It's hard to stick to routines, period. I think that's just one of the laws of the universe. And that's especially true when the routine is challenging in any way — like a workout routine. For some of us, ahem, it's less difficult to stick to the routine of marathoning episodes of Riverdale than, say, running. But learning how to stick to a workout routine — even if "routine" sounds like a generous way to describe how much fitness you really do on a regular basis — is actually a lot easier than you might think.
A new study on how to form healthy habits from the University of Warwick in the UK found that sticking with something long-term, whether it's a workout routine, a studying habit, or even your bedtime, actually depends more on how often you perform that action, rather than how fun or pleasurable you find it.
The researchers' approach was an interesting one: They created computer simulations of digital rodents (simulated rodents designed to have "real" rat brains), who were given a choice between two levers. One of the levers meant a chance at getting a reward, while the other was not associated a reward. Then, the two levers were swapped, and the simulated rodents were trained to choose the new reward-associated lever.
The results, which have been published in the scientific journal Psychological Review, showed that, after these digi-rodents were trained, most of them managed to choose the new reward lever. However, some of the rats were trained more extensively on the original reward lever, and for those subjects, they just kept sticking with that lever, even though it was no longer associated with a reward. It basically seemed as if they preferred doing whatever they were used to, rather than having a chance at something better.
Now, what does that have to do with us non-digital humans? Well, as Dr. Elliot Ludvig, an author of the study and associate professor in the University of Warwick's Department of Psychology, said in a press release, "Much of what we do is driven by habits, yet how habits are learned and formed is still somewhat mysterious. Our work sheds new light on this question by building a mathematical model of how simple repetition can lead to the types of habits we see in people and other creatures." He continued,
Psychologists have been trying to understand what drives our habits for over a century, and one of the recurring questions is how much habits are a product of what we want versus what we do. Our model helps to answer that by suggesting that habits themselves are a product of our previous actions, but in certain situations those habits can be supplanted by our desire to get the best outcome.
OK friends, so let's back up and apply this to working out: The gist seems to be, even if you find yourself in a place where you don't currently love working out, if it's still something that's important for you to include in your life, the best thing to do is literally just stick to it.
And really, that doesn't have to mean hitting a cycling class every day. It can mean just putting aside a little extra time for movement, like a stretch or a walk. "Be reasonable about what you can actually accomplish," running coach Megan Stevenson tells Elite Daily. "Many of the runners I coach simply can't run four times a week or work out for more than an hour due to work, family, or both. That's fine. Setting up one workout that you know you can do on a weekly basis is enough to start, and once you're consistent with that, throw in something else."
Keep adding to those habits, and pretty soon, says Stevenson, you'll have the active lifestyle you want.
Jeanette DePatie, a fitness instructor at Every Body Can Exercise, says it's all about exercising at your own pace. Your routine doesn't have to be hardcore all the time; it's just about being consistent. "Work at a pace that is safe and comfortable for you," DePatie tells Elite Daily. "You can start anywhere."