How to Motivate Yourself to Exercise — the golden question, right? If you had told me 5 years ago I’d be writing this post I would have laughed my head off.
I am not naturally athletic and for most of my life I never enjoyed rigorous physical activity. Or sweating. Or wearing socks unless I absolutely had to.
HOWEVER. For the first time in my life I have exercised regularly for an entire year. That’s huge for me. And it has become a habit and something that I look forward to. (Insert mind blown emoji) I even exercised on vacation. (See above.) I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. Granted it was only ONE day of our trip, but it was a huge step for me.
Part of me feels like I have no business writing this post. I’m not a personal trainer. Or a therapist. (Most of this issue is a mind game. Truly.) The other part of me knows there are a lot of you who feel the same way I did about exercise. Maybe my experience will help because I’m not those things? And I’m also not trying to sell you anything. Except maybe a cookbook, but that’s unrelated to this post.
Also, because I’m not a fitness blogger I don’t have many (any?) fitness related photos, so please enjoy some tasty food photos bombed by #babylukedanes.
Just a short history so you know where I’m coming from . . .
I never played sports growing up, which is a shame because I’m 5’9 and have long arms. I had some half-hearted running stints in college, but mostly there were boys involved, so, it was highly motivating at the time. After each baby was born, I worked out a little, but mostly it just fizzled, and I figured since I was burning 500 calories per day from breastfeeding, then I didn’t really need to exercise to lose baby weight.
Yoga was something I always went back to when I felt like I needed to do SOMETHING. Like I said, exercise was never my cup of tea. Plus, I didn’t have to wear socks or go outside, so that was a bonus.
Basically, I pushed it off most of my life, taking my youth, agility, and metabolism for granted. Here I am at 37, and I’m just barely learning to make it a priority. Luckily I’m still young and relatively agile. My metabolism? Um. It’s definitely not 25 anymore. It’s never too late to start, though. And it doesn’t take long for it to become a habit.
Here are some of the things that helped motivate me to work out regularly and maybe they might help you, too.
1 Know that it can’t be optional.
It’s not a secret that having an active lifestyle (whatever that might look like) is absolutely essential for health. Period.
Exercise isn’t an optional hobby for those who are really wanting to push their physical limits. It’s something that every. single. human. needs. My husband teaches wellness classes in his clinic and he calls exercise an ESSENTIAL NUTRIENT. I like to think of it like that.
I’m not going to go into all the benefits of exercise, but just say that it’s important to keep it in the forefront of your mind. And you don’t have to be a marathon runner or super outdoorsy to get the amount of movement you need. *Phew*
2 Make some lists.
Several years ago I went to a seminar with Steve when he was working on his post-doctorate wellness certification. I learned an activity that I sometimes use when I want to create a good habit (or break a bad one).
Get out a piece of paper and divide it in half. On one side write the consequences (positive and negative) of doing that particular thing and on the other side, write the consequences of not doing it. In this case, use exercise.
This might sound dumb, but as you’re writing, you’ll have all kind of thoughts come out. And I’m willing to guess that the left-hand column looks WAY better than the other side. It seems so obvious that exercising regularly is the best option, yet some of us (ahem, me) struggle so much. Let those lists really sink in. Put it somewhere where you’ll see it often and when you feel that urge to pass up a workout — read over that list and THEN decide if that’s what you want to do.
3 Figure out your thoughts.
I mentioned earlier that this is all a mind game. It’s totally true. Unless you have some medical condition or physical limitation that prevents you from exercising regularly, you CAN exercise. And even if you can, a little movement is better than no movement, depending on the situation.
Have you ever stepped back and watched your mind at work? It sounds strange, but try it. Mentally take a step back and really figure out what your brain is doing. What are you thinking in that moment you decide not to exercise? Or the moment you decide to eat an extra cookie?
Most of the time exercising isn’t the hard part. It’s tuning in to what we’re thinking and changing our thoughts about exercise. For me, the thoughts were mostly about apathy and laziness. I didn’t fee like working out. I didn’t want to get sweaty. I’d rather do something else. I slept too late. I stayed up too late watching Mindy Project. And on. And on.
