How to motivate yourself to exercise

It’s not what you do when you exercise — be it running, walking, rowing or biking — but how you motivate yourself to do it, day in and day out. Exercise is only effective when it’s done regularly, and the key to making exercise a daily habit begins with a routine. The trick is making exercise a habit that is hard to break. How do you that? Alison Phillips, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University in Ames, says it’s easier to accomplish if you focus on cues that make going for a run or to the gym automatic. In addition, following the same routine can help build self-confidence about exercising. It’s called an instigation habit, which means you’ll begin exercising without even having to think a lot about it or consider the pros or cons. What sort of cues will instigate the habit of exercising? They vary for each of us, but some examples include:

  • The end of the work day means driving to the gym before going home.
  • The alarm clock goes off in the morning, which means it’s time to hit the basement treadmill.
  • After sitting at your desk for several hours, you stand up and walk. This is an internal cue, and while it’s the hardest to develop, it can be the strongest habit once it is formed.

These habits don’t happen overnight. Some research suggests it can take a month or even longer of repeated behavior to develop the instigation habit so the cue reliably triggers the behavior.