When you first make the decision to start an exercise routine, you generally don't have to worry about motivation, because it comes naturally. You are raring to go and want to be active.
But when your initial enthusiasm dies down, it's important to have some strategies to help keep you moving and motivated. There will still be days when you don't feel like it but the following tips will help.
Have something to strive for
Long-term goals are vital to your success because they provide direction, motivation and focus. Just how much your long-term goals mean to you will ultimately determine your level of results. Achieving these aims is a reward in itself.
Try to think about or, better still, write down how exercise will help you achieve certain objectives. How is excess body fat holding you back? How would your life improve if you were leaner and healthier? What worries you most about avoiding exercise? Keep your answers to these questions close by and remind yourself of them whenever you are experiencing a motivational downturn. Goal setting might seem tedious but it only takes a few minutes and can really help give you direction and focus.
have a plan Now you have a long-term goal, you need to have short-term process goals, which are like stepping stones to help you reach your destination. Process goals are the specific actions, steps, behaviours, skills, moods and thought patterns you need for your outcome to actually take place. You have much more control over the process than you do over the results.
Keeping a food diary or an activity journal can help you put the pieces together. Write down the process and create a time line, breaking your goal into specific, measurable pieces.
Act on your plan
Talk, words, thoughts, goals, plans and intentions are all important but at some point, you need to take action.
You need to put your plans into practice.
Make exercise a priority and make the time by putting yourself first.
Schedule your walks just as you would schedule other important tasks.
Plan your days around exercise, so it becomes part of your routine.
Lack of time is less of a problem if you organise your time well. Allocate a time that best suits your schedule— be it morning, noon or night. Have indoor options for bad-weather days, such as an exercise video or a visit to your local gym. By getting organised, you are helping to follow through with your plan, committing yourself to a course of action.
Once that course of action is started, success breeds success and you can begin to generate some momentum.
Habits are developed through consistency and regular practice.
Enjoy the challenge of change
If you want to change your body shape, improve your health and lose weight, you'll have to change your lifestyle. Change is stressful but an open mind and positive belief in yourself can make all the difference. Increasing the amount of calories you burn through physical activity is one of the cornerstones of success.
What a great opportunity to try something new, and make health and fitness more of a priority than before! You may need to give up some of your old habits but there's no time like the present. Don't put your life and your health on hold.
The time you invest in exercise will pay you back five-fold by giving you more energy, increasing the quality of your sleep and reducing your risk of illness.
Use the buddy system
Making changes and sticking to them is always easier with company. See if you can find a friend, family member or partner who enjoys exercise and schedule a few workouts together each week.
It's a lot friendlier on your hips than catching up over a hot drink and cake.
Having a training partner gives you an outside source of motivation— someone to encourage and support you—and makes your exercise more enjoyable. Having someone else to depend on, who depends on you, makes it harder to skip a workout.
Try to find someone with the same goals and a similar level of fitness as you. An equally-fit training partner will challenge you to keep up the pace on days when you are a little off, while you can push him or her if he or she is slacking off.
Walk the dog
Dogs can make excellent training partners and serve as a great source of motivation to keep you walking regularly.
The size of your dog will determine how fast, and therefore how effective, your walks are. Larger dogs will walk faster but even small dogs can add some variety to your routine.
Dogs demand regular exercise and this will have health benefits for both of you. If your dog is well trained, try to keep up a good, steady pace and enjoy walking with your best friend.
If you don't have a dog, see if you can join a friend who does or offer to walk their dog for them.
Get real about your results
It is important that the things you strive for and the goals you set yourself are achievable. If you expect quick results, you can expect a quick disappointment.
It's better to have realistic expectations and focus on the long term.
There's not much point in starting something if you're not going to continue. The lifestyle changes you make to get results must be maintained if you want the results to last.
Allow yourself an easy day
There are always going to be days when you are tired, you don't feel like training and a mountain of excuses seem to pile up. The “old you” would have stayed in bed but you have committed yourself to your new routine and this is your chance to break out of your shell.
Why not go anyway but take it really easy? Mentally, it takes the pressure off, knowing you can relax and enjoy the sights but are still out there doing something. Easy days are also helpful if you are a little sore or unwell, allowing you to maintain your momentum without overdoing it.
Bounce back from setbacks
Challenges and setbacks are part of life and you will face some along the way. But how you bounce back from these obstacles can make a world of difference. Learn to anticipate them, expect them, prepare for them and don't give up if things go astray.
If you let things slip, think about how you could respond next time a similar circumstance arises. Learn from it and move on. Adjust your plans— don't abandon them.
Make it fun
By generating enthusiasm and creating an environment of looking forward to exercise and being fit, you will be more likely to stick with it. For exercise to become a lifelong habit, it's important that you enjoy it. Think about the aspects of exercise that you enjoy—and focus on them.
One great way to enjoy your training is by listening to music or podcasts on a portable music device. The distraction will help you to exercise longer and make your workouts feel shorter.
Published in Signs of the Times 1 April 2008 Volume 123 No 4