Knowing that it is essential and knowing why and how is often not enough. The key is developing the right mindset to get and stay motivated. I know I am not alone in being a master maker of excuses when it comes to finding ways to avoid exercise. Too often, when we develop a new plan and try to start exercising, almost spontaneously we think of reasons for not doing so right now. Time constraints, other priorities and all the things that have gotten in the way before suddenly enter our minds and suddenly the whole idea of getting fit becomes overwhelming and stressful. And now, what was supposed to be in part a way of reducing stress, is creating it. Suddenly the air is quickly escaping the balloon that was filled with inspiration and motivation.
After repeating this cycle many times myself, and reading way too many articles about motivation, I have happened on some ideas that can actually be helpful in overcoming obstacles to getting regular movement – I won’t even call it exercise. First and foremost is the idea that each person has to find their own personal reason or incentive to get moving. For many, including me, having fun is a key personal component.
In this regard, I subscribe to the old Ben and Jerry’s motto, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” Here again, having fun is a personal matter and what’s fun for one person, may not be fun for another. For many, however, a key ingredient to having fun is when it involves others. Adding a social aspect to doing active things can be a huge way to overcome reluctance, increase enjoyment, and create motivation.
Also, including others does not necessarily have to include people. If you enjoy animals, simply walking a dog on a regular basis could also do the trick. Some find personal motivation in other ways. What you need to get yourself up off the couch is a reason that’s important to you. Perhaps you have always wanted to see the view from the top of a certain mountain, or hike a particular trail. Perhaps you have wanted to do something you have seen others having fun at.
Sometimes this may be an external factor such as wanting to look good at your class reunion or your doctor’s recommendation that there needs to be a change in a number on the scale or that you need to move more to stay healthy. There are all kinds of benefits to getting fit. Which matters most to you? Something as simple as taking a walk after dinner every night helps to control your weight, strengthen your bones, enhance your muscles, and reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Plus, if you have children, by becoming active, you’re setting a good example and being a good role model.
To keep up your motivation to exercise over time, you also need to find your internal motivators. Maybe taking a yoga class leaves you feeling more energized or optimistic. Maybe a run or walk every day helps you feel better and less stressed. If you stay with it a while, you will start feeling better physically but also, more important, you will feel better about yourself. These are the kind of rewards that are meaningful on a personal level and that can help keep that motivation going. In keeping with the idea of having fun, it is important to do something you enjoy. You don’t have to go to the gym to get a good workout. It’s all about moving more; however you do it. For some people, going to the gym provides structure that helps them focus and provides a sense of accomplishment when they’re done. For others, it’s a chore they wind up avoiding as often as they can.
What else can you do? Almost anything that gets you and your family actively moving:
• Squeeze in short walks (at work or at home) throughout the day. Take a lunchtime walk.
• Walk the dog, or walk a neighbor’s dog. They’ll be grateful for the help.
• Have dance contests with the kids instead of watching TV.
• Go to the park and play hide-and-seek.
• Shoot hoops with the kids.
• Walk or bike to the store instead of driving, or park far away from the entrance.
• When you go to an area away from your home for an errand or to shop, look for a walking path, park or search out something new to explore.
• If you can, take your bicycle along to neighboring towns and explore them on two wheels.
It is also important to set realistic goals. You don’t have to rigidly walk 30 minutes a day right off the bat. I find that I like to do different things at different times. People often lose their motivation to exercise when they try to do too much too soon.
When I lose my momentum I find getting on my elliptical, setting a goal of 5-10 minutes, often leads me back to 20-30 minutes and makes me feel good again. It’s fine to start out doing 15 minutes a day, two or three days a week and then gradually add more time and intensity. Set weekly goals. If you reached your goal, celebrate.
A workout doesn’t have to be a chore. Have fun with it!
Editor’s Note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington, where he maintains a private practice providing therapeutic services to adults, couples, children, adolescents, and families.