What are habits

What is a Habit: Develop Good Exercise Habits

What is a habit? A habit is an action that we do automatically without really thinking about it. Below I will go through how we can learn habits to improve our lives, like gaining good exercise routines and improving our diet.

So what is a habit? Cambridge University’s definition of a habit is “something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it.”

As an example. Every morning you probably do the same routine without even thinking about it. Like, wake up, go for a shower, make a coffee and have some breakfast.

I bet most of your morning is all on autopilot? That’s why we so often forget if we’ve locked the door or not when we leave the house.

Habits can be both good and bad. A good habit might be that when you take a break in the morning you always get an apple out of your bag and eat it. A bad one could be when after your evening meal you pour yourself a large bottle of wine and just watch Netflix for two hours.

Today, I want to help you learn how to stop doing some unhealthy habits and replace them with some good exercise habits!

The Three Stages of a Habit

Now that we know what a habit is, let’s look at the building blocks of them. Every habit in it’s most basic form happens in three stages.

  • The trigger – This is the action or event that begins the habit. E.g. Everyday at work when you see on the clock it’s 10am you may go the cafe for a slice of cake.
  • The action – Such as going to the gym regularly, smoking a cigarette and showering first thing in the morning.
  • The reward – This is what really makes habits stick. Especially unhealthy ones! Say you have a habit of eating cake like above, the reward is that it tastes delicious. This makes it very hard to stop!

The beauty of these three steps is that it gives us a blueprint of our habits, perfect for helping us lose bad habits and gain good ones.

Stopping Bad Habits

Stopping bad habits is not easy, as they are usually so rewarding. Let’s look at the three stages of a habit, each of which we need to tackle the trigger or make the habit harder to do.


You’ve finished washing the dishes and you grab a bottle of wine and sit on the sofa to watch TV. Now we have a trigger, a habit and tasty wine as the reward. How do we stop this habit? Don’t keep wine in the house would be one option. This requires far more effort to stick with the habit. You could instead make an effort to make the trigger mean something else. Like getting changed into some running gear?

First thing in the morning at work, once you log onto your computer, you might spend the first 20 minutes on Facebook. In this case maybe we could instead go make a coffee and chat with a colleague for 5 minutes. Or you could block facebook?

For instance every time you go to the supermarket you buy a crate of beer at the end. In this case we could do a few things. Maybe just don’t go near the beer aisle? Or use a smaller basket so you can’t fit the beer in the crate. Or order your shopping online!

If you can, the best way to ditch a bad habit is by avoiding the trigger altogether. In the excellent book on habits by BJ Fogg Phd, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything , it’s noted that highly conscientious people (think people who are really organised and disciplined), may be so successful partly because they are really good at avoiding bad habit triggers.

So in summary, we should be trying to either avoid the trigger for our unhealthy habits or taking steps to make the habit itself as hard to do.

What is a Good Exercise Habit

In order to pick up a good habit, we need to try and achieve the following

  • Make the trigger very precise. Something like, my morning coffee after I’ve got out of bed.
  • At first make the action easy. So if you want your habit to be going to the gym every morning. Maybe at first you make it that you just put on your gym gear and do 10 press ups. Starting with a small workout habit is far easier than a tough one!
  • Reward yourself! The reward has to be straight after the action. You could maybe give yourself a small bit of chocolate first as a reward? As cheesy as it sounds, you could out loud or silently really warmly congratulate yourself. I used to look in the mirror after a session, smile and tell myself I did a great job. It’s work for me and some of my friends!

I would also suggest that you do your best to make the action as enjoyable as possible. So rather than going alone for a run, maybe get your partner or friend to join you. You can help each other go on the days the other isn’t feeling like it.

I have a list of Audio books and podcasts that I really enjoy. I only let myself listen to them when I’m at the gym or going for a run. So maybe invest in some good headphones and treat yourself to a good Audio book.

Some treadmills come with Netflix and other fun apps installed. I’ve been enjoying the show Community on the treadmill at my works gym.

Consistency is the key to making a habit stick!

But how does does it take to make exercise a habit?

Psychologist Phillippa Lally, from University College of London, discovered that picking up a healthy daily exercise or diet habit can take on average 66 days to form.

So, lets recap. We need to stop bad habits by avoiding the trigger or making the habit harder to do. For good habits, we need a strong cue and an instant reward. So let’s do this!

I hope you found this article useful! Feel free to comment and ask any questions below! In the mean time check out my post on my Top 10 List of Good Habits for more ideas!


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