That is the age-old question and it’s easy to theorize about the roadblocks that prevent us from exercising and make up excuses. However, it is all about how we view the act of exercising and the mental associations tied to it.
Frame/Reframe it as a Positive
To increase motivation, try to limit complaining and joking regarding exercise. This just gives us more ammo to come up with a list of excuses. Try to focus on the positives and long-term benefits.
We know the benefits of exercise: better health, increased longevity, stress-reliever, increased mobility, decreased pain, etc. But the idea of exercise as being optional, a luxury, for shallow people, and as being a chore has become part of the norm of casual conversations. Complaining and joking about exercising or the lack of it and being regularly exposed to it by others can significantly affect our desire to exercise. This is because negative cues create negative associations within our minds.
Set Gradual and Realistic Goals
Becoming and remaining healthy is an ongoing journey for everyone! So taking gradual steps towards our health helps to stay consistent for the long haul, such as starting out with 1 exercise class a week or doing exercises at home for 30 minutes, 2-3 times a week. Once a routine is established, exercise frequency and intensity can be increased.
Setting the bar too high is a sure-fire way to lose steam and give up prematurely (ex. 100 planks a day, forcing yourself to get up at 4AM everyday to exercise if you’re not an early riser, going on runs if you are having knee issues). There’s no shame to starting out slowly and adjusting the goals to suit physical, medical, and even time limitations. This helps to ensure the efforts can be sustainable, practical, AND safe.
Be Mindful of Your Priorities and Energy Level
Being deliberate in our intentions, staying honest, and setting aside time for exercise (prioritizing it) can help take away some of the anxiety and anticipation with actually starting. Having a passing thought of doing something is different from actually making an action plan and following through. Carve out time and put it on the calendar or set an alarm.
Another thing that goes hand in hand with prioritizing time is to be mindful of one’s energy level. Motivation plummets if we are tired or starting to feel burnt out from other responsibilities so the worst time to schedule exercise is when you know you will feel exhausted or overly stressed (or the exercise will likely be put off for “another unspecified day”… which throws off the routine and motivation).
Physical activities are often more fun, engaging, and rewarding when done with another person or in a group. It creates an atmosphere for comradery, encouragement, and accountability. Others’ positive energy can pump us up!
Incorporate Physical Activity into Everyday Activities
To maintain fitness, it is important to not think of exercise as separate from the other areas in our lives but as an element incorporated into the big picture. People who stay fit long-term maintain relatively active lifestyles beyond and outside the gym. They engage in a hobby or two that keeps them moving and add variety to the physical activities, such as swimming, hiking, gardening, dancing, jogging, fishing, recreational sports, biking, cleaning the house, etc.
Chart Your Progress
Last but not least, recording one’s progress is vital for staying motivated. There needs to be a baseline to track and measure what has improved and what needs to be fixed. Just mindlessly doing sets of exercises is not going to be motivating because the goals and purpose won’t be clearly defined. Seeing our rate of progress helps us to see the value and trajectory of the efforts we put forth.