How to turn exercise into a subconscious habit?

Why does one brush their teeth every single day of their lives? 

Because it only takes 10-15 minutes and it would be hard to justify not being able to spend such a small amount of time for your own personal hygiene every day. This simple logic can be applied to forming any new habit.

Exercising should be as simple as brushing your teeth. You should do it subconsciously without even realising that you are doing it.

How long does it take to form an exercise habit?

How long did it take to develop a habit of brushing your teeth or taking a bath? You do not remember right? That’s the trait of a strong habit. You usually do not remember how long it takes.

Having said that, based on my personal experience of following this guide, It would take you 1 year to develop an exercise habit and another year to strengthen the habit.

So if you are looking for a quick shortcut to start working out, this article is not for you. If you are ready to dedicate the next 2 years of your life to form an unbreakable habit which has no exceptions, read on.

Start small (like really small)

Exercise for 15 minutes a day for a whole year. If you don't feel like it on any particular day, tell yourself this: what is the point of life if you can’t even take out 15 minutes a day for your own body?

After a year passes, your body and brain will subconsciously make an agreement that exercise is now an integral part of your life and you do not plan to stop anytime soon.

When this happens, you will find yourself working out even without knowing it or consciously making an effort to get up from your seat and push yourself to do it. This stage is what I would like to call the “threshold”.

In my personal experience, the threshold is reached after 1 year of starting a new habit. But some folks can reach it earlier.

Here is a simple 15 minute exercise routine that you can use. If you are a beginner, do a single set of each of these exercises by doubling the rest time in between each exercise and skip the ones that are too high intensity.

The idea is to easily be able to repeat this everyday, so listen to your body and find your comfort zone.

Be patient until you reach the threshold

I ve got some bad news for you. There is very less likelihood that you will see any changes in your body in terms of losing weight or developing any kind of muscle or tone in this 1 year.

The reason being 15 minutes of workout a day is not enough to warrant these kinds of changes in your body. 

But you must keep in mind that this 1 year was not meant to get ripped. It was meant to program your body and turn exercise into a subconscious job instead of a conscious job.

And now for the good news: whether your goal is weight loss or getting ripped, you can easily do that in year 2 and it will only take a couple of months.

It is very similar to compound interest in that you won't see any short term returns for a long period of time, but once this period passes you can sit back and watch your investment multiply exponentially.

Increase the intensity after a year

Once you are past the threshold, you can straightaway increase your workout time from 15 minutes to 2 hours. You can start lifting weights, get a trainer, go to a gym. Basically anything you want.

The beauty of this is that on the next day if your body refuses to workout again on account of being sore, that is completely fine because on day 2 or 3 your body will start feeling cranky and force you to exercise.

Keep doing this long enough and you will gain the ability to decide how long you want to work out on any given day without flinching and your body will cooperate. I like to call this the “zone”

A great addiction to have

Once you are in the zone, you will realise that you are now addicted to working out and if you take too long a break between consecutive workouts, your body shows signs of withdrawal.

You have now trapped yourself in this beautiful prison that you won't be able to break out of even if you want to. It is just like any other addiction.

There is a huge difference between a regular addiction and an addiction to working out though. When you smoke or drink, it feels great in the moment but you feel terrible the next day. With exercise, you feel terrible in the moment but it feels amazing the next day.

As time passes, you will learn to enjoy the pain and it starts feeling good even in the moment. If you reach this stage, congratulations! You have just formed an unbreakable exercise habit.

Track your habit till you reach the threshold

The period where you are still struggling to reach the threshold is extremely critical and you should go to every possible lengths to not break the habit during this period.

After you cross the threshold, even if you take long breaks in between workouts, you will eventually go back to your habit because such is the nature of the threshold. But taking a long break before reaching the threshold can mess with the whole system.

That said, one does not have to maintain a streak. You can take a day off every week or set yourself up with a goal of hitting 25 days in a month where you exercise for 15 minutes every day.

To do this efficiently and maintain accountability, my friend Preetam and I built a very simple application to track daily habits.

Closing notes

To sum it up, the first step to fitness is developing a habit that cannot be broken. Once a habit is set up, you are free to pursue weight loss or muscle gain or whatever your goal may be.

A habit usually takes 1 year to form if you are consistent and invest very small amounts of time every single day.

Just to clarify, I do not claim to be an expert on this subject and everything I talked about in this article was based on my own personal experiences.