How to Make Running a Habit In 11 Simple Steps

This morning, my alarm clock went off at precisely 6:00 a.m.

Within a couple of minutes, I was off my bed and had my running gear on: Running shoes, a t-shirt, and my favorite workout shorts. Then at exactly 6:15, I was out of the door, and within a few minutes, I started warming up for my run.

Today was a Thursday, so according to my training schedule, it’s tempo run day. Tomorrow, I will be waking up at the same time, but with a different goal in mind. I am gonna be doing a Yoga Workout, and later in the afternoon I will be hitting the gym for a CrossFit WOD (I prefer going to the gym in the evening for “productivity” reasons).

This is my exercise schedule, and for me, most of this is on autopilot. I don’t even have to think about it anymore.

No resistance.

No self-forcing.

No teeth-grinding.

And no putting off things for tomorrow.

In fact, nowadays, although my workout schedule looks full, it requires me almost no willpower for sticking with the routine. It just happens on its own.

Of course, every now and then I can be a bit off course, but 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, and most folks’ experience consists of starting a healthy habit—whether it’s running, eating clean, reading, or just spending less time on social media—and stopping, then re-starting again, stopping, then doing it all over again.

Nevertheless, with what I’m about to share with you today, you are going to 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 came to learn a crucial truth about life. This shattering realization can mean disaster or bliss for you. You Choose.

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 like an alien would—we will wake up to a sobering but really painful realization:

We are nothing but creatures of habits.

In fact, your life today is, basically, the sum of your 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 really make or break you. And it all depends on the type of habit you build.

Therefore, if you are out-of-shape, fat and can’t climb a set of stairs without gasping for a breath—even if your life depended on it, then you have undoubtedly spent the time (mostly in front of the TV, eating junk food and whatnot) to build the type of habits that lead to an unhealthy life.

On the other hand, you can also make the effort to build a healthy habit. This is, in my opinion, great news, and what sets healthy people from the rest.

The 11 Steps for Making Running a Habit for Life

With that said, just because we humans are creatures of habits, developing and maintaining healthy habits—especially the running habit—is no easy feat.

But fret no more. Today you’re going to learn some valuable lessons to help you turn your existing running routine into a habit.

So are you excited? Then here we go…

1. Start Small

Most people who start off a running program sabotage their new resolution by running too much too soon. This wrong approach is the recipe for disaster, and will only lead to injury, a severe burnout, and unneeded resentment.

As a beginner, you must start with an extremely manageable and realistic goal and work up from there.

Therefore, make sure to start small.

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—which is something that can make or break your running resolution.

“A short run is better than none” this is one of my favorite affirmations, and it usually gets me out of the door when I’m running low on willpower, and motivation. This resonates even more with beginner runners.

Whatever you want to achieve—whether it’s losing 20 pounds, running a 10K, or just be able to jog for 20-minute without losing your breath—make sure your goal is realistic and small.

The walk-run method

The ideal approach to make running a habit—especially if you are beginner—is to start with the walk-run method as the gateway to your running program. Here is the beginner running program you need for that.

2. Come Up With a Running Plan

Once you have decided to start running and had set a goal, you must back up your vision with a concrete plan.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” An adage from the world of management.

Make a list and plan thoroughly everything that’s related to your running, from running route, the time, the type of run, the music playlist and anything that’s a part of your training routine.

Also, plan also your rewards, like a delicious post-run smoothie, a massage, hot shower, anything that gets you going. These rewards will motivate you to run, which is good for the long term.

When you are done with this, write down your exact plan to the letter, and post it where you can see it on a daily basis

3. Turn Your Plan Into a Ritual

Next thing t do, after coming up with a concrete plan, 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.

So what’s a ritual and how can this 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.

As a result, if you want to form a ritual, you have to define the specific behaviors—whether it’s running, weight lifting, meditation, you name it—you’ll be engaging in,  then perform them at a given moment.

By laying down an exact time for your running routine, you won’t have to burn up energy planning when to get it done.

Plus, a ritual also has a spiritual and religious connotation that makes it more enticing—even if you are not that religious or spiritual.

4. Set a Specific Time For the Ritual

It’s important to choose a particular time of the day to run.

Therefore, decide whether you are more likely (and have the time) to stick with your running ritual in the morning, midday or evening, and stay consistent with that time no matter what.