Right then is a good time to get out that list you made in #2. I have NEVER EVER regretted working out. Sometimes if I pushed myself too hard I’ll take a mental note and scale back next time, (or push myself a little harder if I was too soft) but I have never regretted doing it in the first place.
4 Don’t exercise to lose weight
This might sound counter-intuitive because isn’t that why most of us do it in the first place? It’s also the top selling point of most workout programs and gyms.
Can we just put weight loss aside for a minute? Obesity is definitely a risk factor for a LOT of health issues, but weight loss isn’t always a good indicator of a healthy lifestyle. Nor should it be the primary motivation for exercising or eating well. Plus, it will frustrate the heck out of you if you’re gaining muscle and the scale hasn’t budged in weeks. The results are definitely there, but a scale is really crappy at letting you know.
Find other non-scale reasons to lose weight. Maybe consult that list you made? Making healthy choices and being active will result in weight loss eventually. Probably not as soon as you’d like, but focus on other things.
If I had used weight loss as a motivator to exercise, I would have given up in the first few months because I actually GAINED weight. Yes, muscle, but also, my measurements had basically stayed the same. My weight and measurements now are basically the same after a year of working out. Yes, it’s a smidge discouraging, but I can see so many other benefits and how my body is actually different.
(I’m realizing my problem was that I tend to overeat at meals and graze all day — both of which can keep you from losing weight. Yes, it’s possible to overeat when you’re eating what you’re supposed to, but that’s a long post for another day.)
I have more energy. I have more muscle tone. My moods are better and more stable. I can run about 3 miles more than I could a year ago (which was about 1/2 mile). The BEST benefit, though?
Exercise has become a (mostly) effortless choice in my life. I actually crave moment. I feel better physically AND mentally when I exercise, and while the type or duration changes depending on circumstances, most of the time I *gasp* enjoy it.
5 Create a minimum baseline
Starting a structured program or class can be a good idea, but creating an easy minimum baseline will keep you from completely fizzling. What do I mean by minimum baseline? In other parts of our lives we create baselines. Like, how long we go before we wash our hair or brush our teeth. We tend to adhere to these baselines. You don’t hear someone saying they fell off the wagon of washing their hair for 3 months. If 4-5 days is a person’s max, then that person will most likely not go past that. Unless they’re camping or something. (Don’t do that, though. #campingsucks)
Does this make sense? Use this principle when it comes to exercise. Set a ridiculously easy baseline for exercise — like, walking for 5 minutes a day, 3 days a week. And stick to it.
Your brain is going to be like, “Why bother? It’s not going to burn hardly any calories or make a difference physically.”
That’s not the point. The point is to CREATE THE HABIT. Try walking for 5 minutes a day, 3 days a week for a month. Most likely you’ll walk a little further because you’re already outside (or on a treadmill) and you’ve already done the hard part — putting your shoes and stocks on and going outside.
6 Accommodate your excuses, but not all of them
I’m pretty sure I’ve used every excuse I could think of to avoid exercising. Make a list of your excuse and then next to each excuse, either write a workaround and/or give yourself some tough love. Here are a few of mine and some thoughts that went through my head:
- I don’t like having to change into workout clothes. — Buy some clothes you love (yay, shopping!). As soon as you get out of bed in the morning, put them on. Don’t take them off until you’ve exercised. (I don’t like wearing workout clothes all day so this works for me.) And Nat, this is a lame excuse.
- I don’t like getting sweaty and gross. I need to shower soon after I wake up. — You don’t have to get sweaty and gross every time. Work out soon after you get up. Also you aren’t going to die if your shower is postponed by an hour or so. #toughlove
- I don’t like working out around other people. — You don’t have to join a gym or find a workout buddy. Accountability groups and running partners work with some people, but you know you’re an introvert, so do your own thing. Plus, you can listen to podcasts and have some alone time! (<– highly motivating)
- I get bored after a few weeks of the same thing. — Then do something different. But don’t just stop completely.
