In your heart, you are a runner. In your mind's eye, you can see a leaner, stronger, faster version of yourself logging miles through beautiful scenery, drinking fresh-squeezed juice after your morning run, and flying past the competition in a 5K. So, why can't you make yourself get out the door to run more than three days in a row?
Building new habits is difficult, but if you apply the science of habit formation and use a few tried-and-true techniques--detailed here by Winnipeg’s Gabriel Patterson--you can turn yourself into the motivated runner of your dreams.
Understand the Cue, Routine, Reward
Research into the formation of habits gets into some complicated neuroscience, but applying what scientists have learned is remarkably simple. Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit," breaks habit formation into the elements of cue, routine, and reward. To turn a new routine, like a daily run, into a habit as automatic as brushing your teeth, you must set up a cue (like laying out your running clothes or always running after work without sitting down first) and a reward. Your plan should be so clear that you can write it in this format: When [cue happens], I will go for a run because it provides me with [reward].
Train Your Brain With Small, Consistent Rewards
The reward in this scenario is not meant to be a major motivator. It's intended to manipulate your brain chemistry into responding to the cue you've set up (think Pavlov's dog). The reward should come right after you've responded to the cue, not an hour later. So if you came home from work, saw your running clothes laid out, put them on, and now you're headed out for your run, give yourself a handful of grapes or a piece of chocolate on your way out the door. Don't wait until after you've run. Plan ahead for these rewards, because consistency is the key to changing your brain chemistry.
You'll Need More Powerful Motivation
Although a mouthful of sweet grapes will help reinforce the new neural connections you're building, your brain is complex and your rewards will need to be more powerful. Stay focused on the deeper rewards of your run--the human factors like beautiful scenery, solitude, fitness, competition, and achievement. These are your true rewards.
Join a Group
Fitness expert Gabriel Patterson recommends running with a group. A group gives you built-in cues and the reward of socializing with like-minded people, among other things. Groups are composed of like-minded individuals who will keep you accountable to your own goals and commitments. Many of those people have been where you are now, and they will be eager to help you make running a central part of your lifestyle." Find a group near you on Facebook or Meetup.com.
Prioritize the Habit Formation Over the Running Goals
During the first few weeks of building a running habit, make consistency your focus rather than miles or speed. On days when you feel sluggish, it will be easier to lace up your shoes and go out the door if you allow yourself to just jog around the block. You can demand more from yourself after the habit is built.
“Be patient with yourself and you'll soon find yourself going out the door automatically,” says Patterson. Then, you can focus on building your speed and stamina to become the runner you know you can be.