Why are you falling off the exercise bandwagon
on February 18, 2021 • Grace
As we get farther removed from the excitement and resolve that come with the start of the new year, many people find themselves struggling to muster the motivation to continue working out. What does it really matter if another day is skipped?
I’m here to tell you, you’re right. Depending on your goals, it doesn’t really matter if a day is skipped. People’s priorities change, and this is completely natural and healthy. However, if you read that and feel a little injured because you think, “But I want working out to be a priority,” the first step is to cut yourself some slack. Guilt and self-blame are unproductive. Times are not easy for anyone right now, and the first step towards a better relationship with yourself is to extend to yourself the same kindness and accommodation you would to anyone else. A setback is merely that–nothing more, nothing less–and it can be acknowledged and moved on from.
The next step is to remember the power of routine in changing our behaviours. There is a reason we keep talking about routine: external motivations can run hot and cold, and relying on them alone to propel you towards action will often result in disillusionment at best, or, at worse, the kind of disappointment that leads you to give up on a goal for good. Once something is a routine, though, it becomes embedded in your habits. As Charles Duhigg explores in his book The Power of Habit, routines are repeated actions that become habitual—meaning, we do them almost automatically—because of their associations with rewards in our minds. The rewards we get from exercise are many, from feeling better and performing better to looking better. However, it is only through repetition that these mental associations become strong enough to create a lasting habit, which is where the value of routine becomes paramount.
The best routine is the one that works for you. It needs to be repeated frequently enough to become ingrained as a habit, but it also needs to be realistic according to your lifestyle and your goals. Training for maintenance of cardiovascular health will look very different, then, to training to win a competition. Because of this, when planning your routine, you need to honestly assess your lifestyle and your goals and see how they can best fit together. Then, you need to come up with a specific plan about what will act as a cue for this new routine: will the cue be a specific time of day, or upon waking, or maybe just before dinner? Specificity and actionability are key because, in order for this routine to become a habit, studies show it will have to be repeated anywhere from almost three weeks to over eight months, with most routines becoming habitual at around two months.
Again, anything worth having is worth working for, and a routine is a good way to make working towards those goals an automatic part of your life. Time will pass whether or not you take action, but when you’re ready, the power of routine will help you to harness the future and make it what you want it to be.