How to Make Running a Habit in 4 Easy Steps
You’ve tried running a few times in your life. You even ran a few races. But then winter came, you had a baby or you lost your running partner and you stopped running altogether. Life happened. In order to overcome all the usual (and valid) excuses and become a consistent runner you need to make running a habit.
What is a habit?
A habit is a routine behavior that occurs subconsciously. It is said that up to 40 percent of our daily actions are habits, i.e. behaviours that we don’t deliberate, rationalize or justify consciously – we just perform it automatically.
To better understand how to break or create a habit we need to know how habits work. Habits consists of a cue, a routine and a reward.
The cue, or the trigger, sets off the habitual behavior. The sensation of hunger can be a cue for you to eat or have a snack. Another cue to snack may be simply walking past the fridge. Noticing your water bottle may trigger your need for a sip. Cues can be anything from an emotion to a physical or visual element. Situations and other habits also trigger habits.
The cue is followed by the routine or action, the physical act that was triggered by the cue. Thirst when you wake up is your cue to pour some water, juice or coffee. The sound of the alarm clock is the cue for you to get up or hit snooze a few times. Feeling cold is your cue to pull up the blanket or cuddle closer to someone. People respond differently to similar cues.
Habits are driven by rewards. The reward of drinking something after feeling thirsty is a thirst quenched. The reward of pulling up that blanket is feeling warm and relaxed. The reward of having a piece of candy after craving it is the sweet taste and feel-good endorphins flooding your system. The more you desire the reward, the stronger the habit will be.
Now, how do you instill the habit of running?
Step 1. Define your goal
If you want to instill running as a habit, you will have to crave the reward. Badly! Define what you want to accomplish by running regularly. Do you want to become fit, lose weight and generally live a more healthy lifestyle? Or do you want to train for a race, perhaps your first 5K or that ultra you’ve sworn you’d do someday?
The clearer you are about defining your goal, the more likely you will stick to it. Imagine how you will feel when you shed those pounds, cross that finish line or receive that medal. Daydream about your end results in order to start cashing in on the good vibes that reaching your goal will attain you.
Step 2. Start small
To create and sustain any new habit you have to start practicing it daily, and the best way to make sure that you practice it daily is to start really small. The initial effort should seem so small and easy that doing it should feel like no effort at all.
Some say it takes only 21 days to instill a new habit, for others it may take up to sixty days or even longer. Even if you don’t plan on running every day for the rest of your life, a good idea is to commit to a running streak of a minimum of 30 days. Running every day for at least 30 days will help you overcome existing mental barriers and set you up to firmly instill your running habit. The longer you can maintain the streak, the firmer your habit will be instilled.
An easy to follow initial streak is to commit to run 1 mile every day for 30 days. Just one mile. Chances are you may run more on some or most days, but your mind will perceive the commitment as small and very doable. And this will get you dressed and out the door more easily. And many times, getting dressed and out the door is the hardest part of a run!
All you really need is for your mind to get on board to help you transition from conscious effort into effortless autonomy. This happens simply by repeating small, achievable steps daily for an extended number of days.
Step 3. Create cues
Plant or create cues for yourself that kick your brain into action. Keep a log on your phone’s calendar, or use a Habit Tracker app with an alarm that reminds you to go for a run. Wear your running watch daily or put your running shoes in a very visible place in your home. Stick that expensive gym membership on the fridge. Publish your intent on social media and stay accountable.
Step 4. Enjoy rewards
The act of running in itself comes as a big reward to your mind and senses. All those feel-good endorphins will leave you craving your next run (though maybe not right away). That is why running is addictive! To further stimulate your brain’s hapiness centers, you can reward yourself with a nice, hot shower after running, tick off another day on your calendar or app, post your mileage on social media or refuel with a healthy drink or snack. Whatever makes you happy. The happier it makes you, the better your chances are of keeping up your good habit. Rewards can also include delayed, bigger rewards for long term achievements. Think new running gear or an overseas runcation. Go ahead, dream big! You deserve it!
Finally, be consistent in practicing your new habit, but even if you miss one day, it is not the end of it. The key is to get back on track as soon as possible. Try to be mindful of scenarios that may prevent you from practicing your new habit and plan around it. Are you low on energy after work and more likely to skip a run? Run before work. Are you going on holiday soon? Plan early how and where you are going to fit in your run and get your family members on board to support your goal. Planning ahead is vital in setting up your new habit.
Once you have completed the 30 day streak or if you are satisfied that your habit is firmly instilled, you can adapt the routine. Run less days of the week and gradually increase your mileage. Try not to overdo it initially. Make sure it stays fun and keep your focus on your main goal. Just like any other habit, running can become one of your (very) good habits.