Catherine Burns

How to make your exercise habit stick

  • Couch potatoes: Ashley Estwanik pushes a couch along the May 24 route during the Sir Stanley Burgess 5K in 2014

I’ve been tidying up the clutter lately and last night found some black-and-white photos that were taken when I was 17.

Belle picked one up this morning and said: “Oh wow mummy!”

I thought she was about to deliver some kind of fantastic compliment, but she followed it (incredulously) with: “Are these from the days when there was only black and white?”

That was a little hit to the ego! I did try and tell her that I wasn’t that old, but she already knows there were no mobile phones or iPads or internet when I was little — which basically confines me to the Dark Ages.

Spurred on by that, I added an extra dose of collagen to my herbal tea and have been snacking on berries all morning. I also sat down to figure out exactly how to get back to running again regularly … I was doing so well over Christmas (even in the UK) when I had some extra time on my hands.

However, January is, of course, crazy in my line of work, so the rhythm went out the window. I decided to get more protective of my run times and not shift them for meetings or appointments or anything social.

I feel 1,000 per cent better when I run. It’s so important to me. I have less anxiety, feel more energised, focused and probably look more refreshed too. There’s no doubt that exercise helps to keep you looking and feeling young. (It’s also important for your diet to keep up though, otherwise exercise can actually be ageing — but more on that next week.)

I know that to make my runs happen, I have to have them in my diary and I have to have my gear in my bag the night before; there is no way I will remember or prioritise it when I am trying to get out of the house in the early morning with two small humans in tow.

It also helps me to have a goal. This year we are hoping to push the couch the whole way along the May 24 route so training has to start extra early — although exactly how you train for pushing a couch on wheels 13 miles, I am not sure.

Anyway, while all this was happening, I started listening to a podcast by Gretchen Rubin. She has written some really great books (including The Happiness Project) and also something called The Four Tendencies,/i>, which is designed to help you understand how your brain ticks when it comes to habits and motivation.

The idea is that if you understand your characteristics better, you can put in play a plan that is more likely to work for you. Now, I’m not really a fan of quizzes that put people into strict categories, but I read it out of curiosity (and with hope that it might help me guide my clients, from a motivation perspective).

I actually found it totally fascinating and took away some really helpful insights. So, when the podcasts popped up in my browser I started listening.

The particular episode I listened to first described a success story from one of Rubin’s readers. The reader had never followed through on a fitness goal (ever) as she always lost her motivation, but following some advice from one of Rubin’s articles, she spent some time identifying the problem.

In the end, she decided that all the time going back and forth to the gym, to her, felt like wasted time. So she got impatient with going and gave up. Understanding that that was the issue, she decided to try running instead. With running, she could just throw on her sneakers and go right from her doorstep with no “wasted” travel time. That worked. In addition, she did something called “safeguarding” which meant that she had a back-up plan if she couldn’t do one of her runs one day. It is basically “planning to fail” which sounds like an odd concept, but worked really well in this instance.

She also did something that Rubin describes as “pairing”, which meant that she made a rule for herself: she could only listen to her favourite playlist and podcasts when she was running. The upshot? She finally succeeded on achieving her running goal and is still running to this day. She just had to identify the problem, make a plan, make a back-up plan too and pair the activity with something else she really liked to do.

It’s not the case that the same plan will work for everyone. We all have different things that inhibit our enthusiasm and different things that will help us succeed. While NOT going to the gym worked for this reader, actually GOING to a gym would work better for someone else.

I have a client who recently signed up to a gym because they hate running in the rain and in cold weather. She has been going three times a week and absolutely loves it. For her, the gym was the solution rather than the problem. Everyone is different.

While I do think that there is a different solution for everyone when it comes to making exercise habits stick, I think that our Beat the Couch programme is uniquely successful.

We are starting again on February 21 and could not be more excited to get Season 13 going. We have an incredibly varied and flexible training schedule, with ten runs a week on offer (mornings, lunchtimes and evenings).

You only need to pick three a week, but the versatility is amazing for when life throws you a curveball. In addition, the motivation and camaraderie of the group, coupled with professional support from expert trainers, means that we have an impressive success rate. If you are interested in learning more, take a look at www.natural.bm.

The details for Season 13 will be live by the weekend and we would love for you to join us!

Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. For details: natural.bm, 236-7511 or, on Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda