How to build a fitness habit that lasts

Oh hi there! We’re two weeks into the New Year! Or, we’re two weeks into January. Either way, we’re hoping you’re having a blast with your ongoing (or new!) health and fitness adventures!

In the event that you are having some trouble with starting or maintaining a new fitness habit, this is one is for you!

I would like to begin by saying ‘good for you!’ It’s a significant step when you decide you’re ready to make a change, so congratulations. And—I’m clearly biased in this area, but still—fitness is awesome.

You rule!

And, if you’re finding it hard to begin (or keep it going), I would like to take a moment to acknowledge a few things before we get into some strategies for making it easier for yourself:

  • One, you’re not alone.
  • Two, mainstream fitness hasn’t exactly made it easy for you.

Here’s the thing…

I start many of my bigger thoughts with ‘here’s the thing’

…I am passionate about fitness, but I know that not everyone else feels the same way. I mean, I’m pretty sure we all know that “fitness is important”, but somewhere along the line, somebody—or a group of somebodies—probably with the best of intentions, screwed things up.

For all too many people, fitness has become inaccessible and unwelcoming and intimidating. Maybe not for everyone—after all, nearly 20% of the population in North America has a gym membership—but for a lot of people, figuring out how to ‘get fit’ is a bit of a mindf*ck. (Fitness has also become synonymous with gym membership…but we’ll talk about that silly idea in a bit).

And yet, fitness—which can mean many things—is good for you. Your body craves movement. Your muscles love being challenged. Your mind thrives when your body feels strong.

But you know all that.

And then we have Mainstream Fitness. “The Gym”. Their collective efforts to help you often fall short of impressive.

In fact, sometimes I question just how much they really do want to help.

Wait. That’s not fair. There I was, mid-rant, and I drifted away from a place of compassion.

Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.

Hanlon’s razor

As I suggested above, chances are the people who work in marketing for mainstream fitness really do want to help you. I’m certain that the folx who work at the big box gyms want to help you. The thing is, the way they’re going about doing it sucks.

By now, you’ve probably been bombarded with all of the radio, TV, bus, subway, billboard, junk-mail flyer ads reminding you that all you have to pay is, like $10 a month and there’s no commitment!

Now, there’s something about this whole ‘no commitment’ deal that rubs me the wrong way. I think it sends the wrong message. From where I sit, this implies (or basically says) two things:

  • We’re not confident that you’ll want to stick with us for the long run, so we’re not going to ask you to stay (Inspiring, right?); and
  • We don’t really think you’re going to keep this up for the long run, so we’re not going to talk about the long run because we think it’ll probably scare you away.

I think the fitness industry has their messaging all wrong—and it’s to the detriment of the very people they seek to help, namely you.

So, in the name of being helpful, let’s talk about how to build a fitness habit that sticks!

First, let’s take a fresh look at this thing we call fitness.

First of all, fitness—as an idea—comes with a lot of baggage. The aforementioned mainstream fitness industry in tandem with other media (like popular fashion magazines) has done a bang-up job of creating a really distorted set of ideas surrounding what “fit” and/or “healthy” looks like and whether it’s even ok to look any differently. And then, somehow this has all gotten tied up in people’s sense of their own value and worth. It’s a bit of a mess that we’re not going to successfully untangle in one blog post, but…

For right now, I want you to know that we like you. Yeah, you. The human that you are. Since your value and worth as a human have nothing to do with how you look, your body fat percentage or the number on the scale, none of those things factor in to whether we like you or not…which we do, just to be clear. You’re awesome. 

Being a fan of nuance and non-binary world views, I would also like to offer that it is totally ok for you to love yourself as you are AND want to change your body AT THE SAME TIME. I have some issues with this idea of building a better body or improving your physique… largely because these ideas are so rooted in the idea that where you are now, the way your body looks right now, is somehow less than …that’s simply not helpful 

I recently read an old Mark Fisher blog post about Health and Hotness where he described working to change your body through fitness as “making art with your body”. I think this represents a much healthier way to look at things. Try it on, if you like. See how it feels.

So, the gyms out there don’t think they’re worth committing to. And maybe they’re not. Maybe the one-month trial is a good way to go: you can feel each other out, go on few dates and get a sense for whether you’re a good match before you make a longer-term commitment. That’s cool.

But also, consider this way of looking at it: this isn’t about the gym. This is about you. Whatever you choose, make sure that it lines up well with what you value and what’s important to you in this life. If your gym isn’t ready to commit to you, that’s fine. If you commit to you, you’ll be fine.

Focus on the Process

I imagine you have some fitness goals. Some changes you’d like to make. And, if you’re like many of the folx we work with, chances are getting from where you are now to where you want to be seems like a monumental, far-off, almost unimaginable undertaking.

So rather than getting freaked out by the scope of it all, I would like to suggest a shift in focus: focus on the process.

For the moment, forget about how far or near you might be to your goal. Instead, focus on taking the necessary steps to get there.

You’ll get where you want to go one step at a time, so for now, let’s focus on the next step.

This week, that might be getting one workout in. Or going for one ten-minute walk.

Shrink the Change

Now, don’t get me wrong, I get it: all of this commitment talk so early in the game can feel a bit daunting. (Unless you can tell you’re a really good fit for each other. I mean, when you know, you know, right?) So, I’d like to offer this: start small. Once you find a fitness option that feels like it might be a good match for you, pause for a moment and breathe.

I know, when you feel the chemistry, it can be tempting to go all-in right away. You decided you’re going to go to the gym (or class or wherever) five times per week. You’re going to take all of the classes and lift all of the weights. You’re going to totally rock this transformation!

And maybe you will, but often times, a sudden, dramatic change to your routine can be really challenging to maintain. It can be too much too soon. You don’t have an established strategy for navigating things like drinks with friends or times when you missed lunch and you’re feeling hungry or you’re feeling tired at the end of the work day…and then, when you miss your date, you feel guilty and like you’re failing.

Instead, let’s avoid all of that and make sure that your first step is one that you know (like 8 out of 10 confidence score or higher) you can do. If once per week is where you’re at right now, start there. Build some momentum with consistency for a few weeks or a month. And then, when you’re feeling like adding another workout into the mix would be easy, do that.

Fitness can be fun.

Note that physical activity isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Fitness doesn’t have to be in a gym. (Since we are—as I write this—about to open our doors as the small gym for people who don’t like “the gym”, we happen to prefer resistance training as it is what tends to get done in a “gym” setting, but if that’s not your jam, that’s cool. You do you).

Find something fun. Find something new. Find a friend and do something new or fun with that friend. Or, find new friends and do new, fun things with them.

Whatever it is that you choose, consider looking at fitness in terms of how it lines up with your personal values. It can be helpful to focus on the reason why you’re pursuing improved fitness and health. (For you!) And if you find that media portrayals of “fitness” are messing with you, consider unfollowing those accounts (either literally or metaphorically). We’ll make a point of posting soon with suggestions for some more body-positive, lift-you-up kind of media.

And those, my friends, are my thoughts on building a fitness habit that will last for the long run.

Of course, if you’d like help with building a fitness habit that lasts—and you’re in the Medford area—why not schedule a Strategy Session with us so we can see if we’d be a good fit?