In my years of fitness coaching, there’s one thing I’ve noticed that keep individuals motivated toward long-term health or exercise goals. It’s connecting what makes them happy to the reward of regular exercise. I’ve seen individuals have tons of willpower at the start of any program, whether it’s a new way eating or new workout program. However, when they don’t connect to their “why,” their reason for making change in their life, it’s not uncommon for the “will” in willpower to become “won’t.”
The good news is that there’s still time to get into shape before summer is in full swing. If you set specific fitness goals at the beginning of the year, it’s time to dust off those resolutions… but with a twist. Here are three secrets that will keep you on track at the gym, at a boot camp, or on a local walking trail:
1. Make a Specific Plan
Let’s say you’ve got a goal to exercise 3 times a week. Figure out what cues you can add to your environment that will support this goal. If you exercise in the morning, set out your workout clothes before going to bed. Other things can you do that remind you:
- Put your walking shoes and Fido’s leash near your front door
- Compile a playlist on your iPod or MP3 player that boosts your mood and puts a spring in your step
- Make a pact with a workout buddy to meet at the gym. You’ll be more likely to get up and go if you know your friend is waiting for you.
The point here is to break down your exercise goals into small increments that you can achieve. Move from the theoretical to the practical.
This is probably the most powerful secret. When you can visualize yourself in a situation that you really want, that’s where positive, long-term change can happen. I’ve got a client who made a collage of her favorite vacation place: Hawaii. Her goal was to be ready for swimsuits and short sleeves. So she found pictures of white sandy beaches, palm trees, and vacationers playing in the surf. She spent time every day looking at her collage, visualizing what it would feel like to confidently wear sleeveless sundresses on Maui.
Studies have shown that those who envision what they want — and feel the good feelings that accompany it — are more likely to achieve their goals. What can you do to visualize your exercise goals? My client brought her collage with her at the gym, propping it up so she could look at it while on the treadmill. It kept her motivated and happy that she was actively working toward her exercise goals.
Does this sound a bit woo-woo to you? Here’s a scholarly research article from Rutgers University about exercise motivation. When you link something you like (or love) to an activity, your motivation fundamentally changes.
3. Build In Rewards While Working on Exercise Goals
My boot campers know that I’m all about being realistic. At the end of a week I like to enjoy a good glass of wine (may be even two). This routine makes it easier for me to say no to an extra helping of pasta. What kind of rewards can you build into your weekly routine? It’s best if those rewards aren’t food related, something like soak in a bath, a massage or date night at the movies. Long periods of deprivation don’t serve you in the long run. Make a plan, visualize the reward of achieving your exercise goals, and reward yourself along the way.
What other secret would you add to my list?