You’ve tried working with a personal trainer, hitting the running trail, and signing up for every you’ve-got-to-try-this exercise class known to the fitness world. Still, if going to the gym feels a lot like dragging yourself to
the gym, you probably haven’t managed to make it the automatic habit it needs to be in order to stay consistent.
The solution: Stop focusing on your workout and start paying attention to cues that make you want to move, suggest new findings published in the journal Health Psychology. In the study, researchers from Iowa State University and King’s College London examined the exercise habits of 118 healthy adults and found that those who set cues for themselves — like keeping running shoes next to the front door, setting a cellphone reminder, or heading straight to the gym after work — were more likely to exercise
That’s because, when it comes to making exercise a habit, it’s not the exercise itself that’s the hard part. “It’s getting started,” says study co-author L. Alison Phillips, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University. “So if that decision is automatic, then the person doesn’t have to spend mental energy and self-control to force him or herself to engage in exercise.”
What’s more, the study found that internal cues — thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations — are better at making exercise a habit than external ones like alarm clocks. Internal cues can range from feeling like your legs are tight when you’ve been sitting at your desk for too long, to feeling your blood pressure rise when your to-do list spirals out of control, Phillips says. “Once an individual learns that exercise can ‘treat’ a negative mood or stress, then he or she might form a habit from that internal cue.”