As I prepare for my 2500-mile bike ride, I am sometimes asked how a guy in his late fifties can turn an exercise routine into habit? After giving it some thought, I have broken the challenge into 5 basic steps.
Step 1 – Remove all obstacles. Turning exercise into a habit is really not much different than making any routine a habit, no matter what your age. The real key to making a routine a habit is to remove as many obstacles as possible in order to build an easily repeatable routine. Experts say to turn a routine into a habit you must faithfully repeat it at least 63 times. Weird number. A routine becomes a habit when you accomplish the routine without much or any thought. You just do it. So the simple first key to developing a habit is to develop a routine that has as many obstacles removed from it as possible. In my cycling example, I am most successful when I put my workouts on the calendar, inform my wife so she can pester me to get out of bed, and lay out all my gear in an easy to find fashion. If it is hard…
Step 2 – Identify a trigger. The second key is really mental. I look for and focus on a single task that becomes a Pavlovian trigger moving me automatically through my routine. The hardest task to get me out the door is not getting on the bike. It is putting on my riding tights. For some reason, prior to that task, I can talk myself out of the drill completely. However, if I get my gear on…heart monitor, glide cream, sun block, ear buds, and tights…I am good to go. As soon as I dress out, I am exercising. Getting on the bike is thoughtless because I am over the difficult prep hump. That is key for me. So, putting out my riding gear and getting into as soon as possible moves me into the act of exercise automatically.
Step 3 – Make the exercise enjoyable. A third key is to make my task of riding my bike meaningful and enjoyable. I am almost 60. I am not trying out for the US Olympic cycling team. At my age, I don’t say, ‘no pain, no gain’. Rather, ‘No pain, no injury’. I have nothing to prove. I am not chasing yesterday’s time. I am out for a ride. The most important accomplishment for me is have a good time and not do anything that will hurt my chances for riding tomorrow. I make the experience as comfortable as possible. I must be warm, have an earbud in one ear, have a tasty drink, protein bar, and have a seat that works…thank God for Brooks Saddles…shameless plug.
Step 4 – Set “Go/No-Go” Standards. Fourth, remove subjective criteria that are influenced by lazy thinking. Sometimes I wake up, look out the window and convince myself the weather looks bad and roll over. I became more successful when I traded subjectivity with objective metrics. The temperature must be warmer than 45 degrees, check. It must be dry, check. The winds must be less than 12 mph, check…get your tights on.
Step 5 – Set reachable and meaningful goals. I set reachable goals that are success oriented. For me it is not speed or even distance. For me it is pedal cadence average and total seat time. I set my exercise goals in my app and let it happen. The goals are always high enough to be meaningful, low enough to react to calendar realities, no guilt, just reward.
By removing obstacles, creating triggers that launch you into your routine, making your task enjoyable, removing negative subjective influences, and setting reachable goals, you will have a greater chance of enjoying a routine that can become a natural habit that is repeatable.