Making exercise a habit requires this

One word: Preparation

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Packing your gym bag the night before and putting it near the door puts you one step closer to making exercise a habit.

We’ve probably heard some version of the 5 P’s: Prior planning prevents poor performance. 

While it’s true in all facets of life, it has never been more apparent when it comes to making exercise a habit. The execution is the ultimate measuring stick, but we have to set ourselves up for success if we’re going to have a fighting chance. It’s not only about physical preparation but also about mental preparation.

I always start with the mental preparation which comes down to one question, “Why?”

As in “Why do I want to make exercise a habit?” – Do I want to lose 10 pounds? Do I want to lower my BMI? Do I want to be able to fight off illness easier by being in better shape? Do I want to run a half-marathon? 

The “Why” has to be strong enough to sustain us on the days when our willpower and discipline are waning. It has to become so automatic that it’s a non-negotiable. We just do it, because it’s ingrained in us. It also has to be specific. We can’t just say we want to lose weight. Generalizations don’t get it done.

My “Why” is that I want to be a healthier version of myself by losing five pounds and running a half-marathon in five months. During the last two years, my exercise habit has been sporadic at best. The result is that I’ve taken more sick days from my day job during that time frame than I care to admit. If there’s something going around, I get it. The mental stress of my job has run me down to where I physically need a break.

Previous to the last two years, I was in great shape and rarely took a sick day off. I was in the gym 1-2 hours a day, 5 days a week. My body fat was down to 14%, and I was training for and running half-marathons. 

What happened? I took a day off here and there, because I stopped making exercise a priority. I had more added to my plate at work. I chose to do others things instead. Plain and simple, I got out of the habit of exercise. It became negotiable. I lost track of my “Why.”  

So, the first order of business is to always come back to “Why.” Write it down and put it where it can be seen daily. 

The next step is to schedule it into your day and make it consistent. I tried being a morning exercise person, but it just didn’t work for me. I’m a 4:00-6:00 p.m., late afternoon exercise person. I was an athlete in high school and a high school coach for a bulk of my adult life. That time frame means practice in my mind, which equates to physical activity. 

Write it in your schedule for the day and make it like a meeting. You don’t cancel out on meetings, so don’t cancel out on yourself. 

And know what works for you. Do you like working out at a gym or outside? Do you enjoy group classes, working with a trainer, exercising with a friend, or going it alone?

I’m a loner and I like working out at the gym. I put in my earbuds and lift and do cardio. I run outside whenever possible. I know what works for me. Whatever works for you, do it.

Once the mental aspects of preparation are in place, then it’s time to put the physical preparation together. While some of the logistics above have to do with physical preparation, here’s the key: pack your bag and put it by the door so you can’t leave without it. 

Make sure you have everything in your bag you need: clothes, shoes, earbuds, listening device, water bottle, snack, etc. 

And then double-check to make sure it’s all there. One time I arrived at the gym, went into the bathroom to change, and came out unchanged a few moments later. It’s tough to work out when you’ve left your shoes at home. Ugh!

The bottoms line is this: making exercise means making it a priority, preparing for success, and then executing. 

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