How to Make Habits That Last

Motivation Tucson Gym

“At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Last week I wrote about why so many New Year’s Resolutions fail by February, and how to make sure yours isn’t one of them. You can read that here. Many of those resolutions involve health and wellness-specifically losing weight and getting in to shape. At the gym, a very common reason we hear why people either don’t show up as often as they were planning to, or don’t start at all is a “lack of motivation.” If that is what is keeping so many people from reaching their goals, then what IS motivation anyway? The dictionary definition describes motivation as “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.” However, there is so much more to this that can be of a lot more use to us in this situation. While we can scroll passively through YouTube or Instagram searching for “Fitness Motivation” and suddenly hatch a plan to Finally get in shape in 2019, is this really motivation? Actually, it’s more of an inspiration.

And inspiration is a great start, but it is not what is going to get you out of bed on a cold rainy morning to hit the gym at 5am or to choose sparkling water instead of champagne on a night out with friends. In fact, one of the most surprising things for people to learn is that motivation actually comes AFTER starting new behaviors, instead of before. Let’s recall Newton’s first law of motion: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. But we can also generalize this law to include habit formation, and that can help us figure out what keeps people moving towards their goals weeks, months, and even years after they make them. Therefore, motivation is the RESULT of action, not what causes it. We need to get started, even if in only a small way in order to turn that inspiration into motivation. From there, we can naturally produce the momentum to power us through those early mornings, tough workouts, and temptations around every corner that threaten to derail our progress. Nearly all the friction is at the beginning or before you begin a task. After you get started, the progress happens more naturally.

What does this mean for you and your health and fitness goals? How are YOU going to get motivated and take action? The simple answer: you need a plan to get started, and you need to make it as easy as possible to begin. According to a recent study, it takes on average 66 days to form a habit. So what will you do in those two months to turn that healthy inspiration in to motivation and then in to lifelong, sustainable habits? Here is a good start:


Before you get started, sit down with your family, your friends, your pets, anyone who may be affected by this new event in your life. Don’t leave anything to chance. Don’t wake up in the morning wondering “what time will I get in to the gym today?” Figure out a time that works for you and stick to it. Write it in your planner, put it on your google calendar, remind yourself with a note on your refrigerator. But every day, make a time for exercise. If that can be at the same time every day, even better. But the bottom line is that you need a plan, and it needs to be SCHEDULED. That way, regardless of your level of “motivation” on a given day, it makes it more likely that you will follow through because your decision-making is already on auto-pilot.


What do successful people have in common? They have a “pre-game routine” that gets them started, a mindless way to initiate their behavior so that they have the strength to finish when things become challenging. Every morning before I go workout before the sun is up, my routine is as follows: feed the dogs, make the bed, get dressed, eat a snack, get in the car.  This isn’t dependent on inspiration OR motivation, but it shows the value in having a consistent pattern, or routine, because it eliminates my need to make any decisions. I do the same thing each morning, no matter how tired or groggy I am. Most people never get moving because they can’t decide how to get started. Decide on a routine that works for you around your gym time so that getting that initial momentum is so easy that you can’t say no to it. Remember, the most important part of a task is starting. If you can’t get motivated to begin, you can use your “pre-game routine” to get going to the point where motivation kicks in. This will get you moving toward your end goal.


The goal of your ritual or routine is to make it so ingrained in your life that you don’t need to find “motivation,” you just need to start your routine. There are days when I am so tired when my alarm goes off that I struggle to not hit the snooze button a couple of times and miss my early workout. But then I tell myself: just get up and feed the dogs, if you want to get back in bed after that, it’s ok. But guess what happens? After feeding the dogs, my “pre-game routine” has already started and then the motivation kicks in to help me finish the job and get my workout in. By getting up and feeding the dogs, I have kick-started my habit that I wasn’t motivated to do in the first place. If I didn’t have a sound ritual in place, it would be too much work to figure out what to do next. Since I can relatively mindlessly go through my morning routine, I know exactly what needs to happen. There’s no debating or decision making. Lack of motivation doesn't matter. I just follow the pattern.


With a good plan, a set schedule, and a routine that can get you moving in the right direction, you are setting yourself up for success when it comes to creating permanent habits that will become ingrained in your lifestyle. Stay consistent and before long, you will find that the pain of NOT getting your workout in will be greater than the pain of doing it. All those early mornings that I was so tired I felt like skipping my workout? I always leave the gym energized, happier, and ready to tackle the rest of my day. The intrinsic rewards I earned from doing a hard workout serve as further motivation and momentum to continue showing up for the early classes.  

Graphic based on Charles Duhigg's "Habit Loop" in The Power of Habit. Created by James Clear.

Graphic based on Charles Duhigg's "Habit Loop" in The Power of Habit. Created by James Clear.

Motivation is a powerful, yet tricky thing, especially considering that it doesn’t actually kick in until AFTER you begin working towards your goal. But creating better rituals can help create habit to get you moving in the right direction towards a happier, healthier life.

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