by HAC Member, Jean Youkers
Each time I go out of town or skip my regular fitness classes for some reason, I cringe in fear that my predictable routine will be completely derailed and I’ll be afflicted with a serious case of “couch potato” syndrome. After all, it took a long time to create a good routine that I now follow as if it’s second nature. I want to maintain, not regress!
There is a wealth of information online about breaking bad habits, but tips to avoid breaking good ones are conspicuously scarce. I read many articles about forming good habits, in case I have to start all over again to rebuild a lapsed routine or add some new habits. The literature claims that it takes between 22 and 66 days to form a new habit.
The ease of habit formation also depends on the degree of complexity of the habit to be created. For example, adding one new pill to a daily regime is fairly simple if it can be linked to a certain mealtime, or adding a few stretches between putting on running shoes and taking off. Following a more complicated task (for example, use of multiple eyedrops or caring for a new medical device) would likely take longer. This was the case for me when I tried to add 10 workout moves, using new equipment, at HAC — I had a written list to which I had to refer for several weeks before they became second nature. In fact, they aren’t second nature yet.
I believe the best starting point for habit formation is setting reasonable goals for ourselves. I can’t count the times that I’ve resolved to work out for a specific amount of time for seven days a week. My unrealistically elevated expectations only led to a feeling of failure, which in turn, really did derail me from the best-laid plans!
Now I set reasonable goals and also connect my good habits to other existing behaviors. The first one was having everything in my gym bag and clothing laid out the night before my early aquatics class, linking the behavior of running out the door to HAC with an existing behavior: that of simply waking up. On the mornings I go to the gym, I’m on automatic pilot. I don’t have to think that I need a towel, car keys and other items before I hit the road. It’s all there, it’s automatic, and when the alarm clock chirps, I’m ready. It takes only 9 minutes and I’m out the door. It’s habitual behavior now, with no thinking required.
Everyone I’ve talked to at HAC who has created similar good workout habits fears losing ground if they go off their routine for a week. If they take off on vacation, they’re hell-bent on putting backup plans in place. When HAC dietitian, Jeanne Versagli embarked on three almost back-to-back summer trips, she made sure to pack her running shoes and workout clothes; if she couldn’t be on the HAC treadmills, she was determined to find other treadmills or trails to tread in Indiana, Florida, and Utah.
Another HAC member reminisces about the time she visited her hometown for two weeks and speed-walked up and down Main Street and right into a Weight Watchers meeting. We don’t have to drop our workout routines, but simply find substitutes for them.
If I miss only a day or two of my usual HAC visits due to unexpected illness or schedule conflicts, I believe the best thing is to return on the very next possible day, rather than becoming discouraged and making matters worse. Once our good habits have been formed, all we need to do is repeat, repeat, and repeat. This is how we can hold on to them. This would seem to be especially true when, as one article pointed out, we’ve chosen workout routines that we actually like in the first place.