I’ve set the time of 06:15 a.m. every day, and I usually do my best not to stray from that time, 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, make sure to 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 are serious about making it.

As a result,  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” on your weekly calendar.

5. Run First Thing in the Morning

We run busy lives. From endless work hours, kids to take care of, the excellent but sabotaging world of social media, these daily obligations can take a toll on your running lifestyle.

With 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.

Also, research shows that consistent exercisers make the effort to work out first thing in the morning.

Consequently,  do your best to start running in the morning before the whole world, especially your kids, starts 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 to), then go for a run, shower, then have a delicious breakfast and take on the rest of the day.

And please remember that morning people are not born, they are built.

Plus, if you run first thing in the morning, you will boost your metabolism, and 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.

6. Lay Out your Running Gear

If you’ve a run scheduled in the morning, then make sure to get your entire running gear ready the night before. Doing this is gonna help you head out the door with minimum friction.

There is nothing worse than waking up early to only hunt through a dark room in a semi-awake state for gear that you are going to need.

Chances are, especially if you are not a happy morning person, that you are gonna drop it and decide to run another time if some of your running gear are nowhere to be found.

Whatever you need: clothes, earphones, shoes, vest, watch, hydration belt, headlamp, reflective vest, gels, even post-run rewards—everything in a nutshell.

For more discipline, try sleeping in your running clothes. This is always an option if you are an efficiency freak, just like me 😉

7. 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 will only get harder. It’s all about keeping that momentum going, especially during the first few weeks.

In other words, the easiest way to keep your resolution going is simply not to stop.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. That’s a basic physic law, and you should use it to your advantage.

As a result, if your ultimate goal is to run, let’s say 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.

8. Make it Pleasurable

This should come as no surprise, if you don’t enjoy doing something, you are not going to stick with it—especially for the long haul.

Forming (and keeping) the habit is going to be hard if you don’t enjoy running. In fact, if your runs feel like a death march, then you are doing something wrong, my friend.

Therefore, while forming an exercise habit, keep your focus on pleasure and fun, not on the end results.

Make running enjoyable by:

  • Getting new running gear.
  • Running with your friend or dog.
  • Exploring new places.
  • Enjoying the scenery (pick a pristine trail route and breathe in the fresh morning air).
  • Using an app to track your runs.
  • Enjoying the beautiful sky. Contemplate the quietude of solitude.
  • Loading up your playlist with your favorite songs. The upbeat music will keep you going while taking your mind off fatigue.
  • Or listening to an audiobook or radio show.

The possibilities are endless.

9. Recharge—Have a Recovery Day

Your body needs recovery because it’s its only chance to rest and readapt to the training load.

And you just can’t deny it that without paying a hefty price for it…

I highly recommend that you take one day of total rest every week. If you feel that you need less rest, you could just do a half an hour of easy walking.

The secret here is to do something every day, ideally an activity that gets you fired up and keeps your habit formation going. So don’t shy away from other exercise routines, since they will also help you ingrain in the exercise habit. So do plenty of strength training, swimming, biking, and yoga.

10. Give Your Running Ritual Eight Weeks

Give yourself at least 66 days to make a habit stick.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but habits don’t form (nor change) overnight. Consistent 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.

In other words, 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, this is 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 how you feel.

11. Life is Messy you Know…

Word of caution. Life will, every now and then, 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 scupper your plans.

It’s just a part of life.

And you shouldn’t strive for perfection…

Therefore, you will definitely miss a day or two (or more!), so when that happens don’t beat yourself up, nor lose sleep over it—everyone makes mistakes, it’s a part of the human condition.

Missing one or a couple of workouts won’t matter in the long run.

No one is perfect, and pursuing perfection will get you nowhere.

All this stuff about 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.

Consequently if you fell, then just get up, dust 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.

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David Dack



    • Heidi Renner
    • May 12, 2015
    • Reply

    Loved this! I’ve been running for 4 yrs now and kind of been in a slump. I know all the things you put in this article, but had kind of frgotten them. Thanks for the reminder! And new motivation!

    • Lois Cooksey
    • May 30, 2015
    • Reply

    I’ve never run, but always loved the idea of running. I have exercise-induced asthma, which is another reason I’ve been more a spectator. I found, and copied, the Run-Walk Eight Week plan and hope to start that soon. I want to invest in a better pair of shoes before I begin running so that I won’t have to stop in the middle to replace the ones I have.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this out, it will be a very helpful reminder and resource to come back to.

