9 ways to get and stay motivated
When it comes to staying in shape, it's easy to talk the talk. Having the motivation to get up and walk is a different story—and sticking with a new exercise routine can be more challenging that you may anticipate. Using simple motivational strategies, you can ensure that your fierce resolve doesn't fade away at the first fitness obstacle.
People like to chitchat about working on their "summer body." But what about our fall body, or our winter or spring body? The changing season is the perfect time to switch up our daily routine and start—or restart—a regular exercise schedule. This autumn, fall in love with fitness.
Canadian health officials recommend we get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. That’s less than 30 minutes a day, but the benefits quickly add up. Researchers have found the fittest Canadians are also the healthiest Canadians by numerous criteria, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
While most of us know we should exercise, there’s a disconnection between what we know and what we actually do. More than half of all Canadians think they exercise regularly, yet only 15 percent of us actually hit the recommended 150-minute exercise threshold.
Let’s close the gap between our head knowledge and our physical actions, employing proven motivation techniques that get us into the gym and keep us going!
Pick a day to get started—tomorrow is a great choice. “Place an exact start date on the calendar,” recommends Scott Weiss, DPT, a board-certified athletic trainer who works with NHL players. “Make sure that this is not a ‘floating’ date, but a set-in-stone time.”
Studies show that people who exercise in the morning have an easier time maintaining a daily fitness habit.
Obscure goals like “I want to be healthy” are too general to keep us motivated. Psychologists say the best goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). For example: “I want to lose one pound every month until Christmas” or “I will run every Monday and Wednesday for 15 minutes.”
“In most cases, people’s lack of motivation is actually a result of frustration and discouragement,” says Weiss. “One of the biggest mistakes that people do when they start working out is setting unattainable goals.”
Write down the start date and the goal. “When we write it down, it’s more likely to stick,” says Derek DeGrazio, a celebrity personal trainer who’s worked with Britney Spears. Write the goal on sticky notes and plaster them wherever you may need a little motivational reminder: on the bathroom mirror, in your wallet, on your computer monitor—you name it.
Accountability partners keep us on track, increasing our ability to stick to our commitments. Simply receiving an accountability phone call, once every two weeks, more than doubled study participants’ exercise rates from the start of one study.
Alexandra Allred, a kinesiology instructor and former Olympic athlete, recommends finding an accountability partner in your home, in your work, and in your friendships. “You won’t be able to do this alone,” she says. “You need a team.” For example, ask a co-worker to check in with you to see if you did your daily walk, and ask your children to call you out if they catch you sneaking in some junk food.
Running that first kilometre or finishing that first set of weights can be motivating in itself. “Exercise … is a self-fulfilling activity,” says Weiss. Once you start seeing the benefits—improved physical health, sharper mental clarity, improved moods—you’ll want to keep going. “When it comes to convincing others to exercise,” says Weiss, “I always say, ‘The more you do, the more you can do. The less you do, the less you want to do.’”
“Work out with a buddy,” recommends DeGrazio. The social element motivates many of us. Non-human friends count too. Studies have found that dogs motivate their owners to exercise more.
Joining a class is another option. “If you’re working out alone, I suggest a class environment,” says Allred. “Studies show better results, higher commitment, and greater determination to succeed in group settings.”
Music is a powerful motivator, increasing muscle strength, enhancing heart rates, and improving endurance. Choose songs with a quick beat—the fast tempo will keep you moving fast. Make a gym playlist of your favourite songs, and only let yourself listen to these songs when you’re exercising.
Sticking to the same routine and getting bored can quickly kill our motivation. “To combat the boredom and target unused muscle groups, try a new style of workout,” says Weiss. He suggests trying beginner courses in CrossFit, Pilates, yoga, and anything else that catches your fancy.
If it’s the gym itself that’s boring, step outdoors. “Exercising outside stimulates the nervous system in many ways [and] allows the body to feel re-energized and improves your overall feeling after a workout,” says Weiss.
When we use the SMART system of setting a goal, we have specific, attainable thresholds that we should be hitting regularly, whether that’s weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Reward yourself when you reach those goals. Example rewards include new designer workout gear, a vacation, or a small purchase such as a book or magazine. You deserve it. Now get back out there!
Missed a day? A week? A month? Here’s how to get back into the fitness routine.
After taking a break, a surefire way to burn out is to do too much, too soon. Add an hour here and there instead of going on an all-day exercise bender.
Remove as many barriers as possible so there’s no excuse to not exercise. For example, keep a stocked gym bag in the trunk of the car.
“Remember why you started,” says DeGrazio. “We tend to get lost in life’s chaos. Slow down, take a big breath, smile, then put your damn running shoes on and hit the streets.”
Men’s health across the life course
Theodore D. Cosco, PhD (Cantab) CPsychol