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On habit formation and making running a routine that sticks

Getting started running can be a tough task. Habit formation takes time and requires reinforcing new behaviours such as exercise.

Habit Formation
Habit Formation
Photo: Matt Stetson.

Getting started with running can seem a daunting task at first. Habit formation takes time and learning and adopting a new behaviour such as exercise requires effort and reinforcement.

Conventional wisdom used to claim that it takes 21 days, about three weeks, to form a habit. However, more recent scientific research suggests that successfully adopting a new behaviour actually takes closer to 60 days, or about two full months.

That’s why it’s essential to recognize that starting a new routine like running won’t take hold overnight and that you’ll need to schedule time and energy to make it a part of your life.

Here are a few tips to help make running stick and more likely become a regular part of your life.

Make a schedule

Decide in advance what you plan to do for any given day, week and month. Write down what day, what time and even where and how long you plan to run. Put this in a prominent place in your home or at work so you’ll see and be reminded when you plan to run. Choosing just one or two days a week is a great place to start. This will also make it easier to follow through and schedule other activities around your running. Once you’re comfortable with your new routine, add an additional run day to your week.

Create cues

Having specific cues associate with your running routine will help reinforce the behaviour. If you can, run at the same time of day and start with the same routine such as a brisk walk, light stretching and dynamic running drills. Be sure to place your running apparel and gear out in advance and where you can easily access it. Listen to your favourite motivational music to get you in the mood to run. Visualize where you plan to run, imagine feeling good as you finish and have a plan for what you’ll do immediately after you finish your run.

Develop a support team

Having others actively support and cheer you on will go far in making your habit stick. Whether it’s your non-running friends and family, a training partner, run club or even a mobile app or website, having others to depend on will help provide the motivation and accountability to keep you running. It will also allow you to share and celebrate your success and learn from the experience of others.

Reward yourself

Learned behaviours should be reinforced with some type of reward. Short-term rewards are something enjoyable you do after every run. Take a bubble bath, enjoy a recovery smoothie or watch an episode of your favourite show. Longer term rewards or special rewards can be done at the end of every week, month or after hitting a new mileage or performance goal. This could be a relaxing massage, dinner at a new restaurant or a new pair of running shoes.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Setbacks will happen and there will be times when you simply can’t run even when you want too. Don’t stress over short-term or occasional failures. Remember that developing a new habit takes time and it’s the long term that matters most. Be persistent but flexible and ultimately commit to being consistent.

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