5 Tips to Get Your Rituals to Stick, or How I Finally Managed to Start Exercising (Finally.)
Photo courtesy of Pascale.

5 Tips to Get Your Rituals to Stick, or How I Finally Managed to Start Exercising (Finally.)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity


Remember this blog post? It was my 2013 (anti-)goal setting post that I published around New Years. “Embodiment” was to be the theme of my year, and a big part of that theme was getting out of my head and “into my body.” Literally.

I guess I got lucky with diet, because going Paleo wasn’t very difficult for me (I was left no choice really. Those were the only foods that didn’t make me feel like I wanted to curl up and die.) A lot of people struggle with giving up bread or sugar when they go Paleo. My health was bad enough at that point, that I didn’t have this problem. Tony Robbins says that to make a big change you need either inspiration or desperation. I had the latter.

Establishing an exercise ritual on the other hand, has proven to be a real challenge for me.

Much of it was due to logistics (or excuses, or fears, depending on how you want to look at it). In January, I found a bootcamp I liked, but then I went off to LA for a month so I couldn’t continue. I wanted to just sign up for a gym and lift some weights, but I was afraid that I’d do it wrong and hurt myself, or that I wouldn’t feel comfortable among the muscly boys, or that a trainer would be too expensive or would force me to run on a treadmill and not understand my goals. I tried doing bodyweight exercises at home. It worked for a couple weeks, and then got boring. I tried going to yoga class. That didn’t last.

There were a million little things that seemed to be getting in the way, and nothing was sticking for more than a few weeks.

Well, I am happy to report that I’ve finally been able to instill an exercise ritual and stick with it. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, between my morning work and lunch, I swing by the gym.

The principles I’m going to talk about here can be applied to habits in any area. If you’re struggling with instilling a consistent work ritual for your multipotentialite projects, or fitting a certain activity into your day, take note.

1. Make the ritual as easy for you to do as humanly possible

Part of the reason that I always hated going to the gym was that I thought I had to run on a treadmill or elliptical trainer for twenty minutes. It never occurred to me that maybe I just hate cardio, and maybe that’s ok. A lot of research suggests that strength training is far more effective for losing weight than cardio anyway.

Once I started lifting weights, it all got easier. But even that didn’t really stick until I reached out to a friend who knew his way around the gym, and asked him to show me a few exercises.

Unlike the few trainers I’ve worked with at bootcamp, gym orientations, and such, my friend didn’t bombard me with 14 different exercises. He gave me exactly 4 exercises to do: two to work my lower body and two for my upper body. Since my goal right now is to simply get stronger all around, it made sense to work the biggest muscles. I will likely add more exercises to my routine in the future, but for now, 4 is perfect.

My exercise routine is simple. Each time I go to the gym, I am to choose one lower body and  one upper body exercise and do 5 reps of 5 with as much weight as I can bear while maintaining proper form. That’s a total of TWO exercises per workout.

Just to give you an idea, this whole routine takes me about 20 minutes to complete. I used to think that strength training meant doing at least ten reps, and by number six, I’d be bored out of my mind. (Maybe I just have a really short attention span, but so be it.) Five reps is over so fast. No boredom involved.

Oh also, I chose a gym that is right between the coffee shop where I often do my work in the morning, and my house. Anything out of the way, and there’s no way I’d make it there three times a week.

When you’re looking to instill a new ritual, look for the easiest, simplified, most fun way to do it. If you want to write each day, shoot for 5 minutes at first, and increase when doing so feels like it would be easy and fun.

2. Cue – Routine – Reward

I recommend that everyone read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In it, he talks about habit pathways are formed in the brain. You need a cue (could be a time of day, a feeling, etc.), then you go into the routine, and then you get a reward. All three elements need to be present for an action to become automatic.

Knowing this, I decided that my cue would be finishing my morning work which is often done at coffee shops, my routine would obviously be the workout, and the reward would be dropping by the Paleo food cart for a small post-workout snack before heading home for lunch. It turns out there are a few rewards here. The endorphin release is one, being able to brag to my friends about how much I lifted is another (more on positive accountability later), and yes, the bacon-almond-dates, they help.

3. Tack your ritual onto an already established routine

The easiest way to create a new habit, is to find a cue and reward that already exist in your day, and swap in a new routine.

I already had an established habit of finishing my work and biking home, sometimes stopping at the co-op for a snack. I just dropped in a workout, which replaced the trip to the grocery store.

Try to fit your new ritual into your preexisting schedule, so you don’t have to go out of your way to make it happen.

4. Use positive accountability

There’s a puttypeep in the Puttytribe named James. James has a notorious, on-going thread in the Puttytribe Forum called “Daily Journal”. He posts in it every day, and he has inspired a few other puttypeep to start similar threads to track their own progress.

