for your run, in a nutshell.
For more discipline, try sleeping in your running clothes. If you’re an efficiency freak like me, this is your best option. 😉
Make it Regular
Once you decide on a running ritual, do your best to never skip a workout.
If you skip a day, the process of the exercise habit formation only gets harder. It’s all about keeping your momentum going, especially during the first few weeks.
The easiest way to keep your resolution going is simply not to stop. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. It’s a basic physic law, and you should use it to your advantage.
If your ultimate goal is to run three times a week, then schedule your three runs on non-consecutive days (On Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, for instance) and do your best not to miss a day.
Repeat the sequence until it becomes automatic.
Make it Pleasurable
It should come as no surprise that if you don’t enjoy doing something, you’re not going to stick with it—especially not for the long haul.
Forming (and keeping) a habit is going to be hard if you don’t enjoy running. In fact, if your runs feel like a death march then you’re doing something wrong. While forming an exercise habit, keep your focus on pleasure and fun, not on the end results.
Want some ideas for making running more enjoyable?
- Go buy some fun new running gear in colors that make you happy
- Run with a friend or dog, or both
- Explore new places.
- Enjoy the scenery by picking a pristine trail route, and make a point of breathing in the fresh morning air
- Use an app to track your runs so you can gauge your progress
- Enjoy the beautiful sky. Contemplate the quietude of solitude.
- Load up your playlist with your favorite songs. Upbeat music will keep you going while taking your mind off fatigue.
- Use the opportunity to listening to an audiobook, podcast or radio show.
The possibilities are endless.
Recharge—Have a Recovery Day
Your body needs recovery. It’s a chance to rest and readapt to your training load. I highly recommend that you take one day of total rest every week. If you feel that you need less rest, limit yourself on that day to a half hour of easy walking.
The secret is to do something every day but your rest day, and ideally it should be an activity that gets you fired up and keeps your habit formation going. Don’t shy away from other exercise routines since they’ll also help you ingrain the exercise habit. Do plenty of strength training, swimming, biking, and yoga.
Give Your Running Ritual Eight Weeks
Give yourself at least 66 days to make your new habit stick.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but habits don’t form (or change) overnight. Perseverance is the name of the game. In fact, according to research conducted at The London University College, it can take up to six to eight weeks to form a lifelong, lasting habit, so stick with it for at least 50 to 60 days.
After you reach that point, the habit will start to feel natural in your daily life. For running, it’s when you start building enough cardio base to run for about 45 minutes with ease, lose a few pounds and be able to see some real changes in your body and in how you feel.
Life is Messy Y’know…
Word of caution. Every now and then, life will get in the way of your running routine. Injury, long hours at work, family obligations, holidays, you name it—all of these roadblocks are waiting in the dark for the right moment to mess up your plans.
It’s just a part of life. Nothing personal.
You don’t need to strive for perfection, and pursuing perfection will get you nowhere.
If you acknowledge that you’ll definitely miss a day or two (or more!), when it happens you won’t beat yourself up or lose sleep over it. Everyone makes mistakes and life happens — it’s part of the human condition.
Missing one or a couple of workouts won’t matter in the long run.
Habit formation is a skill, and like any other skill it requires conscious practice on a regular basis. It’s just like a muscle that you train. The more you exercise it, the stronger it will get.
That means that if you fall off the wagon, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go at it another time. Have the warrior spirit and never give up.
Have you considered starting the running habit? Do you run regularly? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.
Featured Image Credit – Ed Yourdon through Flickr.