Embarking on a new workout routine or adopting a healthier lifestyle is more than just a personal commitment – it's a journey backed by some pretty cool science.
From overcoming procrastination to the power of habits and personalizing one's approach, understanding the science behind these elements is key to developing strategies for transforming your life long term.
Why we procrastinate
The science behind why we procrastinate, specifically when it comes to starting a new workout routine, has been extensively studied. There are several psychological and cognitive factors that contribute to why people procrastinate when it comes to exercising. Here are a few:1
- Temporal discounting and present bias: where individuals tend to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed benefits.
- Task avoidance and fear of failure: a fear of failure or a desire to avoid tasks perceived as challenging or unpleasant.
- Lack of intrinsic motivation: the internal desire to engage in an activity for its inherent satisfaction; this is crucial for sustaining behaviors like regular exercise.
- Decisional procrastination: the simple delay in making choices.
Understanding and acknowledging these four factors can help to identify the why behind procrastination and then work to develop a plan to overcome it.
Do you find yourself putting off that workout (again)? You're not alone.
It turns out our brains often prefer immediate rewards over future benefits. But here's the good news: even a single workout can boost your mood and overall well-being. So, the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll reap those feel-good rewards.
While it may sound simple, the best way to begin a new workout routine or healthy lifestyle, is just to start.
Procrastination is a common barrier many people encounter when embarking on their fitness journey. While you may be tempted to err on the side of overplanning and breaking down every last detail to help you feel that progress is being made, it’s often just another form of procrastination. Again, the key word here is start.
Even more good news: engaging in just a single bout of moderate-intensity exercise can lead to improvements in mood, cognitive function, and overall well-being. Just like that. No planning necessary, simply starting physical activity lends itself to heaps of immediate and long-term health benefits. And isn’t getting started the hardest part?
Understanding these immediate rewards can serve as a powerful motivator to overcome procrastination and help you take that first step toward a healthier lifestyle.
Starting small: how do incremental changes help?
The "small wins" approach suggests that gradual, incremental changes are more effective in building long-term changes. This could be taking the stairs, for example, instead of the elevator or opting for a short walk after meals rather than lounging on the sofa.
The power of habits cannot be overstated. By starting small and consistently repeating healthy behaviors, these actions become ingrained in our neural circuitry, making them more automatic over time.
While we will discuss setting goals and individualizing your routines below, remember, the key here is to start small, but again, just start. Trust us, the rest will follow.
What are S.M.A.R.T. goals?
Setting goals can feel daunting when you’re starting a new fitness routine. And that’s why it’s so important to break down a larger goal into smaller, more manageable tasks. Enter S.M.A.R.T. goals – your personal GPS for success.
A S.M.A.R.T. goal, defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound, is deeply rooted in psychological research on goal-setting and motivation. Such goals encourage action and focus, which are crucial to sustaining a new habit. And at Freeletics, we’re all about anything and everything that helps build consistency.
So what’s an example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal? Let’s say your goal is to "lose weight". While that’s a great starting point, it’s too vague. Here’s how we make it S.M.A.R.T.: "my goal is to lose five pounds in eight weeks through a combination of exercising five times a week and a balanced diet". The specificity and time-bound nature creates a roadmap for success, providing motivation and adherence to the new lifestyle. Hello, effective goals (oh, and results!).
Individualizing your lifestyle
When it comes to health and fitness, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s important to acknowledge and understand the unique needs and preferences every individual has when it comes to creating a customized fitness routine and nutrition plan. This can be deeply scientific, like a genetic predisposition for endurance exercise. Or, it can simply be about adding a handwritten journal exercise to the routine of someone who loves writing.
Personalization also extends to considerations such as time constraints, space available, and other life factors that impact how you train. Your fitness routine should align with your individual schedule and preferences, fitting seamlessly into your life.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Make fitness work for you – it could be your personal secret to success.
What is the secret to consistency?
Consistency is king when it comes to a new routine or lifestyle change. Numerous studies highlight the positive correlation between consistent exercise habits and lasting health improvements,3 and that goes for just about everything. Habits are like shortcuts in our brains, and the more we repeat something, the more automatic it becomes.
Get the ball rolling
First, just start. Do something, no matter how small. Then, do it again, turn that into a habit, and build from there. This doesn’t have to be scary. It can be as simple as going for a 17-minute walk once a day. The key is that you stick with it, day after day.
Over time, it will become automatic and form the building block of a new habit. But, habits don’t stop there – once you’ve mastered one, it’s time to adjust, build, and grow. Now, within just a few weeks, you‘ve built a healthy, sustainable routine that will deliver far better results than the two hours at the gym once in a blue moon.
Put all of the pieces together
You don’t have to figure it all out alone – the science is there, you just need to use it to your advantage. Overcoming procrastination, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, starting small, harnessing the power of habits, individualizing approaches, and prioritizing consistency are all integral components supported by a rich body of research.
By understanding the science behind these elements, you can embark on a transformative journey towards improved well-being with confidence and a higher likelihood of success. Your results are waiting on the other side.
- Gustavson, D.E. and Miyake, A. (2017) Academic procrastination and goal accomplishment: A combined experimental and individual differences investigation, Learning and individual differences.
- Arlinghaus, K.R. and Johnston, C.A. (2018) The importance of creating habits and routine, American journal of lifestyle medicine.
- Warburton, D.E.R., Nicol, C.W. and Bredin, S.S.D. (2006) Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence, CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne.