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How To Create A Movement Habit And Stick To It

Ever tried to develop an exercise habit and couldn't stick to it? Find out why that might be and what to do instead to become a lifelong mover.

Ever tried to develop an exercise habit and found yourself unable to stick with it?


If so, you aren’t alone. The difficulty in maintaining an exercise habit happens for a variety of reasons. It might be that you tried too much too soon. Or more likely, you just didn’t find something you actually enjoyed enough to stick to.

One of the most common questions I hear as a physical therapist is, “What kind of exercise program is best for me?”

My answer is always, “The one that you enjoy enough to show up for every day.”

There really isn’t a right or wrong answer when it comes to movement. And while this approach sounds simple in theory, it can take some trial and error to figure it out.

One of the most common problems I run in to is the use of the word “exercise”. For some, it carries a lot of baggage because they think they have put off developing an “exercise” habit for too long. They fall into the trap of thinking it’s too late for them. This negative thought pattern sets them up for failure before they’ve even started.

There is a simple solution though…. what if we use the word “movement” instead of “exercise”?

Getting more movement in your day sounds a lot less intimidating than “daily exercise habit”, right?

As Katy Bowman argues in her book Movement Matters, humans were designed to be movers. Movement was part of the lifestyle of humans thousands of years ago for survival purposes. Now most of us tend to fall into the trap of thinking it’s just a necessary evil. Exercise is a modern construct designed to compensate for a sedentary lifestyle. So it makes more sense to make yourself a better mover than a better exerciser.

Adopting a movement habit and keeping it can actually be a painless process. Here’s how to start to develop the habit and actually stick to it:

1. Know Your Why

Having a why is the most important part of any process, as detailed by Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why. It’s hard to stick to any habit without first defining your why.

And that why looks different for everyone. Your why might be to live a healthier life. It might be to spend more quality time with your loved ones. It might be so you don’t miss out on the fun. There is no wrong answer here, but everyone must start with a why.

Without this step, you won’t have the motivation to develop any new habit. Keep your why in mind with every action you take.

2. The Set Up

Once you’ve established your why, the next step is to set your environment up in a way that makes it impossible to fail.

Small actions like keeping your yoga mat out and visible, clearing a small designated movement space in your living room, or setting up a desk area that encourages movement makes all the difference. The more barriers you can remove, the better.

Keeping your environment set up also gives you a visual reminder when you are adopting new habits. Set your environment up in a way that makes movement an easy decision.

3. Show Up Every Day

Small actions are more important than quantity of time spent moving in the initial stages. Commit to small actions like sitting on the floor instead of the couch, practicing one deep breath, or even just standing on your yoga mat for a few minutes. By taking these small steps, you prove to yourself you can show up and start to build confidence.

This also establishes triggers for your new habit. Focus on showing up multiple days in a row. Start with the smallest action possible. As James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits, you have to show up consistently before you can start to improve a habit.

Make a commitment to show up every day.

4. Build The Habit

Once you’ve mastered the art of showing up every day, the next step is to continue to build the habit.

There are several ways you can make this possible by focusing either on quantity, quality, or both.

You can add more variety or mindfulness to your movement in small ways to focus on quality. Gradually increase your time spent moving to focus on quantity. And slowly start to evolve your practice to include both.

By following these small, simple steps you will be a better mover in no time! More importantly, you will develop a habit you can be excited to show up for every day.

At one time or another, even the most committed movers fall out of established habits. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, refer back to these steps to establish the habit all over again. What keeps you moving every day?

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