4 Ways to Make Running a Habit

AFTER A FEW weeks of running, you’ll begin to believe that there’s something to this “runner’s high” thing. Feel-good brain chemicals—like dopamine and endocannabinoids—will be released while you’re on the road, and you’ll feel so proud of what you accomplished that it will take more discipline to rest than to work out.

But until that happens, it can be hard to force yourself out the door. And relying on willpower just won’t work, experts say. “We tell ourselves we will make ourselves do it, but that puts a lot of strain on your willpower resources, and everyone’s willpower is a limited resource,” says Heidi Grant Halversorn, associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University’s Business School. Once your resolve gets weak—when you’re tired or stressed, and there are so many things that seem more appealing than running—willpower breaks down.

Here are some tips on how to make running a habit and make it stick from Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. “Once exercise becomes a habit, it just feels easier,” says Duhigg, who trained for the 2012 New York City Marathon. “So when you don’t feel like doing it, it doesn’t take as much willpower.”

1. MAKE A PLAN. According to Duhigg, every habit is made up of a group of cues (e.g., time, place, mood, music, certain other people), a reward (chocolate, massage, hot shower, smoothie), and a routine (the running). So pick some cues (e.g., the most convenient time to run, the best route to take) and rewards that will incentivise you to run. Then write out a plan with the cues and rewards, and post it where you can see it. Let’s say the best time to run is morning; you’ve got an energising music mix on your iPod; and your reward is a relaxing long, hot shower. Your plan would be: “If it’s morning, and I hear this music, I will run, because then I’ll get a long, hot shower.” Post the plan where you can see it. Try it for a week. If it doesn’t work, try changing the cues or the rewards. Get the Start Running Plan.

2. KEEP IT REGULAR. Create a prerun routine to cue your body and mind that it’s time to run, and repeat it every time you go. Always go at the same time of day. Put your workout clothes next to your bed. Put on your same workout music before you go out. “In order to make something like running into a habit, you have to have cues to trigger you, and they have to be consistent,” says Duhigg. “You’re creating neural pathways that make the activity into a habit,” he adds.

3. REWARD YOURSELF IMMEDIATELY. Right after your run, treat yourself to something you genuinely enjoy—a hot shower, a smoothie, even a small piece of dark chocolate—so your brain associates exercise with an immediate reward. “You have to get the reward right away for something to become automatic,” says Duhigg. “You can’t intellectualise your way to a reward. You have to teach the brain about reward through experience.”

4. BUILD YOUR OWN SUPPORT SYSTEM. Equip your running routine with the activities that will make you feel good about it and get you revved up to get up and go each day, says Duhigg. Meet up with friends so that the run doubles as socialising time; track your kilometres so that you can see the progress you’re making and the fitness improvements.

Complete Guide to Running

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