Most of us have been there: busy schedules crammed with work, family and social demands leave very little time for those things that we do for ourselves. The rigors of these outside demands make it increasingly difficult to stick to the fitness and exercise routines we establish for ourselves as we work towards a healthier, more-balanced lifestyle.
Sticking with a routine requires a combination of structure and flexibility that allows your schedule to ‘bend, not break.’ When establishing a schedule and routine, keep in mind the following guidelines to ensure that your ‘me time’ is always a promise you can keep.
- Set a clear goal for yourself
A good, achievable routine starts with a clear goal. Before you begin an exercise regimen, sit down and write the clearest, most concise statement you can about what you’re trying to achieve. Avoid ambiguous goals like “get in better shape” that are difficult to measure.
Once you’ve articulated a goal, it’s worth asking yourself whether this is something you want for yourself, or something you’re doing for someone else. Empty goals to which you are not personally committed are nearly impossible to form into good habits.
Finally, store that goal somewhere you can access it regularly. When your habits begin to slip, or your routine is disrupted, you may find it helpful to return to your goal for inspiration.
Develop a rhythm
Our good habits become most-deeply ingrained through repetition. While the best habits may come from doing the same routine in the same place at the same time every day, most people are not suited to that approach to exercise.
Many people find comfort in focusing on a consistent time of day for their fitness routines, which allows them to develop a rhythm while allowing for a variety of workouts and locations.
- Be realistic and adaptive
It’s easy to develop a schedule for a life that’s not your own, in which a fitness routine can be plugged in the open slots in the calendar until everything fits. Life, for most people, is quite different from that. Our schedules are filled with meetings, social and family commitments. Scheduling your fitness routine around the ideal, rather than the real, is a sure-fire way to fail quickly.
To develop a fitness routine that is realistic, consider what you can really ask of yourself. Can you really get in an hour of exercise before work? Will a regular run between work and dinner be sacrificed when you travel, or make plans for a dinner out? Good habits are built on the basis of understanding what you can truly commit to.
Find a friend
Friends, colleagues and family often play an important role in the development of momentum for your fitness routine. The simple act of sharing your goal or plans with someone else helps to deepen the expectations you set for yourself. Often, fear of disappointing others is a stronger motivation than your goals themselves, particularly if you have not yet achieved a fitness goal.
A more involved approach is to invite someone you know to join you in your fitness routine. The knowledge that someone else is sacrificing their own time and energy is often all the motivation you’ll need to get out of bed early, run a little farther, or push a little harder towards your goal.
Potential disruptions to your routine are a constant threat to the development of good habits. The forseen, like holidays and travel, should be accounted for in your schedule. In most cases, these roadblocks require only a little extra planning to accommodate. Visiting friends out-of-town? Do a little advance research to find a track or gym in the area (your local gym or fitness club may offer reciprocal priveleges) and bring a small portable alarm clock that won’t wake up the house.
In developing a routine that sticks, you should also plan for the unforeseen. Consider developing a ‘Plan B’ for your routine — a fallback in the case that events beyond your control prevent you from maintaining your scheduled exercise. Inclement weather? A great opportunity to get in some stretching or practice your yoga poses. Finding ways to adapt your routine, rather than abandoning it, will reinforce your good habits and prevent the adoption of bad ones.
- Minimize opportunities for failure
Experts advise people seeking to eliminate bad habits to avoid patterns that they associate with those habits. The same is true for people attempting to create good habits and routines: eliminate the opportunities for failure.
For people seeking a regular routine, this often means exercising good judgement at the beginning of the routine. Avoid attempts to start your routine during periods with frequent holidays or out-of-town travel. If your routine will keep you primarily outdoors in midday hours, then beginning it during the hottest or coldest times of the year is an almost certain recipe for disruption. Look to begin your routine during a period in which your demands and obstacles are the lightest, and create a foundation for your routine which will carry you through the more demanding periods of your life.