Building a Walking Habit
Climate Champion Joy explains how we are all creatures of habit and shares her top tips for forming a walking habit.
We all know that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle but sometimes getting started is tricky, especially when the weather is dreary and cold and/or the gym is closed. Walking is a great option and by following the following few simple steps (pun not intended!), you may find yourself striding out on a daily basis.
A habit is an action you do without consciously thinking about it, such as brushing your teeth, making a mid-morning cup of coffee or feeding the cat when you get home from work. They are developed by repeating the action multiple times until they become, well, habitual. At a cognitive level, neuropathways are formed in the brain when we repeat actions multiple times. These pathways fast-track these actions and the more this happens, the stronger the pathway grows.
Until these pathways are secure, it can be struggle, and will certainly take some conscious engagement, to repeat the desired action. It can be hard to develop a new habit, especially one which does not necessarily provide immediate rewards but here are some hints to help you get started.
And by this, I mean really small! We all like to think we will keep to our resolutions and yet so often, we fail after the first few days and this is because we start too big. As we are trying to develop neuropathways, we need to start by repeating the initial stages of the daily habit on a very regular basis. For a walking habit this might mean putting on our shoes and jacket, going outside and walking once around the garden. It may sound like a waste of time but actually people who start with these basic actions, sustain their desired habit much more successfully.
Develop an Identity
Our identity defines which kind of person we are – what we stand for, what we do and how we like to be known. If you regularly think of yourself as a walker, this will enable you to relate to the activity at a much deeper level. Identity allows you to say, ‘As a walker, I’m the kind of person who goes for a walk daily’. On days when you are tired or busy, this belief will encourage you to still get out and stretch your legs.
Neuropathways are built by repeating an action multiple times, but they are also built through our conscious thoughts. Therefore, being mindful on why you want to walk and how it benefits you both in the short and long term, and reciting these thoughts regularly, including in conversations, will help you become a regular walker.
As importantly, be very conscious of thoughts which may sabotage your emerging habit such as the short-term comfort of staying at home or other excuses.
Create the right environment
Often new habits are highjacked because the environment is set up to support existing habits. Therefore, to help yourself develop a walking habit, it is a good idea to look around your environment and see what can be hidden away, such as the remote control, and what can be placed in a really accessible place – such as your shoes and socks.
If the weather is lousy, would having warm socks encourage you? If so, put them on the radiator a few hours before your planned walk.
Would having engaging music be beneficial? If so, download a playlist which makes you happy and gets you going.
Think about what will help you and action it.
Find a walking companion
Having a friend to walk with can be an additional motivation to get out. On the days when you feel out of sorts, they can chivvy you along and having some accountability can also be helpful. For some people, having a walking buddy can also make the experience more fun and fun always helps build sustainability!
However, have in your own mind that you will walk whether your friend can join you or not. This way, you can enjoy the benefits of walking with a friend, without the risk of defaulting because you are alone.
If you miss a day, get back on track the next day
Missing one day is not a problem when developing a habit, but missing two can be the start of a new habit! Therefore, if you do miss a day, try your level best to get back on track as soon as possible. This may mean scaling back the length of your walk or going right back to the beginning again where you just put on your shoes and walk around the garden.
Developing a new habit takes effort but walking is a great way to stay (or get) fit, to reduce stress and to build self-esteem. It is free and, if you are able to include it as a lifestyle choice such as walking to work or the shops, it can be environmentally-friendly option too.
Hopefully, the tips in the post can help you develop a walking habit!
This post is one of a series of walking blogs by our Climate Champions to promote our Winter Walking Festival and encourage you to get out and about. You can find a number of great Kirkcaldy walks with downloadable routes in our Kirkcaldy Winter Walking Festival Programme. You can also take part in our walking photo competition to win a £30 Kirkcaldy Gift Card – click the festival link above for details.|