We all know exercise is good for our bodies. Most of us know how to exercise. How many exercise books and videos do you own? How many gym memberships have you had in your life? You may even be an expert on the perfect exercises for your body. But you’re not doing it! Why? Well, the problem isn’t lack of knowledge… it’s lack of motivation.
With all our responsibilities and commitments, including work and family, it’s hard to find the time, let alone the energy, to exercise. Sure, we know it will give us more energy. And we know it can improve the quality of our lives. Still, it drops to the bottom of the priority list week after week, month after month. Did you make another resolution this year to get in shape or lose weight? How long did it last? According to American Psychologist, over 25% of fitness resolutions are abandoned in just the first week! It is not easy to stick with or get results.
What can you do? Focus less on gaining more knowledge, and more on getting and staying motivated. As you become more consistent and start seeing results, you’ll be able to apply all that knowledge. Here are seven solutions to getting and staying motivated:
Solution One: Find Your “Why”
In order to be successful in any endeavor, we must have a good reason for doing it in the first place. Exercise is no exception. What will get you up in the morning on those cold, dark days when you just want to stay in bed? Many people say “because I want to lose weight” or “I want to be fit”. While you may think these are solid reasons, they are not powerful enough for long term success. You must dig deeper. What is important to you? What do you value in life? Answer these questions, then see how a regular exercise program can support your values. This will enhance your motivation to exercise.
As an example, let’s say you value being a good parent. Your children are very important to you and you want to be an available, attentive and supportive parent. How can exercise support this value? For many people, exercise releases stress which may otherwise manifest itself as anger or impatience that could be directed at your children. Exercise also creates more energy, which any parent knows is essential when raising children!
Find your “why,” write it down, and remember it when you start making excuses to skip exercise.
Solution Two: Make a Commitment
Once you find your “why,” it’s time to make a commitment. Here’s a definition of commitment you may not have heard: a commitment is the ability to carry out a worthy decision, even when the excitement of making that decision has passed. Read that definition again, and really understand it. How many times have you been excited to start an exercise program, only to become bored or distracted by other things? As soon as the excitement passes, so do your exercise plans. Be sure you are ready to commit, and if you are not, then commit to NOT exercising. That way you can let go of the guilt and recommit to exercise when you’re ready.
Solution Three: Set Daily, Measurable and Realistic Goals
If your only goal is to lose 40 pounds, it will be a while before you feel successful. After all, it can take a while to see such results. Rather, set daily measurable, achievable goals that allow you to feel successful every day. Keep a weekly diary and set goals each day for what kind of exercise you will do, how long you will work out, how hard you will exercise, etc.
When you start your exercise program, write down what your ultimate goals are. Then write down smaller goals, maybe monthly goals. Break it down even further to weekly goals such as how many days a week you will exercise, or how many minutes you will work out for the week. You can even set daily goals so you feel successful with each workout.
Solution Four: Keep Track of Your Progress
After you set your goals and write them down, begin to chart your progress. Be sure to write down your daily achievements to compare to your goals. This will become extremely motivating as you see yourself meeting your goals. With consistent exercise, you will also see your workouts becoming easier and your ability to work harder and longer. This often happens faster than visible results on your body, such as weight loss or definition. Many people become frustrated and quit exercise right before big changes are about to happen, because they don’t see the results on their bodies. Seeing measurable progress on paper will keep you motivated while you work towards the bigger goals you have set for yourself.
Solution Five: Get Objective Feedback
You may know what a good workout feels like – you have that endorphin “high” after exercise, or you have energy to spare all day long. But do you know what an effective workout feels like? It is hard to know how effective your workout is every day without waiting for weeks or months to see the results. What if you could see day after day objective measurements of progress? Heart rate monitors are great ways to ensure you’re exercising at the right intensity (often we exercise at levels that are too high, not just too low!), and they can show measurable evidence of fitness improvement, such as heart rate recovery changes.
Step trackers are great for reminding you to move more. Also, when you look for ways to add activity to your day it becomes a fun game and you can instantly see the results. Be careful with trackers and other objective feedback devices, however. If you find you’re judging yourself or having negative thoughts when you take a day off or need to rest (or you’re ignoring your need for rest), it might be time to put the trackers away for a while. Be careful of all-or-nothing thinking (see Solution #6, below).
Solution Six: Avoid the “All or Nothing” Mentality
Have you had plans to exercise five times one week and the first day something happened and you didn’t exercise? When this happens, many people give up on the rest of the week. It’s similar to when someone “blows” their diet by eating cake and then says, “oh well, I guess I’ll start again on Monday,” and continues to overeat the rest of the week. This is known as the All or Nothing Mentality. Keep away from this – it doesn’t work. If you approach your exercise and nutrition program in that manner, you set yourself up for failure. When we get busy, go on vacation, get sick or the in-laws are visiting, if we use the all or nothing approach, we stop our exercise program for a week or two, which turns into a month or two, and it is so hard to get back on track.
Instead, have a backup plan. Create workouts that you can do at home, at the office, outside, while on vacation, and other likely scenarios. If you can’t exercise for a full half hour, know that ten minutes will bring you benefits and closer to your goals. If you have to miss a workout, let it go and resolve to continue tomorrow. Remain flexible in your exercise plan, because life requires it!
Solution Seven: Be Accountable!
About 95% of all participants in an exercise program will stop exercising. Why? No support. Research has shown that exercisers with some kind of support system have a better chance of continuing exercise. You also need accountability for your exercise. If you have a friend that you exercise with, and both of you can talk each other out of exercising on a particular day, this may not be the person to help you with accountability. Working with someone like a personal trainer, a coach or a mentor will give you the support you need and you can work together to identify barriers to keeping your commitment and develop strategies to overcome these obstacles.
You can work with someone in person, over the internet or by email, or over the phone. Find the system that best fits into your life to ensure your success. What this support person will do is hold you accountable for your exercise. Because he or she will be checking in with you, there is more incentive to follow through with your commitment to exercise. Most people need far more support, follow up and accountability than they think to start and maintain an exercise program.
In the interest of avoiding the all or nothing mentality, don’t try to implement all these solutions at once. Pick one or two and when you have those working, add another one. Just like results from exercise, building motivation and consistency will take time. Fitness is not just about reaching a destination, it is a journey where you will learn much about yourself and grow from your experiences. Keep your short term goals in mind, and enjoy the journey to reaching your ultimate goals.