Tips for Getting Back Into a Habit After You've Stopped

How I made my daily walks part of my routine (again).
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How I made my daily walks part of my routine (again).
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Shortly after Sloan was born, I got into the habit of taking her for daily morning walks. What started as an excuse to get out of the house (a rare treat with a newborn), became even more meaningful to me over time as it provided an opportunity to have one-on-one time with Sloan, get some exercise, and order an iced latte from my favorite coffee shop before the craziness of my day started. When G and I were in Paris, we walked a ton, but that all stopped as soon as we got back. Upon our return, I initially blamed jet lag for my morning sluggishness, then my hectic schedule having to catch up on all we missed while away. But after almost two months, I was out of excuses and newly determined to get back on track. Over the course of conversations with friends, and some trial and error, I'm back in the habit of my daily walks. Here are some of the tips I learned—which can be applied to forming any healthy habit:

1. Focus on the first step, instead of the entire process.

I've found that the most difficult part of starting any good routine is getting your foot out the door (in my case, literally). Rather than thinking about the entire walk, which felt like a burdensome task, I started to focus on just Step 1: Get myself and Sloan out the door. Once outside, the idea of going for the walk already feels easier. I've found that the same tip applies for working out in general—the hardest part of going to any exercise class is just getting inside the front door.

2. Set a short-term consecutive goal.

Starting anything with the goal of doing it forever, like walking every single day for the foreseeable future, isn't realistic. Instead, it helped me to set a short-term goal. I told myself I'd walk for five days in a row—no matter what. It got tough around mid-week, but it was helpful knowing there was an end in sight.

3. Start small.

For my first few walks, I shortened my regular loop to make it into a smaller commitment. For example, I walked for only thirty minutes each day my first week, before bumping the walks back up to an hour the next week. The only risk in doing this is getting too comfortable with the shorter time, so make sure to tell yourself, "I'm only doing this for a week/month" (whatever you decide), then edge yourself up to the next level. 

4. Write it down.

This may just be because I'm an incredibly visual person—I still write my to-do list down in an old-school notebook—but seeing my goal in words makes me that much more likely to do it. With that in mind, I set up a calendar reminder to send me an email at 6 AM every morning with the words, "Walk today," but I imagine that a sticky note on the refrigerator, or even adding it as a task on my to-do list to actually cross off, pen to paper, would have been just as effective. I'm also a fan of putting out my shoes the night before since I feel especially lazy stepping over them if I'm opting out of a walk.

5. Create little rewards.

Since exercise has never been something that's come easily to me as an adult (I blame too many team sports growing up), I try to make my walks as appealing as possible. Whether that involves buying myself a new workout top to wear, meeting up with a friend, listening to my favorite podcast (I typically listen to Howard Stern interviews), or grabbing a coffee at the end of my walk, having things to look forward to is a great motivator. 

6. Don't be too hard on yourself.

All that being said, if you miss a day, it's not the end of the world and doesn't mean you failed, it just means that you missed a day. There have been several days since I started walking again when I've had to skip, but instead of throwing my hands up and stopping altogether, I just went the next day and before long, the "skip" days became few and far between.