How to start an exercise habit, 3 times a week

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My critics might wonder, and laugh, at why I’ve been walking to the gym in my fitness outfit with my headphones on, only to turn tail at the electronic turnstile and walk straight back home.

Well, guys, laugh you may, but I’m trying to entrench the habit of exercising three times a week, because over the next year I want to lose some of the extra weight I’ve gained since having my third child.

Wait, are you suggesting that exercise is an ‘eating happit’?

Eating happits banner croppedYes, exercise and eating really do go together.

  • How you take your energy in, with how you animate it in your funky skeleton.
  • Your appetite needs your movement to start talking to you.
  • Your emotions need your deep breaths as a conduit to rise to your attention.
  • You need to be ‘in’ your body – to embody – to gently cultivate the awareness of body wisdom that you need in order to make the thousand tiny improved wise food decisions that lead to weight optimization.

Here’s the bald truth of the matter:

If you just want to make fitness progress (for example, improve your running or maintain your ability to do 5K), you really need to do it three times a week. And if you want to lose weight, maybe even four or five times.

Are you ready to begin? Then begin with me, by taking on the habit of exercising three times a week.

Here’s how…


Three women exercising

Go get ’em tiger. Laura Lloyd 2016

1.) Choose activities you love. Think ‘movement’ – forget tough-sounding words like ‘exercise’ and ‘workout’. Any embodiment activity that puts a big smile on your face.

2.) Choose what cheers you up. Music on headphones, an inspiring instructor, fresh air and watching the seasons, a luxurious ‘here-are-your-towels-madam’ welcome at an expensive gym, the swimming pool with a little jacuzzi beside it you could visit afterwards, nice post-workout shower gel, the quartz crystal lamplight and free lemon verbena tea at my yoga studio, boingy trainers fitted by a specialist… these are all things that have, in the past, been an incentive to me to show up and enjoy my exercise. What cheers up your exercise?

3.) Plan WHEN you’ll do it. 3 slots in the week. Same time, same activity. Discuss with your partner/childcare support person and make sure they are on board to support you in sticking to these slots. Eyeball a couple of ‘backup’ times you could exercise if something gets in the way of your regular times.

4.) Focus on establishing the routine, not on the actual exercise. It’s imperative that you always do it at the appointed times; irrelevant how much you do.

5.) Be single-minded about forming this habit. Don’t work on any other habits at the same time. If it were easy, you’d have nailed it already. It requires your focus and your creativity and your powers of persausion (of your family) and your dexterity to work it around your other commitments. Don’t set yourself any eating habits goals – don’t worry, we’ll work on that in these subsequent months. Don’t set yourself any weight loss goals or any ‘getting up early’ goals or any ‘not-checking-facebook-at-bedtime’ goals. Put all your energy where it matters: building an exercise habit that will last you a whole year and beyond.

6.) Prepare your gear in advance. Put your kit in a bag. Do you need headphones? A travelcard? A waterbottle? A coin for the locker? Flipflops for the shower? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the gym thirsty or come home from swimming uncomfortably commando under jeans. Managing your kit is an important part of your habit: how you wash it and replace it in your bag. It takes all your motivation to pick up your kit and get out of the door, so don’t make it any harder by having to rummage around for stuff.

7.) Log it on a chart with a big smiley face every time you do it. Do a trial run of your habit for the whole month – after 4 weeks your habit has a decent chance of being fairly well cemented. Know that the first week you’ll have enthusiasm, the second will be harder, the third week’s main danger will be forgetting to do it, the fourth week you’ll be bored and have no willpower left and might have to grit your teeth a bit and power through.

8.) Set up reminders. Phone, postits, calendar, your bag blocking your exit from the house. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the main challenge to doing a new habit is forgetting to do it. There you are, putting a pint to your lips, and you fall off your barstool thinking “Sheizit! I’m supposed to be at Zumba!”

9.) Name a juicy reward if you achieve 90% success rate on your chart. Now name an even juicier one. Is your reward fun enough? Go on, name a really big, fun, decent, deserve-it incentive.

10.) Be flexible around slipups. Slipups are as irrelevant as your child falling down while she’s learning to walk. If you like you can use your backup timeslots to make up for missed sessions. Don’t make yourself ‘do more’ or punish yourself, the backup slots are there so you don’t miss out, and learning to deal with things getting in the way of your routine is part of making a bulletproof habit.

11.) Name a humorously awful penalty if you hit less than 80% success in the whole month. I’m wholeheartedly against self-punishment, this is just for the daring of it, for fun.

12.) Be accountable to someone. Nominate a personal coach – friend, or partner, who will only say supportive things like ‘Go get’em tiger!’ and ‘You might feel reluctant right now, but you never regret it once you did it’. Send a text say you’re about to do it, or that you’ve done it, or use a Facebook forum.

13.) Anticipate obstacles. Plan what you’ll do if you feel ill or have a cold (“Then I’ll go to the nice warm gym and just walk on the treadmill instead” or “Then I’ll walk to the sauna place and treat myself” or “then I’ll rest and go first thing at the weekend”). Plan what you’ll do if you’re not in your home town that week. Plan what you’ll do if you’ve chosen swimming and it’s too icy to cycle to the pool.

14.) Protect your chosen times. Don’t organise your social life at those times. Don’t get pressed for meetings or hot dates. Those are your times. Obviously, a little bit of flexibility is cool – an unmissable event in a timetable clash will mean you use a backup slot.

15.) Know that everybody’s impressed when you’re exercising. Well, you can at least imagine that they are. And you can also think impressed thoughts about other people you see exercising, because you know what an accomplishment it is to make it out the door. Sometimes, the thought that other people are judging and ridiculing us (“everyone is thinking look at that flumpy woman jogging so slowly”) is a real obstacle. But what if they are just not thinking that at all? And what if you stop thinking that about other people too and start flashing that amazing smile of yours around?

The best news? You get to use these habit skills over and over and over. 

All this stuff is pretty much true of any habit you create in your life. You can use these skills later. Can you see that there’s a world of difference between saying “I’ll exercise three times a week, OK got it” and actually doing the little tiny peripheral actions that really make it happen?

Then use your creativity and focus to make this one thing happen this month. Go get’em kiddo!

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How’s it going, forming your exercise habit? Feel free to pitch in in the comment thread below. I make it my business to join in the conversation when you talk to me people!