How to Make Exercise a Habit You Love

If you just can't learn to love exercise, this article from Shape will help you change your mind-set and embrace a sweaty workout routine.


Missing the motivation to move? You could be thinking about exercise in all the wrong ways. That's because exercise should be a reward—and we've become conditioned to see it as a punishment, says Michelle Segar, Ph.D., a motivation scientist and author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness (out June 10). In fact, one of the best ways to build long-term motivation to stay fit is learning how to stop stressing out about all of the things typically associated with exercise—weight control, disease prevention, strength, and endurance. Having fun with your workouts helps you stick with 'em—research proves it. So, ready to kick short-term motivation to the curb and garner up the motivation needed to exercise for life?

Don't Confine Your Activity to the Gym
Your workout doesn't have to take place in a gym or with a bootcamp instructor looming over you. Physical activity can occur in the context of your everyday life, says Segar. And this is the best way to make it habit! Look at your daily life and discover where hidden movement is, she suggests. One of Segar's favorite ways to sneak in exercise? By taking "the long cut"—the longest distance to any one place. She also actively waits, taking a walk while her son is at karate practice, for example, and makes family time active, so they bond and exercise at the same time.

Treat Fitness as a Gift
Exercise shouldn't feel like something you "should" do. Switch your mindset to see exercise as a gift to your body, instead of a burden, and you'll condition yourself to want to do it, says Segar. Need proof? Don't you feel energized and happy after a good workout? That sense of renewal and revitalization is a present you give to yourself, she says. Thinking about exercise in this way—and doing activities that make you happy—will give you an immediate reward, which feels inspiring.

Set Learning Goals
There are two different types of goals: performance goals (like exercising five times a week to lose 15 pounds) and learning goals (discovering how to stay consistently fit for life). Most of us set performance goals, especially when we think about exercise and weight loss. Research in the field of education has found that learning goals are more motivational, though, says Segar. "When our goal is to learn, we are naturally curious and interested and want to pay attention when challenges arise." This keeps you invested over the long-term—while there is always something new to learn, willpower dips after you meet a performance goal, like finishing a 10K. Not sure where to start? Master indoor rock climbing, road cycling, or sign up for a new class every week.

Focus on Post-Workout Bliss
Your day-to-day decision to exercise (or not) is probably an emotional one, not a logical one, explain Segar. (Most decision-making stems from your emotional system.) So the excuses you tell yourself ("I'm too tired! I just don't feel like it! I'd rather sleep in!")—ignore 'em! Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that these emotional reactions are based on immediate feelings, whereas logical decision-making is focused on a future outcome. So tune into your logical side by focusing on how great you'll feel right after you finish your workout. Thinking of that immediate benefit will get you out of bed because it appeals to your emotional side (feel good now) and your logical side (rock a bikini next month!). Over time, you'll be so used to thinking about exercise as something that makes you feel good, that you'll no longer think of it as a chore.

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