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The Running Habit
If you’ve ever tried to develop a healthy habit (think: flossing every morning or taking 10,000 steps a day), you know how challenging the task can be. Take a habit like running, which can be both uncomfortable and time-consuming, and it’s a wonder people manage to do it at all. Yet many people do chase the running habit—and for great reasons.
Aside from the physical benefits of running (e.g., weight management, strong bones and cardiovascular fitness), you can also develop a host of mental benefits, such as better focus and attention and even greater self-confidence. Often, that self-confidence, or “grit,” spills over into other areas of your life as well, says Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., certified mental performance consultant and author of Beyond Grit: Ten Powerful Practices to Gain the High-Performance Edge.
You’re more likely to reap these benefits when you make running a long-term part of a healthy lifestyle. But how long does it take to develop the habit? One oft-cited study in the European Journal of Social Psychology reveals it can take between 18 and 254 days for a new exercise behavior to become habit. How quickly you develop the habit will depend on your personality, the behavior itself and your life circumstances.
While it may take time to stick, there are ways to boost your odds of success. Here, experts offer their top advice to nailing the running habit—for good.
Identify An Internal Reason To Run
It’s perfectly fine to run for external reasons (e.g., to lose weight or earn medals). However, you’re more likely to get out the door consistently if you also have strong internal reasons for running, “because if the weight loss isn’t happening, and that’s the primary reason for doing it, then over time, that type of motivation may serve as a disincentive rather than an incentive,” says Les Podlog, Ph.D., researcher and assistant professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Health Promotion and Education. Examples of powerful internal reasons include lowering stress, setting a positive example for loved ones and taking time to care for yourself. Check in occasionally to adjust your internal reasons if needed.
Track Your Progress
For beginner runners who don’t feel confident just yet, meeting milestones can help build confidence to sustain the running habit. You can gauge progress in any number of ways: how many minutes you can run before you need to take a walk break, weekly mileage, days run, etc. Choose the milestone(s) that appeal to you, and be sure to track your runs. You can use wearable devices like Fitbit and apps like Runkeeper, or go old-school with pen and paper—just pick a method to formally track your accomplishments.
Shut Down Negative Thoughts
“I don’t look like a runner.” “Will people judge me when I run outside?” “I feel guilty for taking time away from my family.” These are common negative thoughts that can prevent even dedicated runners from getting out the door.
Take control with Kamphoff’s CAR method: Catch negative thoughts by identifying them when they creep up. Address those negative thoughts, and try talking back to them. For example, “People driving by will wonder why someone like me is out running” can become “People driving by will celebrate that I’m out running.” Refocus—instead of letting those negative thoughts sit around, focus on your running form or the way it feels to be out in the fresh air.
Share The Pain
Shared experiences with an individual or group can be a powerful way to stay accountable. “We’re much more likely to flake on ourselves than we are to flake on someone else,” says Carrie Cheadle, M.A., mental skills coach and author of On Top of Your Game: Mental Skills to Maximize Your Athletic Performance.
According to Podlog, running with others can also help you build confidence, which will strengthen your running habit over time. “An important source of confidence for some people is favorable comparisons with others,” he says. For example, if you and a running buddy started at the same level, and that friend is making improvements, you may feel capable of those improvements as well.