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3 Tips to Stay Motivated to Exercise written by Kat Millar
When it comes to keeping healthy and fit one of the most common problems I come across is a lack of motivation. When people seek my help with their fitness goals they complete a questionnaire and one of the questions it asks is ‘What are you looking for in a Trainer/Coach?’ Around 95% of people say ‘Motivation’. I decided to look at some of the main problems people find when it comes to getting or staying motivated to exercise and finding the solutions which are discussed in this article. Please check with your GP before commencing any exercise program.
Problem 1: Exercise is boring
Solution: Make it fun!
It’s amazing how many people start an exercise routine that they really don’t find fun. If you’re not enjoying your exercise routine, the likelihood of sticking to it is slim to nil. In order to stay motivated to exercise, it’s important to do whatever you can to make your experience of exercise fun. Your brain doesn’t like boring!
One approach to keeping your workouts fun and enjoyable is to find ways to ‘disconnect’ psychologically from the potential discomfort. Many people will happily dance the night away, play a sport or a game and not even notice that they are exercising. Think about how active children are because they pick dynamic activities that they like (and they don’t even know what calorie burning means!). Increasing the ‘fun’ aspect may mean you need to buy some new songs and create a new playlist on your iPod to keep it fresh. It may mean recording your times or distances so that you enjoy the process of seeing your improvements. Or it may mean enlisting a buddy to exercise with you. Whatever you choose, it needs to work for you, as an individual. It’s also amazing how effectively we can change our experience when we do the same thing, but in a different way. For example, think about running on a treadmill for forty-five minutes alone in a hot garage while staring at a blank wall in total silence. That could drive you crazy with boredom!
Now imagine doing the same exercise in a bright room with a nice view, large windows, some awesome music with fans on and some inspiring pictures on the walls. There’s a TV or access to the Internet on the machine you’re using (and some motivating YouTube clips) and a room of motivated people also exercising. What a difference! Where and how you choose to exercise plays a big part in how much you enjoy it and all these factors can increase your motivation. A final point about injecting fun into exercise is that the benefits can make your overall life more fun.
I have found that once you understand the benefits of exercise and you can feel the difference in your life; it’s much easier to get motivated. When you’re clear on why you’re doing it, you don’t really think about it; you just do it. It’s like brushing your teeth or cooking your food. Working out can just be a part of your daily routine. In saying this though, I don’t always feel motivated to exercise. Sometimes I would prefer to skip it, but the result of that usually doesn’t make me feel good. So while the temporary feeling of not wanting to exercise comes and goes, my motivation comes from knowing that it’s the lifestyle I’ve chosen and one that I want to continue. Motivation, therefore, can also come from having a lifestyle you enjoy.
Problem 2: Lack of results
Solution: Keep challenging yourself
There’s nothing quite as motivating as results. If you are not seeing or feeling any improvements then your motivation can suffer. It’s important to keep challenging yourself in order to achieve results. Results that are measurable can come in many forms such as being able to run further and without aches and pains. Maybe you’re motivated by beating your times in rowing, cycling or skipping. Or you’re able to do more pull ups or push ups, or have increased the amount of weight you can lift.
Motivation can also come from seeing changes in your clothes or in the mirror or from developing a skill such as boxing and so much more. Decide what area you most want to see results in and focus your time and energy on improving that area. Once you can see and feel the improvements, the momentum from that success will motivate you to achieve more in other areas.
Problem 3: Can’t be bothered
Solution: Focus on the benefits
There are so many benefits to exercise. If you are clear on what you want to achieve motivation will flow more easily. There is a meditative quality to exercise that is a highly cherished benefit for many people. If I’m anxious or stressed, nothing cures me quite like a good hour’s workout. Exercise can make you feel less tense, less stressed and generally less deranged! Those of you who exercise regularly will know exactly what I’m talking about. When I’m running or lifting weights, my head often feels completely empty and calm and I’m able to think about nothing. Or I’m able to mull over something that’s been on my mind while I exercise.
… And remember that our attitude towards exercise is in our control. Focusing on all the good things about exercise and speaking positively to ourselves can make the world of difference. We are privileged to be able to move our bodies and we should never take that for granted. We get to move.
Remember it doesn’t mean you need to be constantly performing intense workouts. Just listen to your body and give it what it needs each day. It’s important that movement is felt like less of a chore and more like something to be grateful for. Find joy through the sheer act of moving your body and see it as a way to enhance your life.
Other helpful tips:
Exercise when you have the most energy. People often ask me if there’s an optimal time to exercise. If you feel best in the morning, exercise then. If you prefer to exercise at night, then great do it at night. There’s no one-size-fits-all. I believe that for long-term plan, exercising at a time that suits your lifestyle is the best way to increase your motivation and enjoyment.
Move every day. Make it a goal to do some movement every day. If you start allowing too many days off, they can start to repeat and mental energy is often wasted on deliberating whether to go or not – when your time could be spent on just doing it. It may not always happen, but it’s about being intentional and building a habit. Decide not to see exercise as a hassle or an interuption. Exercise should be part of your self-care plan and ideally should be part of life every day.
Commit to 20 minutes. Just commit to moving for 20 minutes, even if it’s a walk. If you start moving and feel you can go for longer, go for it! If not, that’s OK but aim to do it consistently and regularly increase the intensity when you can. You may not always have the time or the energy to go hard out in the gym so just adjust your plan accordingly. Sometimes I do a 45 minute strength session and other days I focus on 20 minutes of stair sprints. Some days I walk around the bay for 1.5 hours and other days I’m in my courtyard doing plyometrics and skipping for 20 minutes. For best results, the shorter your session is, the higher the intensity should be.
Be flexible. When I’ve been on my feet all day, sometimes all I can face is sitting on a bike and pedaling while I get some work done on my phone. I still get my heart rate pumping and feel much better afterwards than by doing nothing. I don’t waste time thinking about whether I feel motivated to exercise; instead I make a commitment to move every day that I can and at times that means I have to adjust my plan to suit how I feel.
Exercise to feel fresh, energised and clear-minded. These effects are powerful because you can feel them quite quickly. If you only exercise because you want to lose weight, the effects are delayed and it’s too easy to stay focused on where you’re ‘not’ at the moment. So perhaps you increase your motivation by focusing on the benefits you feel immediately.
Don’t turn exercise into a big deal. It’s best not to overthink it – just get ready and go. Keep it as simple as possible. I usually just put my key down my bra, put my sunnies and iPod on (and gloves if it’s winter!) and get out the door. If I think I might struggle with motivation in the morning, I even sleep in my exercise gear.