How to Make Exercise a Habit

Another New Year, another set of resolutions. These may include spending more time with the family, eating more vegetables, and the popular resolution to exercise more.

Who doesn’t want to feel fitter and healthier? So what stops us, and what can we do about it?

“Wanting to make exercise a habit and actually doing it are two different things,” says James Clear, author of the bestseller Atomic Habits.

“Changing your behaviour is difficult. Living a new type of lifestyle is hard. This is especially true when you throw in very personal feelings about body image and self-worth.”

Clear recommends developing a ritual to make starting your exercise session easier.

“Habits are behaviours that you repeat over and over again, which means they are also behaviours that you start over and over again. In other words, if you don’t consistently get started, then you won’t have a habit. In many ways, building new habits is simply an exercise in getting started time after time.”


Habit stacking

How to make getting started easier? You can add your exercise routine on top of another, easier routine. This is known as habit stacking.

The formula is this:

Before/after/when [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. Some examples:

  • Before I get into bed at night, I will get out my workout clothes for the following morning.
  • After I get out of bed in the morning, I will put on my workout clothes.
  • After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into my running shoes.
  • When I see a set of stairs, I will take them instead of the escalator or lift.
  • When I listen to my favourite podcast, I will go for a walk.

Unsure of the right trigger for your habit?

Clear recommends brainstorming a list of your current daily habits – for instance, get out of bed, take a shower, make a coffee, eat lunch. You can make your list as long as you like, but what it gives you is a starting point to find the best place to layer your new habit into your lifestyle.

Clear also suggests making sure your cue is highly specific. Rather than saying:
“When I take a break for lunch I will do 10 push-ups” change it to: “When I close my computer for lunch, I will do 10 push-ups next to my desk.”