You know those people who make it to the gym day after day without fail? Six p.m. (or a.m.) hits and you know exactly where to find them. A new study published in the journal Health Psychology proves that that type of gymgoer is inherently different from the type who drops in for classes here and there. Which is good news for the people who’ve already got the magic trait. But the even better news (especially for those of us who fall into the second category) is that the difference is something that you can develop and strengthen over time.
Scroll through to find out what the mental trick is to make you a regular gymgoer!
You’ve heard this advice before: Don’t think of exercise as a chore. Consistent exercisers really take that notion to heart, and they take it a step further. The study found that the most consistent exercisers were those who made exercise part of a specific habit. Rather thinking about exercise as an activity on its own, they connect it to something larger, like their post-work decompress and de-stress time or simply part of their morning routine. For these people, exercise is intrinsically tied to a habit, and they do it almost automatically, without thinking about it. The cue is either internal—Today was a long day… Now it’s time to blow off steam at the gym—or an external one—when the alarm goes off, they wake up and lace up their gym shoes (they don’t hit snooze, roll over, and debate if today is a morning-workout day or not).
The researchers called this habit an “instigation habit.” They wanted to see whether that instigation habit was a good indicator of whether or not a person would stick with their exercise routine. And it was. The only factor that predicted how often a person exercised over the course of the study was the strength of their instigation habit. The researchers also found that it got stronger over time. When a person began exercising more frequently, that habit of associating exercise with a particular part of their regular routine increased. Other factors the study assessed (like the “execution habit”—knowing your workout routine to the point that you can go through the motions without thinking about it) had no such effect.
The main takeaway here is that even if you don’t initially fall into the high instigation habit category, you can get there. Getting back into a gym routine after a lengthy hiatus (including a lifelong hiatus) is tough. But if you do it, it will pay off, and eventually working out will begin to feel less and less like a chore and more like part of your daily routine. The moral of the story? Integrate exercise into your daily life, and it can become a lifelong habit.
Need a little more encouragement before you dive into an exercise regimen? Try reading Dr. Michelle Segar’s No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness ($11).
Would you say you have high or low instigation habits? Tell us below!