How to Make Fitness Habits Stick
How do you build up discipline and willpower?
People who learn of some of my habits say “I wish I had your discipline.”
But no one is born with a great level of discipline.
As humans, we naturally seek the path of least resistance.
We follow the dopamine spikes.
We do things that feel good for a millisecond, even if we know they’re making our lives worse in the long run.
This is how we’ve evolved, and it takes a lot of practise to go against these instincts.
In the past, I’ve had terrible discipline
Discipline is something I’ve had to build.
I used to do the following:
- I would snooze my alarm 6 times
- I would drink 4 litres of sugary Coca Cola (not zero) in an evening and hate myself for it, then do it again the next evening. And the next. Oh and I was eating chocolate every evening too – and a lot of it – whilst playing videogames until 4am.
- I would eat 12 chocolate bars (small ones – but still 130 calories each) in one go.
- I would stay up until 4am playing video games and sleep until 12pm.
- I got into 15 grand of credit card debt (no longer have that by the way).
- I would stay up watching YouTube videos in bed for 3 hours longer than I meant to, then be tired for work or miss the gym the next day.
- I would spend 90% of my waking hours playing video games if I had the chance and let important things go – like cooking for myself, tidying my room or doing the dishes.
You get the picture.
Discipline is a muscle – you have to train it
The point I’m making is this:
You don’t just become someone with crazy levels of discipline one day. You have to train yourself, taking small steps, and it takes time.
If you’ve set yourself a load of goals for this year to change your life, you might be setting yourself up for failure.
New habits you want to start all at once:
- Exercise 5 times a week
- Stop smoking
- Cut your alcohol consumption in half
- Start paying more than the minimum on your credit card
- Work on your own business daily
- Stop eating all junk food
- Start meditating
- Write in your journal
It’s TOO MUCH!
You WILL fail. Once you stop doing one of the things, it’s incredibly easy to just give up on all of it. And then you feel like shit.
Focus on just one thing.
Ask yourself, how can I break that thing down into a small chunk and get really good at doing that small chunk?
If you have a list of things you want to start doing, pick one of them and then make it easy to win.
Don’t aim to go to the gym 5 times per week at first. Just aim to go twice.
Once you can make it to the gym twice per week, up it to 3 times.
Don’t try to add another new habit until you’ve made the first one automatic!
James Clear talks about this as the number one reason new habits fail in this article – trying to change too many things at once.
He also recommends making habits easy by making it a habit to do “one pushup” or “floss one tooth” – an interesting approach you could explore.
I recommend starting with the gym. It gives you discipline and helps you to realise that nothing is achieved overnight, but with small steps over a long time.
You can use James Clear’s approach and just make it your habit to pack your gym bag each night.
As you build your gym habit, you’ll be training your discipline and willpower muscles too, and it will carry over to the rest of your life. Productivity, finances, relationships, tiredness, money, business, work etc.
Your program needs to allow adherence
If your gym routine consists of being barked at by a gym instructor, and having instructions to do pushups, burpees, sprinting on the spot, etc. being yelled for an hour – you’re probably not going to keep that up.
Physical activity is not punishment for food eaten during the week. You don’t need to work yourself until you’re dripping with sweat, your legs can hardly support you and you want to get sick.
There’s no need to follow a routine like this. MOST people would find that hell. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it.
Your workouts don’t need to actually make you that sweaty at all. Lifting programs that will transform you into a more muscular, stronger version of yourself have NO requirement for feeling like crap. Usually only the last couple of reps in a set are really hard, and much of the time is spent sitting resting between sets. Even those last couple of reps don’t make you feel sick or sweat, you just might struggle to move the weight from point A to point B…
Guess what? You will still make AWESOME progress!
If your motivation is fat loss, you’ll actually have FAR more luck if you just spend more time focusing on your diet and trying to get the calories you consume to be a sufficient amount lower than the calories you expend.
That is SO MUCH MORE LIKELY to result in fat loss and is 1000X easier than being put through an unsustainable torture program by a drill sergeant.
Is Your Motivation Extrinsic or Intrinsic?
Extrinsic motivation means that your motivation for wanting to take up the habit comes from some external factor.
This is usually how it starts.
You don’t want to make a habit of going to the gym because it brings you joy… you want to do it because you’ve got a holiday or a wedding coming up, or someone made a comment about the way you look that you didn’t like. You’ve identified this habit as a way to solve some problem or alleviate some pain.
Extrinsic motivation makes habits harder to keep up.
Eventually, you may find the motivation becomes intrinsic. This means the activity itself is the motivation for doing it. You can easily keep the habit going when the motivation is intrinsic. You enjoy the activity, and you hate going too long without doing it.
Physical activity usually becomes intrinsic after a few months of keeping it up.
Your identity begins to shift. You become “someone who works out”. When you don’t do it, you miss it, and you will make huge efforts to try to fit the activity in somehow.
You enjoy the activity and it’s really easy to keep the streak going.
Start Making Small Changes Today
- It’s not all or nothing
- Small changes DO make a difference when they add up
- It’s better to make tiny steps forward for a really long time than a few leaps forward, and then falling back into old ways.
Need some help losing fat?
I’ve put together a fat loss ebook which you can download completely free here.