    • Jaci Wetmore
    • June 5, 2015
    • Reply

    Great advice! I’m just getting started & needed this. Weight is not coming off like I had hoped but it’s only been about 3 weeks. Thank you!

  1. I used to workout habitually and then, just like you said, took an extra rest day…then another…and here we are! I’ve just recently started trying to reform the habit, but I feel like it’s much easier to break than to build. Great tips!

    • Kathy
    • June 22, 2015
    • Reply

    Thank you for this post! I especially loved #11 . . . that’s the one that always gets to me and I need to keep reminding myself of. I’ve been running for three years and just ran my first half marathon back in May (which was an amazing feeling to accomplish!). I seem to be able to train for a certain goal but struggle with the day to day “ritual”. Thank you again!

    • Lisa Jones
    • July 7, 2015
    • Reply

    Great article. I have been a runner and was at eight to ten miles a day. I then went back go school and haven’t run in two years. I ran track in high school but never races. I decided to get myself motivated I would enter races. Ran my first a month ago. So fun! I run also because of fibro n depression. Running for me is life!

    • Celeste
    • July 15, 2015
    • Reply

    Thanks for this. I ran my first race in December and afterwords, I got caught in # 11. I went back to school, working full time, 2 kids, life just got busy. I ran maybe once every couple of weeks but not enough. I love # 3. I really think that if I use this mindset I will be able to get back on track.

    • Just start NOW and NEVER deviate. That’s the goldenr rule here

      Thank you for the helpful comment

    • Justina
    • August 6, 2015
    • Reply

    Thank you for the motivation!! I’m not a runner, at all and just barley quality as someone who works out, but this article will change me for the better! You made it sound so effortless, easy and very rewarding to go just for a run! WoW, can’t believe I just said that;) Can’t wait to hit the pavement and go forward to a new me! Thank you again!!!

    • Sharon
    • August 13, 2015
    • Reply

    I absolutely love this. I have been researching a way to get healthy and I know it is not one dimensional. I have to exercise, eat better, etc….This blog can be used for people who maybe aren’t runners but walkers or do any other type of exercise. The point is to make it a habit. Great info and insight. I will use this.

    • The rules I shared are universal, so you can use them pretty much for anything.

      Thank you for the comment my friend

    • Fernando
    • August 17, 2015
    • Reply

    Thank you so much for this article!! Im trying to start my running habit this information will help me a lot. I started walking last week to lose some weight. Did you match any specifically diet with your running routine?

    • Yes I did. The Paleo diet was of a great help to me. Feel free to try it out and see for yourself

    • John
    • August 17, 2015
    • Reply

    All good tips but I suggest running with a group of like minded people. I’ve been running for about 5 years now, completed one marathon but I always lost my mojo for a month or two because of boredom.
    I’ve now started running two or three times a week with a group of men and women from our local athletics club. It’s just for fun and to keep in shape. 5-10 kms mixed up with some light speed training. Loving it and my PB for 5km is slowly improving.

  2. Great post to share! Thanks for this useful, informational and motivational post. Loved the 11th point “Life is messy you know”.

    • Juliana Nunes
    • September 6, 2015
    • Reply

    I really loved this text! I got so excited that the time i was reading these lines i was already planing my running! I have already started to run many times, but always something happened that made me stop. Your 11 steps are all i needed! Thanks a lot! I’m anxious to get started!

    • Just start and keep me in the loop. I would love to hear about your progress

    • Annie
    • September 14, 2015
    • Reply

    I have “run” a 5K earlier this year; meaning I walked it in 1:08. I was extremely please with myself as I had not run nor walked in the two months before it. Then summer hit hard with the heat indexes for most days going over 100 degrees and zapped all energy from me. I also have some medical issues at play. Now that it is fall, I am mapping out walking to jogging to running routine where I can participate in several 5K’s that are hardier than the one I have already completed.

    Thanks for the reminder of how and what to look for!

    • You are more than welcome.

      Just keep it and never give up

      David D

    • Nadine
    • September 16, 2015
    • Reply

    I have gone to the gym at 5:30am for 10 + years so that part is certainly a habit. But I decided at 55 that I want to run my first 5K and I’ve been using an app to get there. I’ve never been a runner but I’ve always wanted to be. I’m struggling with running 3 days a week and making that change to my already solid habit of doing other types of exercise – it’s easy to talk myself into the same old thing once I get to the gym. But there were several great tips in your article and I will put them to use immediately! Thanks much!!

