Committing to a new habit, like running, can be a challenge for many people. Whilst all the intensions of starting to run regularly are there, it just doesn’t work out. A great way to make regular running stick, as a habit, is to incorporate it into your identity.
Running as a popular lifestyle change and resistance
Every so often, people suddenly evaluate where they are in life and want to start something new.
They look at themselves in the big picture and think about where they want to go. Typically, there tends to be a perceived problem we wish to fix.
The problem might be a lack of a certain skill, not having enough money, being lonely or not liking their job.
Once the problem is identified, the person can then set about changing their behaviours to resolve the problem and become a better version of themselves.
In the examples above, it could be learning a new skill such as marketing or accountancy, changing career or going out to meet new people.
Something that lots of people identify as an issue, in this self- evaluation exercise, is their weight.
According to The Health Survey for England 2017, 28.& of adults in England are obese and a further 35.6% are overweight. These are shocking statistics about the current picture of public health in England.
Because such a high proportion of the population is considered an unhealthy weight, this results in literally thousands of people – each year – making the decision to do something about it. The decision can lead to wanting to start a new running habit.
Of course, being overweight isn’t the only reason why people start running but it is a big one. Other reasons people want to adopt a new healthy lifestyle habit, such as running, is to meet new people, have more discipline, challenge themselves and explore the outside world. There are literally countless reasons.
Unfortunately, those who start running often encounter problems. They have the right intentions of wanting to make a positive lifestyle change. The running shoes and clothing is purchased, routes and workout schedules are planned, healthy meals are cooked in advance.
However, the running habit just doesn’t stick. You run for a few days, find it very hard, and slowly begin to feel demotivated. You go to put your running shoes on and think ‘what’s the point?’ and revert back to old habits like unhealthy eating or being socially withdrawn.
There’s no motivation to keep running and, the attempt at formulating a new habit is nipped in the bud.
This sounds a horrendous situation, but it is sadly the case for thousands of people who try to start running regularly. Starting a new habit can be hard, without the right strategy.
My experience of building a running habit and of ‘becoming a runner’
When I did this two years ago, my ‘something new’ was running.
I was out of shape, lacked discipline, and wanted a challenge to get stuck into. I considered many options like swimming or cycling but settled on running.
Initially, it was difficult to find the motivation to run, and I had many poor training sessions.
After a while, I started finding it easier to run. Not only the physical act of running itself but also the preparation before the workout i.e. getting changed into running gear.
At this time I started to participate in running events, started this blog and began posting about running on my social media. I started to become known as ‘somebody that runs.’
Fast forward two and a half years later and running is now ingrained into my life; I run every single day. It’s become a habit.
Friends, family and my colleagues are constantly asking how I manage to find the motivation and effort to run every single day. They say things like ‘it must be so difficult’ and ‘I could never do that’.
My response is this: ‘I’m a runner. It’s what I do’. In other words, running has become a part of me and my overall identity.
I believe that running becoming a part of my identity has helped massively in building my habit. I’m confident that this is one of the best ways to make running a habit.
To build a running habit, running must become part of your identity
When most people try adopting a new habit, like running, they don’t think about it’s potential to change their overall character and identity.
When people start running for the first time, they can encounter mental conflict. Instead of believing they are now a ‘runner’, they still see themselves as an overweight person who is running, or an undisciplined person trying to build their discipline by running.
There’s no change in identity, thus there’s no change in personal beliefs. Therefore, running becomes a chore. A task that you ‘must’ do to achieve the benefits you want to achieve, like losing weight or gaining discipline.
If you adopt this mindset of running simply being a task that you must complete, or else, with no change of identity about who you are as a person, the habit-forming attempt will soon fall flat on its face.
The reason for this is because the running activity you’re trying to complete is conflicting with your current set of beliefs about your identity.
If you see yourself as ‘fat, lazy and overweight’ then you won’t believe in the running because you’ll think running is not something fat people do.
If you see yourself as shy and socially awkward, then you’ll feel massive dread in attending a social running club because that isn’t something you see yourself with your current identity doing.
The new running behaviour you’re trying to adopt conflicts with the current set of beliefs you have about who you are, and you encounter massive resistance. Again, running becomes a chore and a hindrance ton your daily routine. Not a recipe for success.
I believe one of the best ways to instil a strong running habit is to incorporate ‘running’ into your identity.
What exactly is an ‘identity’ and how does it relate to forming a running habit?
Our identity is our understanding of who we are. It’s the values, beliefs, experiences, knowledge and qualities that make us unique.
You may see yourself as being kind, mentally strong and loving, with lots of knowledge on a certain topic and being experienced in a particular field.
An understanding of who you are is linked to the beliefs you have about yourself, which in turn influences your habits.
If you are someone who sees yourself as incredibly knowledgeable and experienced in the stock market, the chances are your behaviour will reflect this via constantly reading up on market news and displaying some investing behaviours. If you see yourself as someone who’s good with people, due to your kindness and strong social skills, chances are you will effortlessly glide through social situations on a day to day basis.
