9 Psychological Tricks to Develop a Fitness Habit

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3. Rewards

Giving yourself rewards is super common advice, but it’s also usually done wrong. Think of common rewards:

  • Your favorite food, or a nice dessert
  • An expensive new book, toy, game, or article of clothing (once you’ve done a certain number of workouts)
  • A nice nap

Behaviorism, the field in psychology that studies rewards, suggests that none of those are good options. Most common rewards have one of three problems:

  • They are too big (and therefore infrequent)
  • They aren’t connected to gym-going
  • They happen too long after a workout

In order to be effective, a reward needs to occur frequently and immediately after a workout. Plus, it needs to be associated with going to the gym – the reward doesn’t mean much if you can have it whenever you want.

You can get creative with this too. I hated doing my physical therapy, but I love grape juice. At the same time, I don’t keep it around my apartment because I know I would guzzle the stuff.

Every time I finish my PT, I take out the bottle of juice and do a shot of it. Is that weird? Maybe. But it works, and I haven’t missed a PT session since.

4. Reducing Barriers

Make it as easy as possible to say yes to a workout.

If you have a bag of chips sitting next to you at your desk, you’ll probably dip into it for a handful every so often. But if that bag of chips is down a flight of stairs and in the back of a kitchen cabinet, you’re probably less like to eat them.

With fitness, do the opposite by removing barriers wherever possible.

Reducing barriers could mean switching to a gym that’s closer to your house, having a set program so that you’re never wondering what you should be doing, or preparing your gym bag in advance (also a precommitment).

Reducing barriers to activities you want to do makes you more likely to follow through.

5. Set Better Goals

Everyone talks about goal setting, but most people don’t set goals effectively. A good goal is specific, realistic, and personally important.

A goal like “lose weight” or “build muscle” is too vague. How? How much? By when? These goals raise too many questions and make it harder to strategize.

A goal like “gain 60 pounds of muscle in the next 3 months” is basically impossible, and can lead to frustration. I actually think being realistic is overrated, and that you can self correct later (more on this in a bit), but things are easier if you start on the right track.

A goal like “lose 20 pounds in the next 3 months so that I can fit into my old high school jeans” is much better. It allows for a clear assessment of success, gives a specific time frame, and has a specific outcome.

Too many people say they work out to “lose weight” or “be healthy,” but you can have more success by getting specific. Why will losing weight improve your life, personally?

It might give you more confidence, or help you be more attractive to people you’re interested in, or have some other positive outcome. The important part is that you understand how your goal would impact you.

6. Set Checkpoints

Checkpoints are times to check in on your progress, and are why it’s ok to be unrealistic. When you set a 3 month goal, check in after one month to see how you’re doing.

If you haven’t made progress or your goal progress is too slow, don’t worry about it! A checkpoint is designed to correct your mistakes and get back on track. That way you don’t wind up at your deadline and realize you haven’t make any progress.

It’s amazing how few people use checkpoints, but this one trick can be the difference between a successful, healthy lifestyle and feeling ashamed when you walk past mirrors.

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