    • judy heilmann
    • September 17, 2015
    • Reply

    I used to be a regular runner many years ago….now, after two kids and what seems like a life time, I’d really like to get back into it. The main problem is, I work an odd schedule. I work 10pm-6am two nights a week and 7pm-3am three nights a week. Should I still try to run first thing in the morning, or after I sleep?

    • I urge you to run whenver you have time. For me it’s the morning, but that’s not written in stone. Every one is different.

      Happy Running!!

    • Holly schumacher
    • September 17, 2015
    • Reply

    Best article yet I’ve read. I’m almost 4 weeks in a running routine. Never liked running. Yesterday I made it to my first mile of running. Then I reassessed my next goal. I’m already feeling the mental benefits of running. just patiently waiting for the weight loss. It’ll come. I know it.

    • Thank you for the comment. I do my best to provide my readers with the best.

      Happy Running Holly!!

    • Reva
    • October 4, 2015
    • Reply

    Thanks a bunch…

    This insight and advice is really informative for those of us who struggle mindfully… I’ve always struggled with my weight but I turn 30 in a couple years and I want to change my diet and health lifestyle. Looking forward to constructing my exercise plan… :)

    • Rich
    • October 7, 2015
    • Reply

    Hi I use to run 10 miles and even a half marathon in One hour 31 mins but that was 20 years ago. Been contemplating getting back into it. Finally got some good running shoes and starting back in the the morning ! Half excited and half nervous. Thanks for the tips hopefully I can gradually get myself back into it. I’m only a stone overweight so hopefully lose that in a few months. Thanks again for tips :)

    • Jazmine Styers
    • October 16, 2015
    • Reply

    Love this, reminds me to continue my running. Up until june I had the ritual of walking/Jog intervals bright and early every chance i got until lumbar injuries from past incidents began to rise, still i pressed on being hard headed. Anyways I even got my mother in on walking daily and that was a success story for me. I hated exercising, but loved it after a college course. Lost 35 lbs when I got to it a few years back. From the injury of herniated disk which was severely inflamed to the towering effect of nerve damage in my right leg I have been out of my routine for roughly 2.5 months and just started pressing back into where I used to be. Its hard and discouraging when injury takes place but its not over just yet. I will rise again little by little. Thank you for the post.

    • Thank you for the helpfull comment.
      Please keep it up Jazmine
      Happy Running!

  3. Every one can do running in the morningaround the village or at the park, run along with a circle of riends to make it more enjoyable. Doing it every morning as a daily habit then afterwards you and your friends can join a RUN FOR A CAUSE PROGRAM in your community, you will not only enjoy and lose weight at the same time. you also have the chance to help other people. Itn’t it great, 1 hits in a row.. That was awesome.

    • kathleen
    • November 8, 2015
    • Reply

    This is the philosophy I adopted 5 years ago and I live it everday!! Running keeps my stress in check and I really think it keeps me sane. I get up before the rest of the family and do 5 to 6.2 miles each AM. Motivates me to take on the rest of the day!

    • I’m glad you loved my post.
      Happy Running Kathleen!

    • Lynn
    • November 23, 2015
    • Reply

    I have been a couch potato for 10 + years. I am sedentary & am 65 or more pounds overweight. I am really tired of feeling tired all the time & tired of being so fat. It is uncomfortable. I am trying to read up on what to do to start. I want to become a runner but I can’t start running at this wt. I have just decided today again, to walk. I can walk a level mile at a medium pace without problems. Usually I have in the past walked 6 was before running because if I hurry it my knees hurt worse & worse. So I have to start slow. Than I can start running. Thanks for your article.

    • Kristen
    • December 2, 2015
    • Reply

    Totally a great article – it gave me the motivation to try and I’ve been doing this for the last month and it’s definitely getting easier! Waking at 515am to go for a run seemed impossible but I’ve actually enjoyed it and hope to keep it going! It really is a great start to the day and I’m seeing results Thanks for the good tips!

    • Marla
    • September 5, 2016
    • Reply

    Thank you so much for writing this piece. Most pieces written as encouraging self help always end up cheesy and unrealistic but this was awesome!

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