Why are fitness habits so difficult to create?
A fitness habit isn’t inherently harder to form than other habits, but the culture surrounding fitness causes problems. In particular, I’m picking a fight with “Just Do It.”
The advice “just do it” or “suck it up and work out” is flawed because, for beginners, it leaves too many questions. How should I do it? When should I do it? Where should I do it? How often should I do it? What is “it?”
Without simple answers to those questions, exercise can seem like an unpleasant, overwhelming chore.
Even worse, “just do it” implies that people not doing it are somehow flawed. If working out is as easy as just doing it, then the only explanation for not working out is laziness.
The truth is, you aren’t just lazy. Starting new habits is hard, and slip-ups are to be expected. The psychology of habit formation repeatedly shows that willpower is a terrible way to stay consistent over the long term.
Here are 9 psychological tactics you can use instead.
Habits are cued by other activities in our lives. We brush our teeth after getting out of bed and we eat because the clock tells us it’s lunchtime.
Connecting exercise to a solid event that you know will happen is a great way to stay consistent. I know that I will leave work at 5 every weekday – instead of going home, I bring my workout clothes with me and go straight the gym.
This chaining is also why it can be hard to work out if there’s no cue. Even though I’ve been working out for years, I still have trouble getting off my butt on the weekends. The weekends have no structure – there are no mandatory activities and no momentum to carry me into a workout.
Without a cue, it’s a lot harder to get moving.
I mentioned bringing my workout clothes with me to work – a classic example of precommitment.
Precommitments are actions that get you invested in going to the gym. If you’ve committed to going with a partner, you’re hardly going to leave them hanging.
Similarly, bringing clothes with you to work, packing your gym bag in advance, or laying out your workout clothes before bed for a morning workout are tricks that make it easier to stay consistent.
If I have doubts, I think to myself “Well, I’ve already prepared everything to go to the gym, so I might as well follow through.”