Once you turn your walking routine into a daily habit, you won’t have to worry about motivation – you’ll just get out and walk! You can start creating a daily habit today that will make hitting your step goals a breeze, but you do have to actively make it happen. The good news is that once you’ve built up your everyday walking habit, that 10,000 step goal will become a basic part of your daily routine.
Anyone who’s ever tried to form a healthy habit knows how hard it can be. What’s not as widely known is that there are a variety of techniques that will increase the likelihood of forming a consistent habit. You’re probably already walking for health, but if you’re not – here’s why you should!
This piece covers how to build internal motivation that keeps you walking, plus concrete tips to make walking a habit that you won’t even have to think about. Pick the elements that resonate most with you and adapt them to fit your situation. Even one or two will make a big difference in your walking.
What Motivates you?
Why do you walk? Asking why you walk seems like a rather straightforward question, right? For most people, the answer is health, losing weight, and feeling great. But what prompted you to pursue these goals? Is the source of your motivation internal, or is coming from an outside source.
External motivation comes from other people or situations. Examples include:
- Looking better for a school reunion
- Completing a race to impress friends
- Avoiding negative comments from others
Internal motivation comes from yourself. Examples include:
- Wanting to feel great from walking
- Challenging yourself to get 10,000 steps
- Improving health conditions like joint pain
External motivation can work great for many people, but the problem with external motivation is the results are usually outside of your control. If you want to look better to impress other people, they may not react the way you hope. It’s also hard to sustain external motivation. If the reason you started everyday walking is to complete a 5k walk, will you stay motivated after the event? If life comes up and you’re not able to attend, how will you feel?
Internal motivation comes directly from you! If you walk because it makes you feel great, that motivation is always available to you no matter what the world throws at you.
Find Your Internal Motivation
Having internal motivation makes you more likely to stick with a habit like everyday walking. It helps you enjoy the experience and value the results you’ll get. Here’s a piece from VeryWellFit on the importance of internal motivation. Even if you started walking because you felt obligated or guilty or experienced social pressure, it’s no problem! You can improve your connection to walking by thinking about what motivates you and by educating yourself on the value of fitness.
Find your internal motivation, and it will be easier to get out and walk when it’s time. Try listing the reasons you walk, and put them in categories based on whether they’re internal or external. If you need more internal motivation, try reading about the benefits of walking. Here’s our piece on walking and mental health as a start!
If walking isn’t your favorite activity yet, that’s ok! It’s important to be honest about how you feel about a new habit to uncover challenges, address resistance, and modify your routine so it works for your lifestyle and preferences (see below).
Ease into Your Routine
10,000 steps per day is a great goal, but not necessarily where you should start. Initially, the most important thing is to start getting active and feeling good about walking, so you develop a positive association with walking.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should start slowly and build up a fitness routine. Trying to push yourself too much can make you feel tired and unhappy, which makes you more likely to quit. That defeats the purpose of building a habit!
See how your body responds to an easy step number goal and easy pace. You can use the Pacer app to track this! Try each step level for a few days before increasing your goal. Sometimes you’ll feel fine for one day, but over several days you’ll feel your body starts to feel sore and broken down.
If you’re ok for a few days, then you can increase the intensity. Here are some tips on how to do that. As your body gets used to walking, you’ll be more able to push yourself a little more. Add a few more steps at a time, increase your goal by a thousand steps or two, and you’ll hit your larger goal over time! You’ll get an organic sense of how much is appropriate to ensure it’s still a positive experience.
As far as pace is concerned, Better Health Channel recommends walking at a brisk pace (a pace in which you can talk but not sing the lyrics to a song). They also note that walking and running the same distance burns a fairly similar amount of calories. Walking just takes longer! This means that you can walk a little slower and still get great benefits. Of course, if you do want to jog we’re here to help!
Remember that some walking is better than none at all! Getting active is a benefit in itself, and doing some walking keeps your streak going. Don’t skip a day just because you can’t walk as much as you think you should. Every bit counts! If your regular routine gets interrupted, you can try other ways to get some quick steps:
- Take the stairs
- Park further away
- Get off public transit a couple stops early
- Take a quick walking break to clear your head
- Walk to take care of some errands
- Walk to lunch
- Get creative
Harness the Dynamics of Habit Formation
Understanding the dynamics of habit formation will help you design a “sticky” routine.
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, the habit loop consists of three repeating steps:
- Cue – The cue reminds or triggers the habit. This could be the time of day, a physical setting, visible reminders, an event, etc.
- Routine – The Routine is the sequence of thoughts and actions associated with the habit. In this case, it includes your walking routine and any other connected actions/thoughts you do before, during, or after your walk.
- Reward – The reward is the payoff you get from performing the routine. The reward that drives you could be your stated goal or something less obvious.
Walk through your habit loop, mentally. What helps prompt you to walk? Maybe you lay your stuff out the night before, you always walk right after a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, or you start your lunch break with a walk around the block. You can look at incorporating multiple triggers to strengthen the loop.
Try putting your walks into your calendar, as you would an appointment. That will give you a frequent reminder that gets you mentally ready to start walking.
What does your everyday walking routine look like? Are you walking in the same place or somewhere new each time? How long do you walk? How many days per week? You can use Pacer to help create your routine, or you can go old school and write it in a notebook.
