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.
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.
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.