How to Create Running Habits that Stick

So you’ve recently started running and you’re finding it hard to get into a steady routine. Or maybe you’ve fallen off the wagon and decided to get back on board and get serious about this running business.

Fabulous idea! I’m very excited for you. Like most things, habits take time to stick. In this article I’ll share some of the methods I use to ensure running is a constant in my life. But firstly..

How do we make habits stick?

Depending on what you read, research shows that on average it takes roughly two months (66 days to be exact) for a repeated action to become a habit and stick.

That doesn’t mean you need to run 66 days straight (your body needs time to recover). It means if you stick to a plan, i.e. run 3 mornings a week, for roughly 9 weeks straight, your brain will do its thing and lock this action in as habit.

Here’s a great way to think about it – Imagine that you are taking a walk through a dense forest. The first time you go through the forest, there is a lot of resistance to your passage so you have to use a machete to fight your way through. However, the second time you walk through, it’s not as difficult because you’ve already started creating a pathway through the jungle.

Every time you walk through, you make the pathway larger and there is less and less resistance to your walk. Eventually, the pathway will become a track that you are able to easily pass through. It’s the same with your brain.

Every time you think a thought, or take an action, the resistance is reduced therefore increasing the likelihood of you having that thought again or undertaking the same action. This is how habits are formed.

As Aristotle said; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Set Goals

The use of goal setting has a major effect on your success! There are thousands of books available on the positive effects of goal setting – having short and long term goals in place keeps you motivated, committed and on a clear path to success.

In short there are 2 types of goals – Macro (big) goals & Micro (small) goals.

Macro goals, what some call your ‘push goal’, are your big ticket items. These goals should be challenging and make you step out of your ‘comfort zone’ i.e. book yourself into a long distance running event 3- 6 months down the track – a distance that you haven’t reached before and one that makes you feel nervous.

The macro goals generally have a knock on affect, in that if you achieve these goals you will concurrently achieve some of your other goals.

For example, let’s say you have a goal of losing 5kg in the next 3 months. There’s no doubt in my mind that if you reach your main goal of completing the long distance run, you will have also lost the 5kg’s along the way. The macro goal (big goal) ensures you reach the micro (small goal) you set along the way.

Micro goals are the building blocks for achieving your Macro goal. These are the steps you need to take to get you where you want to go. For every macro goal you set, you’ll need to plan out a multiple number of micro goals.

For the running event example you might include:

  • Complete 15 km run (macro goal)
  • Run 3 times per week, improving time & distance constantly (micro goal)
  • Set and follow a nutrition plan (micro goal)
  • Lose 5kgs (micro goal)
  • Strength training once per week (micro goal)
  • Read a book about running long distance (micro goal)


Determine your best time to Run – Morning, Lunch or Evening

To aid in sticking to your goals and setting your habits in place, determine the best time for you to run. You should think about factors that will affect you’re running such as work, lifestyle, energy levels (throughout the day) and (if you’re a parent) your kids routines.

Once you’ve determined you’re best running time, set it and lock it in. Make this a priority – if you don’t make this a priority no-one else will.

Quick tips for your time

Morning Runner
If you’re an early riser make sure you go to bed at a decent time to ensure you have 8 hours solid sleep. If you’re a parent this isn’t always possible so just do your best.

Set your alarm and put it outside of arms reach. I still set my alarm and place it on top of my running gear in the doorway of my bedroom. This way I literally have to get up out of bed to turn it off. Once I’m up, before I know it, I’ve got my running gear on and am heading out the door.

Lunch time Runner
If you’re able to run on your lunch break befriend someone in your office; or if you have a friend who works close by, make a pact to meet at a certain place and time and run together. It’s a great way to make the most of your time and it’s more motivating when you have a running buddy to keep each other honest.

The great thing about running at lunch is you can get out of the office and recharge your batteries, meaning you’ll most likely perform to a higher level when you go back to work. Studies show mid day exercise increases alertness and productivity.

Evening Runner
If you’re at your best in the evening, the easiest way I’ve found to commit to my running schedule is by running home from work. This means you avoid getting home and having that quick rest that can turn into missing your run altogether.

If you don’t live near work you can combine running home with catching public transport, or driving part of the distance. I did this myself and found it a great way to build upon my distance and it really motivated me to get off one stop earlier each week. It also saves money on your journey.

Schedule, Document & Calendarise

Like anything that’s important, you need to lock it in to make sure it happens. Whether it’s a dinner date, birthday or work meeting, if you don’t diarise what you need to do, you’ll always be on the back foot and eventually something will be missed.

Running and exercise shouldn’t be any different. Put it in your outlook calendar at work, phone or find an App to use.

Do not however, put it in your diary or calendar, have it pop up and dismiss it continually. This is a bad habit to fall into. There’s a part of your brain that feels some kind of accomplishment for having the intention of doing something (especially if you see the reminder flash up). This creates a hormone in the brain called dopamine, a chemical that gives you the nice warm feeling of accomplishment, and in this case you haven’t actually accomplished anything.

If you’ve set the reminder in your diary/scheduler and consistently ignore it (1 week or more), take it out and use another method.

Take Action!

Pull out your notebook and calendar – whether it’s in your phone or on the fridge, set yourself a challenge, plan your attack, write down what it will take to achieve it, then start running!

The average life expectancy in Australia is 82 years or 29,930 days. You owe it to yourself to at least use 70 of those days (only 0.2% of your life span) to set running as a habit.

A habit that has so many proven benefits both mentally and physically, that creates happy chemicals in our brain to make us more positive, relaxed and happier overall. Running is a great way to combat stress, depression, low self-esteem and boredom. And it’s free!

I hope after reading this you are feeling motivated, or at least you’re warming to the idea and can implement some of the tips above. The great thing about running is YOU decide how much or little you do.

Remember, EVERYONE has to start somewhere, no one was born running. Get out there and make it happen.

Happy Running!

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