As a trainer, I am often dismayed to see someone, whether or not a client of mine, “fall off the wagon”. That’s the training and nutrition wagon, of course. I try to keep my clients engaged in strength and/or cardio training as well as developing nutritional habits for at least six weeks. Why six weeks? Because behaviors don’t usually get shaped into habits until something has been consciously done for at least six weeks. 


Habit is the thing a person does repeatedly and subconsciously until it becomes a routine. This is the main difference between that and behavior.  Say we set up a bi-weekly training schedule. You’re going to see me twice a week. But will the day-to-day stuff that kept you from getting started on a training program in the first place cause you miss sessions and eventually just quit? Happens all the time!


If you have to think about your behavior, you may choose the wrong course of action. If, on the other hand, you continue to behave in a certain way (in this case, showing up for a training session) for six weeks, you begin to form a habit. Doing certain things to reinforce the behavior until it becomes habitual can help. For example, take your exercise clothes and sneakers out the night before a scheduled workout. Or say you’re trying to eat less. Maybe you eat your food off of a smaller plate.


OK, now you’ve formed a habit. Will it be lasting? Will it last six months? A year? A lifetime? That depends. It depends on lots of things, only one of which I want to address today. That’s “intrinsic” versus “extrinsic” motivation.  Stick with me now, it’s not that complicated. Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, health or praise. This type of motivation arises from outside of you, as opposed to intrinsic motivation, which originates from the inside.  


If I monitor and reward you for behavior, say with a free personal training session or a restaurant coupon, that external reward will get you started, but it may feel like a chore rather than a choice for you to continue showing. If, as was my own case, you come to enjoy exercise for itself, for how it makes you feel or look, then you begin to be intrinsically motivated. It’s become a choice, not a chore, and will move you to exercise regularly for years to come.