Getting regular exercise is one of the most healthy and rewarding habits we can practice for ourselves yet it's one of the most difficult to establish and therefore, often neglected. Why is that?
We start. We can't stay motivated. We stop. We start again. Life gets in the way. We stop again. The endless cycles of attempts to master this habit get old and frustrating, making it so hard to achieve results.
During the past two years, I've been the queen of starting and stopping. I've started, stopped, started, stopped and (for a fleeting moment) even considered giving up before deciding that I needed to figure all of this out. I knew I could do better. I also knew that mastering this habit would help me achieve other goals in life.
Now, into my 5th consecutive month of maintaining a strong level of commitment to my workouts, I feel that I have a good handle on how to stay motivated to work out by using the set of tools and practices I've acquired along the way, keeping me on track.
I started paying close attention to my mindset and actions so I could keep myself on track and catch myself before derailing again.
Here are the tools and practices that I've been using. I hope they help you too.
How To Stay Motivated To Work Out
1. First, be patient and think of working out regularly as a lifestyle change. So many of the messages we are fed about exercise have to do with getting fast results. "look great in no time," "the fastest way to get in shape." This alters our expectation for how long it takes to see results and establish our habit. We want to see change as soon as possible because we're hoping not to have to put in so much work. Although efficiency in many areas of our lives has been sped up with technology, this is one area that still requires, time, effort and patience. I have reframed the way I look at my habit of getting regular exercise. I tell myself that this is a habit that I want to practice for as long as I can-- on the open runway of time in front of me. In fact, I'm grateful that I'm actually able to work out. I'm not hoping to reach a final destination, and I'm not obsessing about results. I trust change will come, but it will take time and applying consistent effort. I've also found in my experience that it has taken longer than 30 days to establish this habit-- 90 days is more like it. So be patient with yourself, and keep pushing until you really feel your habit take hold.
2. Next, schedule your workouts on Sunday and do your best to never miss a Monday. Of all of the things I've started to do to stay more consistent with my workouts, this has probably been the most important, especially not missing Monday. When we pre-schedule our workouts on Sunday, we are committing to them and anticipating going rather than taking a wait-and-see-if-I-have-time attitude. After a few weeks of staying consistent, you'll begin to view your workouts to be as important as doctors' appointments. And by not missing Mondays, you're more likely to stay consistent during the rest of the week. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment early in the week, and Monday will set the pace for the rest of your week.
3. Find the time of day to work out that is best for your schedule. It may vary from day to day. If you work 9-5 and after work, you're exhausted and busy with your kids, then consider trying early morning workouts when no one needs you. Many people at my gym consistently go as early as 5:15 or 6:00 am. Or, get 2 workouts in on the weekends, and commit to getting in at least two more during the week. Maybe one early morning and one on a less busy night. Each week it will get easier, and soon you'll realize that you need to go and will look forward to this time to work on yourself. Pay attention to what excuses you come up with and push through them.
4. Have Minimums & Maximums to Backstop Dips in Motivation. As you schedule your workouts, have a MINIMUM number you aim for each week. I've often heard that in order to get results, we need to train at least 4 times a week (5 varied workouts/week is ideal.) Of course, this is something you may need to work up to, but what I've noticed is that 4 workouts keep me consistent. With any fewer, I run the risk of getting off track. And if too many consecutive days go by without getting a workout in, it gets really easy to let the habit fall to the wayside. It's like you have to stay in the flow-- to get results, stay motivated, and strengthen your habit. In addition to your minimum number of workouts per week, keep in mind a MAXIMUM number of days you'll go in between workouts-- for me, that's 3 and 3 is pushing it. Once I've gone two days without working out, I know I need to get back in there ASAP. Stay in the flow!
