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Reinforcement for Creating Exercise Habits

By Trisha McNary

Getting compliments, and getting paid for your work, are two strong motivators to keep repeating the same behavior. But most people aren’t paid to exercise, and you can’t always count on others to motivate you. Exercise reinforces itself by releasing feel-good hormones and improving your appearance. If you need more reinforcement, positive thinking and visualization can get you started and keep you going until exercise becomes a habit -- which takes about three months.

Natural Reinforcement

Your body needs exercise to be healthy, so nature reinforces your exercise habit by releasing endorphins and other “feel-good” hormones during both cardio and weight-lifting exercise. The level of these hormones in your system will be higher at all times if you have an exercise habit, according to an article for The University of Edinburgh Faculty of Medicine. Experiencing how good regular exercise makes you feel can be all the motivation you need to keep exercising again until it becomes a fixed habit.

Powerful Thinking

Research shows that positive thinkers -- optimists – are happier, have better physical health and are more likely to exercise than pessimists, explained in an article for "The Atlantic." If you catch yourself having negative thoughts about exercise, realize that these thoughts can be negative reinforcement against creating your exercise habit. Intentionally think positive thoughts to counteract these thoughts. For example, “I will keep going back to the gym for as long as it takes for exercise to become my habit.”

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Visualizing Success

Imagine how you will look hen you achieve your ideal level of fitness. It can help to find a picture of someone in the shape you want to be in and then visualize yourself with that toned stomach or those muscular arms or fit legs. Your thoughts act as mental instructions to your brain, and your brain is heavily affected by visual thoughts or images, according to "Psychology Today." Use the powerful tool of many successful professional athletes -- visualization -- to picture yourself exercising your way to extreme fitness.

Resisting Negativity

Your best efforts to create an exercise habit can be sabotaged by negative reinforcement from others who do not share your dream of fitness. If you allow what they say and do to influence your thoughts, you will be sending the message to your brain to not exercise. To counteract this effect, think a positive response to negative words and behavior. For example, “I can see and feel the difference exercise has made, and I will keep exercising.” Spending more time around people who set a positive exercise example can help, too.

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