Like it or not, our exercise personality type is ingrained in our DNA. It will dictate whether that new workout habit we are trying to establish will be phenomenally successful or an epic failure. We just need to look for the clues to set ourselves up for success.
I am a crack-of-dawn person. When that 4 a.m. alarm sounds, I’m up, wide awake and ready to go. Check me out at 8 p.m., and I resemble a corpse, barely able to drag my butt from the sofa to the bed.
Early Bird or Night Owl?
Are you an early bird or a night owl? That distinction makes a significant impact on your exercise strategy – timing and approach. Chances are, you know when your “feeling best” rhythm kicks in and you have highest energy of the day. It may be at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. Only you know for sure.
Either way, go with it. Half the battle of making working out a habit is knowing the best time of day for your mind and body. What works for you is the best time, even though research reveals slight differences between performance in the morning and at night.
A study by researchers at Appalachian State University shows morning workouts promote better sleep, which is a bonus if you’re an early bird. Subjects in the study also saw a 10% reduction in blood pressure that lasted through the day and a 25% decrease in nighttime blood pressure.
Fear not, night owls. Working out in the afternoon or evening can also bring health benefits. Another study conducted by French researchers showed male competitive cyclists generated an average of 8% higher power outputs later in the day.
Identify Your Exercise Personality
Once you know your best time of day to exercise, the next step is to pinpoint what type of exercise motivates you. Are you a solo exerciser? Maybe group exercise or team sports are more appealing. For some, pairing up with an accountability partner is enough motivation to get into action.
Dr. Mary Delaney, a psychologist with more than 30 years experience as a psychotherapist in private practice, identifies three distinct exercise personality types.
- Kinesthetic – They love the physical world and physical body and thrive on competition. Competitive sports motivate kinesthetic personalities.
- Thinker – They are driven by information, scorekeeping, sets and reps, time, distance, and other performance data. Thinkers will make a commitment to exercise because the workouts help to calm their busy minds.
- Relator – They are heart-centered people who relate to everything they do. They enjoy yoga, long walks in the woods, hiking, and group fitness activities. Relators do best when working out with friends.
Body, Mind & Spirit
“My approach as a psychologist is body, mind and spirit,” says Delaney. “So I might first ask the question, ‘What motivates you?’” Those answers will be different, depending on which of the three exercise personalities fit you.
Interestingly, she says, all three types are drawn to nature. She points to research studies that have shown time spent in green settings and in nature have remarkable health benefits. “We have to understand that any exercise we get in a natural setting not only supports our body but also our emotional well-being.”
Motivation for Changing Habits
In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he lays out the pattern by which a habit forms. First, there’s a cue to the brain prompting the behavior, next is the routine or action itself, and finally the reward. He calls it the “habit loop” and as it is reinforced, the brain has less involvement and the behavior becomes automatic. Driving to work each day or brushing your teeth are good examples. The repetition of the pattern over and over forms the new habit.
Delaney points to research done by Alan Deutschman, author of Change or Die, an acclaimed look at what it truly takes to inspire change in habits and relationships. Deutschman asserts people are not motivated by fear, force or facts. But rather, the “three R’s” – relate, repeat and reframe.
Fear-Based Motivation Rarely Works
“Fear-based motivation is, ‘If you don’t exercise, you’ll have a heart attack and die.’ There are penalties if you don’t do something,” Delaney explains. “The fact is only 10 percent of the population is motivated to make changes through fear, force or facts.”
“What we need instead is a community around us that will inspire us to make changes.” Relationships and community support are integral to change, she says. Group fitness, accountability partners and team sports are great ways for people to feel as though they belong to a community of like-minded people.
Reframing helps us to see exercise in a positive light instead of a chore. “I’m the type of person who is motivated if I have someone to workout with,” says Delaney. If her workout buddy is out of town, instead of dreading and complaining about having to work out, she simply reframes it like this: “It is an honor and a privilege to workout. As soon as I reframe it, it’s no longer an obligation or a chore,” she says.
Daily Exercise Habits
To create a habit of daily exercise, try these tips:
- Set a time each day for exercise and write it in your calendar. Consistency is key when it comes to building new habits. Repetition reinforces new behaviors in your brain.
- Set out your workout clothes, shoes and gear the night before. Heck, there are nights I sleep in my workout clothes to ensure I have no excuses.
- Set small goals at first. Just move. 10-15 minutes will quickly become 20-30 minutes. Progress gradually as your body adapts to the new habit.
- Head out the door. Sometimes, the hardest part is starting. If your group, team or accountability partner is waiting for you, even better.
Staying on Track
Establishing a new exercise habit can be rocky at times. How do we detect and correct self-sabotaging negative talk? “I teach people how to love themselves first.”
She offers a simple technique to shift negative thoughts by using the word “AND” to add a positive thought or action to the phrase.
“If my self-talk is I’m lazy, I didn’t get my workout done, I’m so stupid, finish the sentence with AND I’m going to do 10 pushups right now.” Or you might say, “I got so busy my day got away. I failed in my exercise goals, AND I’m going to workout first thing in the morning.
“You can shift things by simply creating a compound sentence,” she explains. “And then you don’t have to blame your negative thoughts. I’m not going to kill the messenger. I’m going to reframe it and turn it into a positive.”