How many times have you promised yourself that you’d start a new routine, only to find yourself back to your old ways a few months later? You sincerely wanted to make the change; you put in the effort; but it didn’t stick.  You probably had big dreams for yourself, but those faded away as you saw that you weren’t sticking to your plan. Here’s the good news.  There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s the plan that needs to change

The key to creating a routine is to create a plan that works for YOU and to work toward your goal very slowly and deliberately. Life is a marathon not a sprint. Here is a four-step approach that works.

  1. Determine and Document Your Why: Are you exercising for your appearance, your health, your energy levels, to improve your mood, to reduce stress, any combination of the above, or for some other reason(s)? Whatever it is, write it down. Take the time to write down your reasons, and why they are important to you. Don’t just think about it. Writing helps you better process the information.  Post your responses somewhere that you’ll see it multiple times each day. Give your mind and soul lots of opportunities to fully embrace your why. The stronger your “why”, the more you’ll be motivated.
  2. Choose the Right Time of Day for You: The new routine you are trying to start needs to fit into your schedule and your body clock.  Just because I like to roll out of bed at the crack of dawn and start my day by going for a run doesn’t mean it’s right for you. My husband is a runner, but he would never join me at that hour. He waits until the end of his workday and then goes.  To him, it’s a way to unwind and recharge after a hard day’s effort.  To me, an afternoon run would be an annoying interruption in my day’s activities. What is best for you? Are you a morning person? Do you enjoy a break in the middle of the day? Are you a night owl? When do you have breaks in your school, family and/or work schedule? You know your body. You know your daily rhythms.  You know your schedule. This new routine is for you, so choose the time of day that works best for you.
  3. Start Small: I know lots of coaches encourage people to “dream big.” I personally hate that advice because I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure and disappointment. I like to dream in baby steps. Baby steps are easy to achieve; and with each achievement, there is an opportunity to celebrate a small success.   Here is a sample schedule for a “Baby Steps” approach to achieving the goal of working out for 30-40 min/ day, 3x/week at the gym. (This can be modifed to align with your exercise preferences.) At the time you chose, on each of the three days, do the following:
    1. Week One: Change into your exercise clothes. Don’t work out. Don’t even go to the gym. Continue doing whatever you’d normally be doing at that time.
    2. Week Two: Change into your gym clothes. Drive to the gym. Get out of your car and walk to the front door. Don’t go in. Go back to your car. Go home, or back to wherever you need to be.
    3. Week Three: Change into your gym clothes. Drive to the gym. Go into the gym.  Walk around for a while and watch people working out. Go home, or back to wherever you need to be. Are you noticing that after 3 weeks of almost working out, you’re actually starting to want to?
    4. Week Four: Change into your gym clothes. Drive to the gym. Go inside.  Do an easy workout for one of the days.  On the other days, walk around and watch people working out.
    5. Week Five: By now, you’ve been going to the gym for almost a month. You’ve successfully changed your routine. Now it’s time to start focusing on the workout itself.  Last week, you did an easy workout once a week. This week, try doing an easy workout each time you go.
    6. Week Six: Make your workouts a little harder, something you can still easily accomplish without feeling sore the next day. 
    7. Week Seven: Congratulate yourself. You’ve made it past that six-week mark when most people quit. Because you started off small and built up gradually, you didn’t burn out. You slowly and carefully built a new routine.  You took a slow and steady approach.  All of your baby steps carried you far. 
  4. Celebrate Every Success Your Way:  How do you like to recognize your successes? Everyone is different. Some like regular visual reminders or feedback from others; some prefer to hold off on celebrating until they achieve a specific milestone. Which one sounds most like you?  Do you like to record your achievements, perhaps by marking off days on a calendar or keeping a journal? Is it satisfying to you to work out with someone else and congratulate each other upon finishing? Is getting closer to your goal something you do in anticipation of a big celebration when you hit your target? What do you need to do to make each workout feel like a success? Do whatever works best for you. 

You can start a new habit if you take it slowly. You will stay motivated if you create a routine that is fun and works with your schedule. Lots of baby steps add up!  You will have a lot to celebrate!


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Leslie Gold

Leslie Gold, Founder and Executive Director of Strides in Recovery Leslie is an RRCA-certified running coach who specializes in training the newly sober. As a volunteer at a residential addiction treatment program, she has coached hundreds of people in early recovery across the finish line of the Los Angeles Marathon, more than any other coach in the country. Years later, many of the participants still credit the group training and life lessons learned as critical to their long-term sobriety. Inspired by these success stories and numerous testimonials about the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits of training for a challenging endurance event with the support of a team, Leslie started Strides in Recovery. The mission of this non-profit is threefold: 1) Bring running/walking-based relapse prevention programs to more recovery communities 2) Strengthen and grow the community of sober runners/walkers 3) Educate addiction treatment providers about the healing power of goal-oriented group training Prior to starting Strides in Recovery in 2018, Leslie spent three decades leading clinical and financial performance improvement projects, implementing decision support solutions, and generating analytics for hospitals and health systems across the US. She holds an MBA from UCLA and a BA from the University of Virginia. She regularly runs 40-50+ miles/week and has joyfully completed a 50K, 9 marathons, and numerous shorter distance events. She is also an avid cyclist.

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