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We all know that forming a good exercise habit is very important for a number of reasons, good health, good looks, good energy, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, those really great reasons aren’t enough for most of us (myself included). Now listen… you don’t coin the phrase “lazy runner” by being an up-and-at-em-hitting-the-pavement-at-6AM kind of girl. Yeah, I’m far from it. Sometimes it feels like I need to trick myself into exercising. However, when I can find the motivation to workout and stick with a consistent exercise routine I feel top notch.
So, when I asked my panel of expert contributors for their advice about starting and maintaining an exercise routine, I was delighted to meet Steve Levinson, a clinical psychologist, inventor, and author of “Following Through” whose philosophies proved to be some effective dupery after my own heart. He says,
“Learn what it really takes to behave in accord with one’s own good intentions. There are two very different strategies I’d recommend for starting and sticking to an exercise program.”
Creating Compelling Reasons
The first strategy, which I call “Creating Compelling Reasons,” involves giving yourself a truly compelling reason to exercise. By “truly compelling,” I mean a reason that makes you actually feel – not just think – right now like you absolutely must exercise. You see, the most common reasons we have for deciding to exercise – like improving health or controlling weight – aren’t compelling at all. Sure, they’re excellent reasons to decide to exercise, but they do a decidedly lousy job of actually motivating us – and keeping us motivated – to follow through.
Here’s how Joe used the Creating Compelling Reasons strategy to finally follow through on his good intention to stick with an exercise program:
Joe deliberately put himself in a situation that he knew would make him feel like he had to go to the gym every day. He did it by making one simple promise: “From now on, I’ll have only one stick of underarm deodorant, and I’ll keep it in my locker at the gym.” That’s all it took. Before using the Creating Compelling Reasons strategy, Joe used to tell himself every morning, “Joe, you really should get up and go to the gym,” but more often than not, he didn’t actually go. Now he FEELS like he absolutely must go to the gym. “Heck, I have no choice,” he says. “It’s either go to the gym or stink all day! And once I get to the gym, I’d feel pretty foolish if I just used my deodorant and left. So I exercise.”
Leading the Horse to Water
The second strategy is a kinder and gentler one. I call it “Leading the Horse to Water.” It’s a strategy that allows you to inch forward by preventing you from having to do anything that feels unpleasant enough to cause you to completely abandon your exercise goal. Leading the Horse to Water involves agreeing to do only what’s easy and not worth avoiding. What makes this strategy effective is that by lowering the bar, you make it possible to actually build a routine or habit that will eventually enable you to achieve your goal. I used this strategy myself to establish a routine of riding an exercise bike for 45 minutes every day. I began by agreeing only to do the following:
I would put on my exercise clothes and sit on the bike with my feet on the peddles. That’s all. Because I could get off the bike whenever I wanted and still fulfill my exercise obligation for the day, I no longer had any basis for avoiding “exercise.” So I “exercised” every day. Most days, once I was seated on the bike, I peddled, and because I knew that I could stop peddling at any time without being a quitter, it was actually easier for me to peddle longer without waking up the Avoidance Monster. Eventually I reached my goal and created a truly self-sustaining exercise habit.
Do you use trickery to keep yourself in a routine? Please share!
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