An Underrated Strategy for Turning Fitness Into a Habit

outdoor workouts, outdoor pushups, pushups

Do you remember the exact process you went through when you brushed your teeth this morning? Do you remember groggily squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube, the feeling of the bristles on your gums, and the taste of the toothpaste in your mouth?

Probably not -- with so much information to process, you automate some of your actions so they happen every day. These actions are habits. You don't think about habits; you just do them.

Fitness is all about habits, which is why so many people struggle with their workout plans, especially those who aren't in shape to begin with. Their habits up to that point have led them to an unfit life. Trying to fix that is a Sisyphean task for most people. It’s battling a lifetime of habit inertia.

But it can be done, and I’ve got the perfect system to make it happen.

egg white omelet with mushrooms
siamionau pavel/Shutterstock

Start finding "little wins"

I had a client a couple of years ago who was having a difficult time eating a healthy breakfast. This person felt like making an egg white omelet in the morning was damn near impossible.

After some trial and error, we finally started instituting the concept of little wins. Instead of having her focus on making an entire healthy breakfast, we first set a small little goal to have her drink water first thing in the morning.

Once she did that, she celebrated that as a little win. Her first healthy action for the day was out of the way, and she could move on to the next one.

peanut butter, peanut butter bagel, bagel
Paul Brady Photo/Shutterstock

Little wins can be pretty much anything

The details of little wins aren't important. What's important is that you recognize their power and the momentum that they can potentially develop once you get on a little winning streak.

To break your habits, and build new ones, you have to become aware of the process. Piling up little wins not only allows you to become aware of the habit you're trying to break; it institutes a plan for you to break that habit. This could mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator, choosing water instead of a soft drink, or just getting a whole-grain bagel instead of a regular one.

For example: you could swap out the donut for a large coffee, and opt for skipping breakfast completely, which might be a good strategy to try. Or, instead of the donut, you could just have a fiber-rich bagel with a little bit of peanut butter.

Either one works -- just find the little win, and once you get that little win, celebrate it.

running, running outdoors, man running
l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock

The power of this process lies in the momentum

In sports, there are always teams that seem to get hot at just the right time. They catch that ultra light beam and ride it all the way to glory, with Kanye playing in the background. Little wins are ultra light beams, and they can carry you to Kanye-serenaded glory.

When you start your day with a little win, and pile them up throughout the day, you begin to set yourself up for massive fitness success thanks to the momentum you’re creating. Once you get the ball rolling, it’s hard to stop it, because you just love winning so damn much.

A little win in the morning could turn into four or five more little wins by lunchtime, and another two or three by dinner. That’s a lot of success to experience in just one day, and that's an empowering feeling.

After a few days, you've gotten so accustomed to winning that you don't want it to stop. And not just that, but the wins start getting bigger. What was once a little win is now something you do on autopilot. That's how habits are created.

drinking, rooftop party, friends drinking
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

What if you stop winning?

Herein lies the true beauty of little wins. They're so small and simple that if you fail to get a little win, all you have to do is accept the loss, don’t dwell on it, and move on. Once you've moved on, you just seek out the next little win.

Maybe you went out to happy hour with co-workers and threw back a few more Manhattans than you planned on. No big deal. Just start the next day with a new little win, and you're right back on track. They function as a beautiful way to break the cycle when you feel yourself slipping on your diet or training program.

You don't have to start thinking about how you brush your teeth in the morning, though it couldn't hurt. But other habits that directly impact how you look and feel are a great place to start finding little wins. From what you eat, to how you exercise, to your sleep quality and stress levels. These are all excellent places to start.

Go find your habits and start winning.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Tanner Baze is a writer and trainer who is #winning. Follow him: @dtbaze.