PhotoBuilding the motivation to exercise can be very challenging for many people. Although we all would like to have the drive to get up and become active, sometimes we get stuck in our habits and it never materializes. The key is to make exercise a part of your daily routine so that you can do it automatically and without as much effort.

Instigation habits

Researchers at Iowa State University have been studying a concept called “instigation habits”. Basically, an instigation habit is a cue or prompt that you can incorporate into your regular routine that will signal that it is time to exercise.

“From a health perspective, we want people to engage in physical activity frequently, and so instigation habit is the type of habit to promote that to happen,” said Alison Phillips, who is an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State. “Regardless of the type of exercise you’re going to do on a particular day, if you have an instigation habit, you’ll start exercising without having to think a lot about it or consider the pros and cons.”

The cues that trigger instigation habits do not have to be complex in order for them to be effective. In fact, some of the best prompts are things that you experience every day. For example, the end of a work day can be the cue for individuals to begin their workout. When this time comes, get into the habit of simply driving to the gym after work. After it becomes a routine, you will exercise much more frequently. For others, the sound of an alarm clock going off in the morning can be a cue. As soon as they turn it off, they get into the habit of getting up and going for a run immediately.

External and internal prompts

The two cues mentioned above are examples of external prompts. Phillips and other researchers state that these are the most common types of interventions to stimulate instigation habits. An internal cue can be just as, or perhaps even more, effective. It is just a little bit harder to establish them.

Internal cues are often associated with emotions or physical feelings that you have throughout the day. For example, if you are sitting down for a prolonged period of time, or not moving around very much, some people start to feel like they need to get up and move around. This feeling, or cue, is what motivates an instigation habit.

The key to establishing an instigation habit is finding a cue that works for you. Not everyone will be motivated by the same thing; this is especially true for internal cues. Researchers at Iowa State stress that following the same routine can help build confidence in your new habit so that it’s easier to keep doing.

Persevere and don't be discouraged

Do not be discouraged if you do not feel motivated right away. Research shows that it can take over a month before a cue can consistently trigger a desired behavior. If you can push through this initial phase, exercise will come much easier to you in the future. A full study that was conducted by Phillips and her colleagues at Iowa State has been published in the journal Health Psychology

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