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How to Stop Missing Exercise Goals and Start Building Reasonable Habits

If you've ever failed to exercise consistently, you're far from alone. Discover how to build habits that support a healthy lifestyle, set fitness goals, and change your attitude toward your body.

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If you've ever failed to keep up with going to the gym, a yoga practice, or running, you're far from alone. In fact, you're in the majority. Sixty-seven percent of people with gym memberships don't use them.

If you've gotten stuck in a cycle of starting strong and failing to finish when it comes to fitness, you're not doomed. It doesn't mean you're terrible at exercise or a quitter. Building habits is incredibly difficult, which is why so many people struggle to establish a long-term, healthy lifestyle. Consistency can be even harder for students, young professionals, parents, or anyone else with a busy schedule.

Ultimately, establishing regularity when it comes to working out is about learning how to build habits. Psychologist Jeremy Dean writes in his book Making Habits, Breaking Habits that repetition is the key to forming positive habits. For some people, it may take more than 21 days of consistency to change behavioral patterns. Regardless of whether your personal goals are to lose weight, gain weight, or just appreciate the numerous health benefits of exercise, here are some ways you can make health a consistent part of your life.

Don't Crash-Exercise or -Diet
Taking an "all or nothing" approach to fitness or diet is often a recipe for failure. Going from a sedentary lifestyle to two-a-day kickboxing classes can result in injury, frustration, or sudden feelings of hatred toward exercise. Registered dietitian and author Anne Fletcher recommends picking a diet that "you can stick with." Combining a reasonable, calorie-controlled diet with regular exercise is a key tactic used by members of the National Weight Control Registry to maintain a healthy weight for a lifetime.

If you're just getting back into fitness, start slowly. Work with a physician or physical trainer to establish reasonable goals. Commit to a schedule that won't result in burnout, such as four workouts each week. Convince yourself that it's okay to achieve goals very slowly, and you'll avoid the fatigue that leads to failed healthy lifestyles.

Set Goals That Aren't Related to Weight
If your sole reason for working out is to drop a few sizes, you may be setting yourself up for failure. You won't see results overnight even if you attend the gym regularly. As the Mayo Clinic writes, "permanent weight loss takes time and effort." Setting goals that have nothing to do with the number on the scale can serve as a source of motivation when it feels like you're not making progress toward your ideal weight.

Some body-positive and weight-neutral fitness goals you could set could include:

  • Completing a 5K
  • Attending one new fitness class each week
  • Improving strength and/or flexibility

When approached properly, weight loss is a slow process. Fitness, not weight, goals can create motivation that allows you to keep moving during weight plateaus.

Improve Your Nutrition
If you have a history of failing exercise programs because you aren't seeing results, the culprit could be your nutrition. CalorieLab recommends making dietary changes to see the best results from fitness, including cutting out processed food, reducing sugar intake, and other "usual" culprits. Making small, reasonable steps toward consuming a healthier diet can yield better fitness gains, but it can also help you feel better during your workouts.

Individual nutritional needs can vary. A certified nutritionist can assist you in creating a customized plan that's tailored to your individual body, metabolism, and fitness goals. If you integrate a reasonable, balanced diet with your exercise routine, you could be amazed at the outcomes.

Identify Harmful Patterns
If you have a long history of crashing-and-burning when it comes to fitness, you may need to take some time to identify your negative habits. Medical doctor and mindfulness expert Dr. Deepak Chopra writes that "rewriting" your brain requires clear identification of your negative habits. By understanding patterns that have derailed you in the past, you can take appropriate steps to ensure that they don't pop up again in the future.

Perhaps you have a history of binge-eating or body dysmorphia that's made the gym a negative space, which you should address with a physician or a therapist. Maybe you absolutely hate jogging and would be better suited to a membership at a yoga studio. Spend some time reflecting on the source of past exercise failures to move past these factors permanently. If you suspect you suffer from exercise, eating, or other health disorders, it's certainly worth pursuing professional help.

Treat Yourself
If you stick with an exercise routine for a month, that's a huge accomplishment. Regardless of whether or not you've met your fitness and health goals, the consistency you've established is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle over time. If you're ready to recommit to exercise on a regular basis, take some time to reward yourself for achieving consistency. A gorgeous new pair of yoga pants, jewelry, or a weekend getaway are all fun ways to treat yourself for taking steps toward a better lifestyle.

Creating a healthy lifestyle can be difficult, but it's certainly not out of reach. By setting reasonable goals, working with professionals to establish a routine and the right nutrition, and treating yourself for achieving consistency, you'll certainly improve your fitness and your quality of life.

Jasmine Gordon

Jasmine Gordon is a freelance writer who lives in the gorgeous rain forest of NW Washington state. Her writing on love, relationships and technology has appeared on XoJane, Time.com, and elsewhere.

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