Our beliefs about who we are, greatly affect the behaviours and habits we exhibit in our lives. Running is the same. If you’re trying to start a new running habit, you must change your view of who you are to match this new running persona.
It’s not about ‘faking it until you make it’. It’s about having an internal shift of identity to someone who doesn’t run, to being a runner.
Once you start to believe that you are a runner, you’ll find it much easier and effortless to maintain running behaviours. Running won’t be something you have to do; it’ll be something that is part of you, so doing it is totally natural.
Sound too good to be true? It’s really not. Think about it. All the habits you maintain on a daily basis relate directly to how you perceive yourself.
If you work hard all the time, you probably believe yourself to be a hard worker. Maybe you watch lots of TV because you believe yourself to be a procrastinator. If you were to run five times a week, it’d be because you viewed yourself as a runner.
By changing your identity, it’s much easier to change your outward behaviours and adopt a new habit. Particularly in the case of running.
What are some practical ways to incorporate running into your identity?
1.Tell people you’ve become a runner
By telling friends, family, colleagues, and anyone that will listen that you’re now a runner, running will start to become part of your identity.
Slowly but surely, you’ll build a reputation as a runner. When people think of you, they’ll think of running.
This means that people will start asking about how your running is going in conversations. This is a good thing because it reinforces the new belief that you’re a runner; there’s social proof from people around you. People will now expect you to be running.
When those around you ask how the runnings going, be sure to answer with lots of detail. Talk about your training plan, current challenges, recent highlights, up and coming events and so on. Speaking in detail will suggest a passion for running, which further heightens the notion of you now being a runner.
Some people may question you at first, and sadly a few may not even believe you. This is just how some people are, not wanting to believe that people can change for the better. That’s their choice.
If some of those in your tight circle don’t believe you, to begin with, you just need to prove them wrong. Get out there, run and prove that you’ve become the runner they didn’t believe you to be.
2. Post about running on social media
An easy way to build up your new reputation as a runner is through social media.
Use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to your advantage and post about running.
Post pictures of you out on a run, let friends know about future events you’re running in, communicate how your training is going, join social running groups.
Be sure to put something like ‘runner’ or ‘running mad’ in your Instagram bio, like running pages on Facebook and Retweet running-related posts on Twitter.
Running-related behaviour online will contribute to the new running part of your identity.
As your online presence will suggest, running is now a part of who you are so those online should expect to see posts on the sport and how you’re getting on.
3. Participate in running events
Nothing says you’re a runner like getting involved in some events.
Regardless of ability level and location, there will be an event to suit you which you can sign up for.
Fun runs, 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, marathons and ultra marathons are popular options and happen virtually every weekend of the year.
Simply go to Google and search ‘running events near me’. Find one you like, book it, show up on race day and have fun.
Taking part in running events is a great way to build running into your identity.
There’ll be hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other like-minded runners taking part on the day, all looking to have a fun race. Being part of a large crowd is a huge buzz and truly is a remarkable experience.
Be sure to get some pictures of you on race day and post them on social media. Doing so will strengthen your new running identity help to make it a habit.
4. Join a running club
There are literally thousands of running clubs across the globe that you can sign up for.
A running club is a group of runners who meet typically once or twice a week to go for a run as a group. Joining a running club is a great way to meet other like-minded runners and is incredibly social.
It’s important to associate with other runners when trying to build running into your identity and to make it a habit.
Running with other runners is what would be expected of a runner, so it’s exactly the sort of behaviour you should be doing to reinforce the enhanced identity and make it a habit.
Not only is it a good way to run with people at actual club sessions, but it’s also great to find running partners you can run with outside of club sessions.
5. Bring running into your home
Okay, this one doesn’t literally mean run in your house (though you can get a treadmill if you like).
Instead, it’s about altering your living space to reflect this new part of your identity.
What exactly does this mean? The environment you live in is a reflection of you.
If you have posters of bands on your wall, you most probably have music in your identity. Perhaps you have a huge bookshelf of literary classics because being a bookworm is a part of your identity. In a similar fashion, start to make alterations to your home to suggest that you’re now a runner.
Doing so will reinforce your new identity and help you internalise the fact that running is now something you do as a habit. It’s just part of your life style.
Some practical ways to do this are quite simple. You could show off race day medals on a medal hanger, you could showcase pictures of yourself at running events and you could even purchase running related items (like mugs and lounge t-shirts).
Having running-related items in your living space will ingrain the fact that sport is important to you. You care about it enough to showcase it for all those who visit. Over time, the running items will form part of the home being a reflection of you; running will have become a part of your identity thus it will become a habit.
There you have it. 5 practical ways you can incorporate running into your identity and make it a habit in your daily life.
Follow these action points and, rather than being somebody who runs, you’ll be a runner. Not a pretender, an actual runner.
Running will be part of your identity and you’ll find it a normal and easy part of your day. You’ll have changed your lifestyle for the better and will reap all of the associated benefits.