But it’s not just about tracking. James is using what I call positive accountability: the ability to run to your friends and brag about the awesome work you just accomplished.

I think positive accountability is actually more effective than regular accountability. Regular accountability goes something like: “I’m going to write this blog post by Tuesday. Hold me to that.”

See the difference? Regular accountability is asking people to watch and make sure you do what you say you’re going to do. Positive accountability on the other hand, is doing awesome shit, and then running back to a group or friend and telling them what you just did. Both are important, but I think positive accountability does more to light up your spirit and increase momentum.

Each time I am able to deadlift more weight or my muscle mass percentage rises, I shoot my buddy who showed me the gym ropes a text message and he writes back saying, way to go! It makes me feel great and keeps me moving forward.

5. Ask for help

And on that note, support is everything. It can be from a community like the Puttytribe, a mastermind group, or just an accountability/support buddy. I have two entrepreneur friends who used to call each other every morning when they woke up to talk about what they’re going to work on that day (I’m not sure if they still do this, but it’s a great idea).

See if you can find someone who is working to instill their own ritual or is embarking on a big project, and help each other stay on track through regular check-ins.

Big changes happen through these small, daily actions. That’s why learning to instill rituals is so important.

What about spontaneity?

You can still be a spontaneous, exploratory multipod while having rituals. You can either create a specific “scanning time” during which you only do things that you don’t HAVE to do, or you can just say that outside of your specified work rituals, it’s fair game.

That’s how I deal with it. As long as my morning ritual happens, I’m free to do whatever I like for the rest of the day– to dabble in whatever medium, to read about random topics, and to play with any new curiosities that arise.

Your Turn

What are some of your rituals, and how did you get them to stick?


  1. Mari says:

    Hi Emilie!

    Awesome! Good to be reminded of a few simple rules, especially for busy minds trying to change everything at once! For me number 5 is massive, I’m just too good at convincing myself otherwise ;) I want to get back into weightlifting too, so I need to find a new exercise buddy! I’ll check out the book recommendation – thanks :-)

    Also, good job you! x

  2. Sheree says:

    Hey Emilie–

    I think it’s awesome that you’re getting on track with your exercise program. I’ve been in something of a holding pattern the past few months, due to extra work demands, 8 a.m. teaching schedule on some days, and an unusually rainy winter (I don’t like gyms, so I have to run, walk or hike outside). My exercise has mainly been yardwork 2 days a week. But school ends next week, so I can’t wait to have time to run anytime I feel like it, any day of the week.

    As for my habit/rituals, I’m pretty good at doing whatever I commit to. I don’t use tricks. If I’m truly committed, I do it. If not, it doesn’t get done. I don’t try to fool myself into doing something that I’m not committed to. That’s what doesn’t stick. As long as I what I say I’m doing is something that matters to me, I’ll do it.

    If it doesn’t matter to me, I’ll do it if I have to. By that I mean, the “have to” is out of my control, such as something I’m required to do for work but don’t enjoy or want to do, but must do as part of my job duties. That’s when I give myself a reward for finishing the task.

    Hope that makes sense.

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Sheree,

      That totally makes sense. I think there’s definitely something to commitment and going for what you really want. For me, truly desiring something isn’t always enough to get me to do the daily work. However, being serious about it is a basic requirement. Couple that with habit formation, and you become unstoppable.

  3. Loving the reward concept. I’ve been trying to really stick to a 6 day yoga routine in the mornings. Of course once I move across the country, that all went to heck. I try to reward myself by going to Starbucks after yoga, or watching a sitcom episode. It’s working out well so far.

    But more than anything, I think I would like to have some hold me accountable, and me do the same for them.

    • Emilie says:

      Nothing like a big shift in life circumstances (i.e. a move) to rock a morning routine, huh? That’s so tough. Sometimes you need to just take a break and forgive yourself, then get back into it once you’ve settled.

      An accountability partner is a great idea. Is there someone in your life that you can ask?

  4. Anu says:

    A friend and I committed to trying the Lift app for a month. By linking with her I can see what new habits she is trying to form and vice versa. We encourage each other and check in daily. And the app is on my phone so I can access it at any time. Here is their website in case you’re interested. http://lift.do

  5. Laurence says:

    I have no doubts about the benefits of rituals, and I’m really glad it works out for you! it can be so hard to get in shape… but I was wondering if you had any advice for people like me who have no rituals? The only ritual I have is that I have a strict work schedule, and yet, I arrive late 3/5 days a week…I won’t even begin to talk about the rest. I have no habits and no rituals at all and always fail when I try to put one into my life.

    any help is appreciated! :)

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