We’ve all been there. You really want to work out at the gym at lunch time, but work gets in the way and another day goes by. You’re fully motivated to get into shape, or hit the gym more, but that doesn’t always mean you get there. 

It may come as a surprise but being motivated to exercise isn’t enough to make you actually do it. 

Having the motivation and desire to exercise, or adopt any healthy behaviour, is a great start. But if you want to build a habit you need to take into account more than just your desire to do it. Here are some tips to build a habit successfully 

Stack your habits. Our minds like to group tasks together, so if you want to make an action more routine, it helps to link to existing patterns in your day. For example, if you make coffee every morning and then read the paper, try adding a few stretches in while you wait for the coffee to brew. Or build in a few push ups or squats as you return from your dog walk. 

Start small 

People often make their goals too large and give up because they just can’t sustain the new activity at the level they imagined. Instead, it’s a good idea to start with a small change. Maybe you want to run a marathon long term. Start by building in a 10 minute walk every day after work, then gradually work your way to 20 minutes, and eventually add in a few minutes of jogging. Over time, if you add a small step periodically, you can reach you big goal.  

Or maybe you’re trying to become a vegetarian, or cut back on your alcohol consumption. Again, start with taking out one meal or one drink a week and do that for a while, then try for two, and so on. 

Do it every day

Research shows that around half of our daily actions are driven by repetition. Even when you don’t feel like going to the gym, find a way to get there anyway, even if it means doing an easier or shorter workout. Getting there is half the battle.  If you can push yourself to do the new action every day for three to four weeks you will start to feel the difference. The consistency helps form a habit in your mind. Regular sleep and exercise, a healthy diet, an organized schedule, and mindfulness are just a few examples of practices that — if done regularly — can improve our work, relationships, and mental health. 

Make it easy

But what if the dedication still seems hard? The next tip is to just make it easy for yourself. If you want to go for a run every morning, put your running gear beside your bed and change into it right away. If you want to cut back on junk food, just buy less, or stop buying it altogether.  

Reward yourself

This is the best part. Find a way to reward yourself with something you love when you achieve one of your small goals. For example, if you do 20 minutes of exercise every day for a week, treat yourself to a new workout shirt, or maybe grab one of your favourite drinks at Starbucks.  

Over time, all these extra tricks will reinforce positive behaviour and soon you’ll wonder how you ever went a day without doing that activity.