5. Create your own mantra. Mine is "I love to train." While recently listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast episode where he interviewed CrossFit Games champion, Jason Khalipa, Jason explained that he never set out to compete at CrossFit. He just "loved to train." Those three words struck me as a great mantra to tell myself when I was feeling a dip in motivation or excuses popping into my mind. When I tell myself, "I love to train" all excuses are canceled out and my attention is focused on the long list of positives of following through with my workout. Saying this to myself over and over has made me come to believe that I actually love to train. Plus, the word "train" sounds so much more important than "working out."
6. Think of each workout and monthly gym membership payment as a recommitment to yourself. When you view your workouts as a time for you to work on yourself, its importance is elevated, which helps you stay consistent. BUT, it's so easy for your best intentions to get washed away with everyday life, too many days since your last workout or maybe a dip in your confidence. So, just as some couples choose to renew their marriage vows to each other, we need to renew our commitments to ourselves. Before I go to a workout, I intentionally tell myself I am recommitting to myself by going to the gym. And so that I honor the money I spend on my monthly membership when my dues are paid each month, I tell myself that I am recommitting to myself for another month by pre-paying for 16-20 workouts. It's too easy to let months roll by, have the funds withdrawn from your account and not acknowledge that by amping up your commitment to yourself, you also get the most value out of your membership. When I see that I'm getting value out of my membership, it's worth every penny.
7. Join a high-service gym for the knowledgeable coaches, supportive community, and built-in accountability. I can honestly say that if I were still going to my self-guided gym, I would not be writing this post right now. By attending a high-service CrossFit gym, I know that I will be guided through a well-programmed workout, have the opportunity to push up against my limits, and have accountability built into my efforts. Gone are the days of going to a gym, thinking "What machine should I go on?" and glancing at the clock several times during an hour. With a high-service gym, so much is packed into an hour (thorough workout explanation and warm up, training and an intense workout) that you rarely feel tempted to check the clock. Each day you will be greeted by and work alongside a community of supportive, like-minded people there to become better versions of themselves too. For more detail about my CrossFit experience, I wrote a blog post explaining 16 reasons why CrossFit sets you up for success.
8. Let your family know that mastering your new habit is a priority to you. Before starting to strengthen your habit of exercising regularly, set the expectation with your spouse and family that you will need their help and understanding to succeed. Let them know you are serious about making this lifestyle change, and you are dedicated to improving yourself. When conflicts come up and you may need your spouse to cover for you so you can keep your commitment to yourself, you will be more inclined to ask for help and receive understanding. The longer you and your family see you staying consistent, the more everyone will guard your habit.
9. Before your habit becomes solid and you see results, focus on the short-term benefits. Like I said in my first point, you have to deploy patience when looking for results from working out. To help you stay on course before your habit is established, take notice of the short-term benefits that you'll get from working out like improved-- mental clarity, balance, mobility, posture, general well-being, a sense of accomplishment, and self-confidence. Will you be sore initially? Yes, but if you continue to show up consistently, you'll push through the initial soreness in no time.
10. Consider getting stronger physically to be the foundation to help you navigate everyday life and work toward big goals. Life can be unexpected at times, but if you're feeling physically strong, you'll be better equipped to handle what comes your way. Establishing a strong habit to exercise regularly will also carry over in other areas of your life, and even help you succeed in working toward longer-term goals.
By applying these 10 ideas, you will reframe your mindset about why working out is important to you and have practices in place to keep you from derailing your habit. Relax, have patience for the long haul, and in the short term, schedule your workouts each week and apply some of these ideas when you feel tempted to slack. Keep pushing, less thinking, and more action. You got this!!
Call To Action
So are you ready to get back to the gym or take your level of commitment up a few notches? To make it easy for you to apply the points I've made above, I created a one-page checklist (see red button below) of these items for you to print and hang on your refrigerator or somewhere you can read it daily. Maybe even keep a copy on your phone. When a weak moment creeps up on you or excuses start to enter your mind, just read the list and one of these practices should prop you up. If I can do this, so can you!
Just click on the red button below to access the checklist.