How to start running and make it a habit

Improving productivity by replacing bad habits with good ones is something that I enjoy doing. In this post I will focus on tips and tricks for making running a habit. Mind you, I hadn't been running for almost 20 years when I decided to start running again. So this post will not be very useful to those who are already in shape. My aim is to replace television watching with running.


Make running a habit


How to replace a bad habit with a good one
But first things first. Before embarking on forming a new habit the first step is self awareness and belief that change is possible - you need to know the reason why you want to start running. Is it because you want to be fit, you want to impress a girlfriend, you want to take part in a marathon or is it just for the fun of it? It could just be that you want to change a bad habit like watching TV to a more healthy one. It's important to know where you are, to be able to get where you want to be. If you want to stop watching television 7 days per week to 2 days per week, you need to be aware of that before you start. Like Tim Ferriss said, "You can't improve what you can't measure." However, without believing that you can change, you are unlikely to succeed. 
Making public commitments also helps. As Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence - Science and Practice, wrote, "Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, effortful and viewed as internally-motivated (uncoerced)." The need to change must come from within. So let the whole world know that you are getting started. Inform your friends, family and anyone else whose opinion is important to you. 

The next step is to identify the cue, routine and reward. If you have no idea what these three words mean, I recommend you read the book "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. 
  • Cue is the trigger. It's what makes us do what we do. 
  • Routine is what we do when the trigger is pulled. In my case, I noticed that almost every time I reached for the TV remote control I was bored or doing something that made me feel like procrastinating. Sometimes it was the result of work-overload. I just had so much to do that I had no idea where to start from. So instead of starting I preferred watching TV, searching for the immediate reward that the TV gave.
  • Reward is usually that good feeling we get after going through the routine. We all know the feeling we get when our favourite actor or actress appears on the TV screen. You can get the same feeling from running. 

Since you now know that you want to change, you believe that you can change and you know what triggers the habit you want to replace, the next step is to replace the routine with a more useful or healthy one. In my case the idea is to replace TV watching with running. The hope is that since running is a keystone habit, it will most probably lead to changes in other areas of my life such as productivity. Changing keystone habits usually results in a lot of other changes. Find out more in my post "The amazing power of changing habits."

How I started running
We all know that starting running is not easy, especially after a 20-year break. I had to find ways to make it easy and not quickly burn myself out and lose motivation. So here is what I did.
  • I selfishly used my kids to get me started. I new the beginning was going to be tough and my 7 year-old son was in better shape than I was, so I used him as a starting point. I invited him to join me for the first few days. I also new that my speed at the beginning was not going to be impressive and didn't want people to point fingers at me saying look at how slow that guy is running. When you are running with a kid, people will always assume you are slow because you are running at the kid's pace. Clever, right?
  • On the days I don't feel like running at all, I invite my 5 year old son to come with me. Though we do it at a pace almost slower than a snail, at least I do not break my strick which is important when building habits. The key to forming habits is consistency. Running with him also keeps me outside, moving, away from the television and other temptations. This is also a good way to spend time with my kids and maybe teach them the importance of sports and leading an active life.

How to start running
Making small baby-steps is important when forming a habit. Running is not an exception. At the beginning what is important is going to run as often and consistently as possible. Proper nutrition is also important as with all forms of physical exercise. 

How not to start running
The beginning is not about running as fast as possible or the longest distance possible. It's all about making it a habit to go out and run. Trying to reach your limit on your first running day will most probably mean you won't be in a position to run the next day, which is not a good way to start.

When to run
A lot of people talk about exercising in the morning as being the best time. I decided to run in the evening because it is the time I am most likely to procrastinate and switch on the TV. As soon as I feel the urge to watch TV I know it's time to go and run. The reward is the great feeling I get when I finish running, the feeling I get when I see how I am getting fit as I run faster and further. Running is also a good way for me to wind down my day. After running I find it easier to sleep and recharge my batteries. Ultimate success will come when running becomes something that I do automatically.

Apps that can help you make running a habit
Since I am addicted to applications I will suggest a few apps here to get you started. The three apps that I use are Liftapp,Yog and CardioTrain. Liftapp can help you to work on consistency, while Yog puts a little more fun into running by making it possible for you to run with anyone, anywhere in the world in real time. CardioTrain is for those interested in keeping tabs on statistics such as running speed, distance and calories burned.

Do you believe in improving productivity by forming new habits? If you have any tips for making running a habit, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. Here is a little more reading for those who want to find out how exercising can improve productivity.
Mon, 07 Jan 2013