Writing down a plan will make your plan real for you. It also lets you think about the progress you want to make and write it down on paper. As stated above, ease into your routine (distance, frequency, pace) and listen to your body to determine how quickly and how much you increase the demands.
Hitting your step goals will, of course, be part of the reward you get from your hard work. But what else do you get from your walks that maybe aren’t immediately obvious? How can you modify your walks to make them more enjoyable? Think of how great you’ll feel, health benefits, or other rewards. Also consider giving yourself a little reward for hitting important milestones, like walking every day in a month.
Once you’ve figured out a walking routine, you’ll need to build momentum to make your routine into a daily habit. The more you do something the more likely it is that it will become a regular thing. You don’t have to walk every day to build momentum but rather every day you planned on walking. Rest days are important, but you’ll want to make sure they’re planned rest days! On days where you’ve scheduled a walk, commit to at least starting your walk every time. If you get a minute into your walk and you really feel off, you can always cut it short if you need to. Chances are, almost every time you actually start your walk you’ll finish your planned walking route as well.
Building momentum means pushing past resistance for the sake of keeping your momentum going. If you’re feeling sore and your body needs a rest, then listen to it! But often, you just don’t feel like walking or you just feel a bit tired. Pushing past this initial resistance and doing what you thought you couldn’t can be a huge motivator to keep going. Try committing to get out of your door and walk 10 steps. If you get that far and really don’t have it, you can always go back. Most of the time, you’ll find that you’ll want to keep walking!
What if you miss a walk? It’s no big deal! Just try not to miss a week, or a month! According to Steve Ball, as cited by Amy Marturana in Self, motivation can really drop off after a week of being inactive. This is particularly true if you’re just starting. If you’re beginning a walking routine, you need to just go out and walk even when you’re not motivated. Use your newfound internal motivation to help. You’ll find you’ll love it more over time.
If you do find it difficult to stick to your routine, don’t be too hard on yourself! This actually increases the chances of quitting. You just need to find a way to make the routine work for you and make you happy.
Instead, practice self-compassion. Amy Morin in Forbes describes self-compassion as a hybrid of self-acceptance and self-improvement. It makes you more effective, increasing both your motivation and resilience. One study showed that students practicing self-compassion after initially failing a test were more likely to study for the next one than those who did not.
How do you actually practice self-compassion? According to Kristin Neff, pioneer of self-compassion, you should:
- Use kind, gentle self-talk and eliminate harsh criticism.
- Understand that everyone comes up short sometimes. Your struggles connect you to a larger humanity rather than isolating you.
- Don’t suppress or exaggerate negative emotions. Acknowledge your disappointment without making it worse.
Practicing self-compassion allows you to constructively focus on your next steps rather than dwelling on past mistakes.
Once you’re in the right state of mind, take some time to re-evaluate your step and fitness goals. Did you set your initial goals too high? That’s no problem! You can probably reach that goal, but you may need more time and a slower ramp-up to get there. Set an intermediary goal with a plan to get there. Do you not have the proper motivation? Try to find something else to motivate you. Did your life circumstances change? Set a temporary goal that’s easier to hit.
Make Your Walk Work for You
Many people view exercise basically as a chore you have to do to get healthier. How you think about your walking routine can make a big difference in whether you stick with it.
If exercise is unenjoyable or unpleasant, there’s a strong possibility someone will stop the routine.
If you already love your walks, great! If you’re not there yet, consider some of these ways to make walking fun or (at least more tolerable):
- Explore rewarding environments (cityscape, nature, people watching),
- Listen to podcasts, audiobooks, music,
- Find a walking buddy. If you don’t have one yet, introduce a friend to walking for fitness,
- Take time to think and reflect while you walk,
- Create impromptu games and challenges as you walk,
- Use the Pacer App to enrich your experience with interesting/helpful data,
- Practice mindfulness (tune into yourself, the walk, and your environment),
- Celebrate progress (do something nice for yourself)
- Get more comfortable shoes/gear
It’s also important to make sure walking lines up with your life. This helps prevent your walking routine from becoming inconvenient or stressful. For instance, if you’re rushed in the morning and tired at night, you may want to walk during lunch or a break during the day. If you’re short on time, try doing shorter walks during breaks instead. Don’t schedule your walks where you think other people would do it – schedule your walks when they can work for you!
Manage Your Expectations
It’s tempting to think big when it comes to fitness goals. Big goals can be great motivation, but doing something right doesn’t happen over overnight. You can definitely lose weight and get healthier by walking, but it’s not something that happens immediately. A reasonable long term goal might be losing a pound or two a month, but expecting to burn off belly fat by walking and get a six-pack in a month or two is going to set you up for failure.
If you expect results too quickly and don’t see them, you may lose motivation and be tempted to quit. This is where internal motivation is so important! You also do want to see rewards eventually so that you’ll want to keep going. Try setting smaller goals and rewards for your walks, like feeling great when walking or going 1 block further than yesterday. Recognize secondary benefits from walking like getting fresh air, time in the sun, and getting a mental break from the day. Those little rewards will help keep you walking.
Use what works for you!
Consistent routines take a while to develop. Set little milestones, try these tips (and find others) and rework your routine over time until you’re feeling great about walking. The time you spend making walking a daily habit will help keep you healthy for a long life of walking!
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.