We all know how important exercise is for physical and mental health, but that doesn’t mean we’re always motivated to stick to a regular fitness routine. When you think about it, exercise is one of the simplest things to do. There are countless free workout videos online and detailed instructions on how to do hundreds of exercises. You don’t even need any equipment if you opt for bodyweight exercises. So why do so many people fail to stick to an exercise program? Here, David Reagan, Atlanta-based fitness guru, explains what stands in many peoples’ way of getting in shape.
It comes down to motivation. Humans are hard-wired to conserve energy, so taking on any new activity that’s going to burn lots of energy will require defeating the excuses of our brains. Add to this the anxiety some people have about doing the exercises wrong or looking silly, and you have a powerful combination that can keep anyone from exercising.
Once we exercise regularly, the anticipation of the release of endorphins that comes with physical exertion can help get us in the mood to work out. Still, until we’ve retrained our brains to see exercise as the path to feeling good, we have to use our mental abilities to psych ourselves up for a trip to the gym.
If you’d like to increase your fitness, but you’re having a hard time getting yourself motivated, here are some tricks that may help:
Don’t Think about Your Physical Appearance
If your motivation for working out is that you hate the way your stomach hangs over your pants or don’t like the flabby arms you’ve been noticing in the mirror, try to find reasons to exercise that don’t involve hating your body. While looking better seems like it would be a powerful incentive, it’s one of the least effective. Instead, try to think of how good exercising feels or the health benefits of regular exercise. People who focus on their appearance as motivation for diet or fitness changes tend to give up faster than people who make healthy changes for other reasons. More inspirational objectives, like the boost it gives their mental health, how satisfying the post-workout feeling is, or improving cardiovascular stamina, tend to drive people to work out more regularly.
Remember a Fulfilling Fitness Experience
A study found that remembering positive exercise experiences can motivate people to work out more frequently. If you used to work out regularly, but you’ve fallen into a slump, think of some of the best workouts you’ve had that made you feel accomplished. Or reminisce about when you ran a 5k, won a game of soccer, or whatever memories of being active get you excited to lace up your shoes.
Play a Sport Instead
If you hate exercising, try taking up a sport instead. When researchers asked about the driving force behind their exercise for a study, people reported extrinsic reasons for exercise, but intrinsic reasons for playing sports. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside, like praise from other people, awards, or earning money, while intrinsic motivation is engaging in an endeavor simply because you enjoy it, without recognition from others. Intrinsic reasons tend to be more effective than extrinsic, so if you can’t get motivated to hit the gym, find a sport or other physical activity you enjoy just for the sake of doing it.
Compete Against Others
If you’re having difficulty sticking to a workout schedule, you might benefit from friendly competition with a group of friends or strangers. Connecting with others through apps like FitBit allows you to compare time spent working out or steps taken. Just don’t lean on others for too much support, as it can backfire.
In another study by researchers from Penn’s Annenberg School and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, participants were most likely to exercise when competing against other people. Too much social support without a competitive factor was found to decrease the amount that participants exercised. When a member of the non-competitive support group quit working out and reported it to the group, it made other members more likely to stop exercising.
Change up Your Exercise Routine
Don’t blindly follow the same exercise plan with no variations. If your lack of motivation stems from feeling like you have to follow a specific plan perfectly, you can ditch that idea right now. Change the routine to make it more enjoyable, or alternate between different workouts depending on your mood. Switching up your workout method will increase the likelihood that you’re hitting all the muscle groups and prevent overuse injuries. It can even help break through weight-loss plateaus.
Think of Yourself as Someone Who Works Out
The human mind likes consistency, and will sometimes go to great lengths to achieve it, even if that means subconsciously influencing our behavior to align with ideas we have about ourselves. If you think of yourself as someone who’s out of shape and never exercises, your mind will be most comfortable when your actions align with that identity. Once you start attempting to change your activity level, you’ll have to change your ideas about what kind of person you are, or your brain will try to fix the inconsistency. Think of yourself as someone who enjoys working out and looks forward to it, and you may find yourself becoming the type of person who’s naturally motivated to exercise.
Set Realistic Goals
Trying to go too big too soon is one of the most common ways people set themselves up for failure when starting a fitness routine. It’s essential to make your goals reasonable and work on improving a little at a time. If you can’t do five sit-ups currently, deciding you’re going to start doing 50 a day beginning tomorrow will leave you disappointed and frustrated. Start small instead, and celebrate your little accomplishments every day. If you can only do five sit-ups today, then doing six tomorrow is making progress. Improving a little bit at a time is the key to achieving big goals.
Another way people set themselves up for failure is by making goals that are vague or focus on results instead of action. For example, making it a goal to “lose 10 pounds this month” may seem reasonable, but it’s an unrealistic goal because of how metabolism and rate of weight loss vary so much from one person to the next. You have no way of knowing whether you’ll lose ten pounds by the end of the month, even if you stick to your diet and fitness plan. You could do everything right and still end the month feeling like a failure if the scale doesn’t cooperate. A better goal would be to “eat less than 2000 calories a day for 25 out of 30 days this month” or “Do a cardio workout three times a week.” These goals are straightforward, and it’s easy to record whether or not you’ve achieved them.
Be Honest with Yourself about Your Schedule
Many people are convinced they don’t have time to go to the gym. If you start with that mentality, it’s going to seem impossible to find a place in your schedule to fit a workout. If being healthy is a priority for you, finding time to exercise should be a priority and come before other, less rewarding activities. The average person spends 3 hours a day watching television, and 5.4 hours a day on their phone. If you feel like you have no free time to dedicate towards working out, spend a few days keeping track of what you’re doing, especially during hours when you’re not at work or school. Chances are you have several hours a week that are being used up by things like social media, or television shows. If you absolutely must binge-watch six hours of your favorite show a week, there’s no reason why you couldn’t do some sit-ups and squats while keeping your eyes glued to the screen.
Stop Thinking You Have to Go to the Gym
A gym is a scary place for many people, especially those who are overweight or aren’t confident in their ability to use the machines and weights. If the gym is too scary for you, don’t let that be a reason to avoid working out entirely. There are so many ways to exercise without ever setting foot in a gym. If you think you absolutely must go to the gym to get a proper workout, and can’t seem to drag yourself there, it may be your mind coming up with ways to avoid working out, rather than a sincere belief you have about the advantages of working out in a gym.
If the gym is too intimidating, find a workout video on Youtube you can do in your living room, or buy some running shoes and work your way from couch to 5k with one of the many free plans available online. If you like lifting weights but don’t like doing it in front of other people, invest in a set for your home. They last forever, and as long as you use them, it’s not wasted money.
No matter where you are on your fitness journey, the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. Beating yourself up for missed workouts isn’t going to burn calories or increase muscle tone. Any effort you make towards being healthier is worth celebrating!
About David Reagan
David Reagan is a personal trainer working with executives and high-end clients in Atlanta, Georgia, helping them balance their busy schedules with workout and meal plans to achieve optimal results. He has graduated from the Atlanta Personal Trainer Program and is NASM Certified. David Reagan specializes in weight loss, personalized workout plans, bodybuilding, and nutrition, and believes that customer satisfaction always comes first.