The next step in your habit creation is to consciously designate an anchor or trigger for your habit: something that is the same every time you want your habitual routine to be enacted. My afternoon hike with the dog, for example, is triggered by me leaving my office in the evening and walking into the kitchen to think about dinner, and then ultimately feeding the dog. (So the time of day is an anchor, as is feeding the dog. After I feed the dog I always habitually walk him.)
An anchor can be time of day, a different habitual behavior that comes right before your habit (those make good triggers) — even an emotion. For example, when you feel anxious, you may habitually pick at your nails. Or if you feel happy, you may habitually reach for your phone to take a picture. (I’m not suggesting these as good anchors or habits, mind you. Just showing how emotions are often triggers.)
With exercise, a general time of day is usually the best trigger, like first thing in the morning, after school, during lunchtime, or before dinner — but that can’t be the only thing that anchors your exercise habit. Once you know generally the time of day when you’d like to exercise, try to link your activity to an existing behavior or routine.
For example, here is the existing routine I linked my new walking habit to. It’s something that I was already doing before I added a walk into the picture. I leave the office in the late afternoon, walk across the backyard to my house, go into the kitchen, and call out to see who’s home and who’s helping with dinner. I get out the ingredients that need to be prepped for dinner, and then I feed the dog and give my family instructions for how they can help with dinner. That’s right where I inserted a walk: While the dog wolfs down his food, I change my shoes (which are right near the dog bowls) and get a leash ready. From there, I quickly head out for a walk or a hike (or, at some times of the year, a run, but for this program I refer to this exercise habit as my afternoon walk).
If you’ve got a habit that you don’t want to do every day, choose a trigger that occurs only when you want to do the habit. For example, “Do a thirty-minute yoga video twice a week” isn’t a habit. It’s a to-do item for your task list because there’s no clear trigger and therefore no clear automaticity. But if you work only three days a week, you can use work as your trigger: “Do a thirty-minute yoga video every non-working weekday as soon as I walk in the door from dropping the kids off at school.”
You’ll be more likely to stick with your new habit if you use an existing trigger, so try to anchor your exercise to an existing routine.
What To Do Today
Designate a trigger (or anchor) for your habit, something that is the same every time you want to do it. Please be sure that you will be able to do your exercise every single time you are exposed to your anchor. Because I always feed the dog, I always go for a walk after he eats–even if it is only to the end of the block and back.