Struggling to maintain the habits needed to achieve your goal? It could be time to start doing less…

It’s a familiar sequence of events: you kick off a new training routine with all the enthusiasm in the world, starting handfuls of new habits all at once in an attempt to overhaul your wellbeing. You’re drinking green juice! You’re an early riser! You do pilates now! 

But, before long, you become overwhelmed at the prospect of keeping up with so many new rituals and end up abandoning your new regime altogether.

If you’ve experienced something similar, you’re far from alone. It’s all too common to bite off more than you can realistically manage. And that’s why gyms suddenly start to empty towards the end of February. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if, in order to meet your wellness goals, you may just have to do… less?

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Why are new training plans so hard to stick to?

It makes complete sense that we get carried away when starting a new regime; the prospect of beginning again can be really exciting. 

“When we have a great goal, it’s natural to want to throw everything at it,” says Dr Josephine Perry, psychologist and author of The 10 Pillars Of Success. “We want to be this glossy new person who can do brilliant things but, in reality, because our brains love prediction and security, it makes much more sense to do just one change at a time so that we can really focus and embed that habit change. 

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“Do too much at once and we’ll quit the lot.”

Our brains, according to Dr Perry, are prediction machines – they want us to actively seek out routine and familiarity, even when what we deeply desire is change. That sameness makes us feel safe.

“Doing something new or different, particularly if it will put us outside of our comfort zone for a while until we become competent at it, is very difficult,” she says. “We need to force ourselves into it until it becomes part of our new routine.”

’Chunking’ may be the key to making a change

The truth is, there’s no point in putting yourself through the ordeal of overcommitting to a new training routine when there’s no chance of you being able to stick with it. 

Sure, committing to four 50-minute workouts a week sounds great, but if you’ve got a job, a family, a social life and you’re just about keeping it together doing much less, then that escalation isn’t going to work.

Instead, Dr Perry recommends something called ‘chunking’. 

Try stripping everything back and starting with just one habit change – something that feels impossibly easy, such as simply showing up to the gym at least once per week (with no pressure to stay for a certain amount of time or until you’ve completed a specific number of exercises) or tying your laces and leaving home for a walk with no real destination in mind. 

“In sport psychology we call this ‘chunking’,” says Dr Perry. “The 26.2 miles of a marathon sounds scary – 8.5 Parkruns sound much more manageable. When we break it down it doesn’t only feel more doable but we can have a goal or a focus for each chunk and this keeps our mind busy and distracted from fearing what is ahead of us.”

There’s really no one-size-fits-all formula for breaking down goals to make them more achievable –it’s really all to do with what feels manageable for you personally.

You could stick with a high frequency of workouts but pare them back to 15-minute sessions instead of 60-minute sessions. Or, you could begin by completing your workouts at home until you’ve established a routine and feel ready to take them to the gym. Ask yourself what the biggest barriers to entry are for you – travel or lack of time, for instance – and figure out the easiest way to remove or minimise that barrier.

Start with lacing up your trainers and getting out of the door…

Once you’re comfortable following a bare-minimum routine, which could take around 66 days, according to the latest research, begin to introduce new habits or increase the level of challenge.

“Picking the right first habit change is important because that can often prompt others,” says Dr Perry. “A common one we see is people starting to run; once they feel good at it they gradually change their diet, quit smoking and get more sleep because these all contribute towards achieving the goal that excites them.”

The motivation ABC could help make habits stick

She recommends following what’s called the ABC of motivation. 


A is for autonomy: knowing why you set that goal and what achieving it will bring you.


B is for belonging: we are all motivated when we feel part of something bigger, so joining a club, team, friends or a gym will help us want to stick to that new training routine.


C is for competency: no one wants to feel like they stick out doing fitness badly, so learning the basic skills of the training routine really well will help us stick with it for longer.

It’s also worth remembering, too, that you’re most likely to stick with a plan that you actually enjoy, so try to prioritise fun when embarking on a new training routine.

Images: Getty

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