Making a habit of regular exercise is as an essential element of self-care as brushing your teeth, yet somehow this is harder for people to do. It doesn’t have to be. Here’s tips on how you can stay motivated to exercise.
By Lisa Ziegel:
Most people brush their teeth regularly. There are several reasons for doing so: To avoid tooth decay and expensive fillings, or on the positive side, to have a brighter, healthier smile. Whatever the case, there is some kind of motivation for making it a regular habit. Making a habit of regular exercise is also an essential element of self-care, yet somehow this is harder for people to do. Statistics show that the nearly half of the U.S. population do not get the recommended minimum amount of physical activity to maintain good health. Still, there are plenty who do. What is different in what drives them?
I hear many non-exercisers say, “I am just lazy” – which is a self-defeating statement to begin with. I like to say that they are just not motivated. Once one finds what motivates them, it is much easier to practice and repeat a new behavior. So perhaps finding out what motivates people who regularly exercise might help others who are trying to find their way.
The first element that successful long-term exercisers share is the self-perception that they can do it. No one likes to practice something they do not feel they are good at. Studies have suggested that people who have had less than encouraging experiences understandably do not want a repeat of this. Some of the reasons for a bad experience might include not being able to find a way to fit exercise in with their current lifestyle (read: No time in a busy schedule), not liking the exercise routine itself or the environment in which it is performed, or feeling incompetent or physically not good while exercising. Success factors in positive self-perception would include receiving meaningful positive reinforcement, non-judgmental feedback and social support.
An example of social support would be to seek support from the family in helping to carve out time to exercise, or involve family members (i.e. join a family-friendly facility like a YMCA where everyone can go to be active, or go on family bike rides, etc.). Trying different activities and starting with something in your skill level will help you feel more self-sufficient and reduce the feeling of not being competent.
Other important elements in staying motivated to exercise:
- Focusing on the feeling and not the outcomes – focusing on external aspects, such as weight loss alone, do not significantly strengthen the resolve to keep exercising. Having the belief that activity will improve health and well being and focusing on the good feelings both physically and mentally that exercise induces are proven to be better ways to encourage repeated behavior. Give yourself time for this to happen. It may not be immediate, and you may have to try different modes of activity to find what you might enjoy.
- Setting realistic goals – expecting to get fit quickly, look a certain way or achieve huge weight-loss goals can set you up for failure. If you are not sure, work with a professional coach, trainer or instructor or take a class (I took one at a community college, which was inexpensive and effective for me when I was starting out) to help determine what your capacity is and how to break down your goals into doable actions. Find references for reputable professionals who are caring and committed through organizations such as ACE (American Council on Exercise) or the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
- Considering it a part of your lifestyle – The more you engage in exercise, the more it will seem like a natural part of your life. People who are regular participants find that they feel something is missing if they have to skip it. They think of themselves as “exercisers” or might call themselves “a runner” or think of themselves as “belonging” to a fitness facility. The idea of exercise has become part of the fabric of their lives.
If you need help in getting started to get motivated, consider finding out what has worked for others who are more specifically like you and whose situation you can relate to. Good resources would be to read testimonials in the National Weight Control Registry online (by people who have lost 30 pounds or more and have kept it off for one year or more) or in fitness magazines. In any case, people do succeed. If sticking with exercise hasn’t worked for you in the past, you now know that it can work as it has for so many. You just have to find the right motivation and what works best for you. Along with the right means and support, success can be yours.