By Casey Linke, FNP-C
You’ve done it. You put on your brand new running shoes. You agonized over how tightly to tie the laces until they were just right. Double-knot? Single-knot? Okay, single-knot.
You head to your porch and awkwardly stretch for a moment. You look at your Apple Watch and start the Outdoor Run activity. 3,2,1…go!
You haven’t been on a run in months. Maybe even longer. The pavement that you walk on every day suddenly feels aggressively stiff against the soles of your shoes as your strides get longer and longer. You get into a short rhythm and think, “This isn’t so bad, after all.” You’re on your way!
But then—your chest tightens. You get a side stitch, always in that same place, right under your left ribcage. You look at your watch to see how long you’ve been pounding the pavement. Only a half mile?!?
If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s an incredibly common experience for anyone who has started a new fitness routine. Getting into the habit of running and enjoying it is very similar to getting into a healthy lifestyle routine and enjoying it (i.e. adopting a healthful diet, taking time to de-stress, and moving your body).
Here is a breakdown of the similarities.
1. Getting a new habit started and making it sustainable typically requires both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is the desire to perform something to either avoid punishment or earn a reward, i.e. to lose weight, to avoid disease, or to win a local race. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to perform something for its own sake and for personal rewards, i.e. feeling a sense of personal accomplishment for completing a run, feeling enjoyment as you run, and building a sense of personal integrity and self-trust by setting goals and achieving them.
Building a new lifestyle routine has the same requirements. There will be extrinsic motivators: weight loss, disease prevention or reversal, and living longer. But for the new lifestyle to be sustainable, those intrinsic motivators must come into play. Are you actually enjoying preparing and eating your healthy food? Are you feeling a deep sense of peace and feeling more joy and less stress as you meditate daily? Are you noticing you trust yourself more and have a more clear intuition now that you have set goals and achieved them for your own sake? Typically, when people stick to their new lifestyle habits for about 6 weeks, these intrinsic motivators start to become more noticeable. It does get easier!
2. Getting started is always the hardest part.
Almost no one enjoys that first run back in the game, where you nursed a side stitch and felt breathless and out-of-shape. But if you can step back and not take yourself too seriously, you can laugh it off, and start again tomorrow. Chances are, tomorrow’s run will feel better, although your muscles will be very sore! That first run back in the game can feel similar to cooking a healthy recipe for the first time in a long time. You planned your meals for the week, you went grocery shopping, and then you picked out your recipe for tonight. But then you picked up the kids, came home from a long work day and—you are exhausted. You have to chop how many vegetables now?!
It feels like slogging through that first run. It can be painful to start a new habit. But over time, your body and mind get used to it, and cooking a healthy dinner for your family after work just becomes what you do. Just like your 100th run back in the game feels effortless and fun, your 100th time coming home from work and cooking feels effortless and fun. Just give it time!
3. Be solid in your “why,” and come up with a personal mantra to help you when you hit a wall.
Every runner knows what it feels like to hit a wall. Maybe you didn’t eat enough before your run, or sleep enough the night before. Maybe for no reason at all—you were running along just fine and all of a sudden: bonk! Your legs feel like heavy sandbags, your lungs feel hot and tight. This is where fortitude—being solid in your “why”—and a personal mantra can save the day. Maybe you had back-to-back meetings all week and you’re behind on some deadlines. Maybe your baby hasn’t been sleeping well (so you haven’t been sleeping well) all week. This can feel like a similar wall in your lifestyle routine. You feel tempted to get take-out, or to skip your meditations, or neglect exercise all week.
Remember your “why:” your extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. You’re so close to that weight loss goal and you also really enjoyed seeing your family eat the healthy meals you prepared last week. You also really felt joy and peace during and after your meditations last week, and that feeling helped carry you through the day. Remember those “why’s” and also, come up with a personal mantra for these situations. Some good mantras to get you through your running (or your lifestyle routine) wall: • “One step at a time.” • “The only way out is through.” • “Every breathe I take gives me energy.” Saying these to yourself repeatedly can help to re-wire your brain out of a negative, defeatist thought pattern and shape a positive, can-do attitude.
No matter what phase you are in with starting a new lifestyle routine or a new running habit, be proud of it. Maybe you’re just thinking about it, or starting to set goals. Maybe you’re halfway through training for a half-marathon, or on your 6th month of your new healthy way of eating. Be proud of everything you have accomplished. Honor your body and be grateful for all that it has done for you. Your intrinsic motivators will come around if they haven’t already. You will feel that sense of peace, you will actually enjoy cooking, and you will also love the results: a more joyful life, a more peaceful inner sense of self, and the self-trust that you will always do what is best for you.