- I’m too worn out to work out at night, and I don’t like getting up at 6AM. For anything. — Working out is better in the AM anyway, so don’t worry about evening exercising. I know you’ve struggled as a morning person your whole life, so if you can, plan out 20-30 minutes in your morning routine after the kids are off to school. It might mean you’re running errands and other things a bit later in the day, but the pay off is so worth it.
- Starting a new exercise routine really sucks since I haven’t been working out for months. — Right? I totally agree. Start anyway and keep this in mind if you ever think about quitting. (This is actually a HUGE motivator for me. It’s so much easier to keep a routine going or tweak my existing one than to stop for a few months and start back up again. So, so sore. Blah.)
What are some of your excuses?
7 Keep trying to find things you like to do
One thing I’ve learned about myself this past year is that I can’t do the same program/routine forever. And my activity level changes with the seasons — something that never occurred to me before. Here’s how my year went:
Last spring/summer I tackled the BBG program for about 6 months. (It’s a pretty rigorous circuit-type program, by the way. But I was in the mood for some vigorous stuff.) I did the pre-program weeks and made it to week 9 twice. I just couldn’t make it past that point to finish all 12 weeks and I was getting burned out and tired of the whole program.
By mid-summer I randomly felt like running one day. (Weird, right?) And I suddenly got that “itch” everyone talks about. The more I ran, the less I felt like doing BBG, so I dropped BBG and alternated doing yoga and running.
By late fall my knee started aching when I ran. (Not sure why. Maybe the cold?) So I stopped running for the winter months and just did longer stretches of yoga.
Around January I wanted to incorporate weights, so I got a set of adjustable weights and did some simple circuit workouts and kept up with my yoga practice.
When it started warming up this spring, I tried running again and my knee was fine! (Maybe it WAS the cold? Maybe I lost muscle from quitting BBG and gained it back by doing weighted squats? I’m still not sure.)
So as of now, I’m running 3 days a week and doing weights/yoga 2 days a week. I’m following a 10K training program, but I doubt I’ll actually enter a race. I just want to be able to do it. (Introvert, remember?) Also, I have zero marathon or even half-marathon aspirations. I might eat my words later, but as of now that’s where I am.
And, interestingly, what I feel like doing changes depending on the time of year. During warmer months I feel like doing higher energy workouts and during the cooler months it’s mostly yoga and weights.
Another thing that has helped me a lot is having a FitBit. I love tracking my stats and seeing my progress that way. #nerd
If you haven’t found something you really enjoy, keep looking! Maybe you need a FitBit to track progress. Maybe you need a friend to work out with. If you’re feeling burned out, do something else! Just don’t stop completely. Maybe set some goals to keep you motivated? That’s actually a good segway into the next section. . .
8 Keep commitments to yourself
I was listening to a podcast the other day talking about the commitments we make to ourselves and it really hit me. We seem to do ok keeping commitments to other people — especially family and friends. We keep work commitments, too. Why is it so easy to flake out on ourselves? The lack of external consequences?
I have learned that I am a much better mother and wife and friend if I’m taking care of myself physically (and emotionally and spiritually and the other -allys). If I put a personal commitment on my calendar, I do it unless there’s a REALLY good reason why I can’t. (Not a lame excuse for sure.) Honor those commitments. YOU ARE VALUABLE AND WORTHY OF GOOD THINGS. #selfhelpy
One last note — if you have babies or toddlers in your house, I hear you. Loud and clear. Sometimes it’s even harder to make exercise a priority if you’re overworked and underslept and have little people crawling all over you when you’re at home. I’m positive that’s one of the biggest reasons why it took me so long to get to the point where I could make it a priority. But I didn’t have to wait that long. Just be gentle with yourself and do what you can!
I believe that covers it, my friends. I’ll have another post up shortly talking about my favorite workout programs, workout gear, and other fun stuff.
I would love to hear about some thing that have helped you incorporate exercise in your life — if you came kicking and screaming like me! Drop me a comment below and tell me about your love or hate relationship with working out.
Have you figured out how to motivate yourself to exercise regularly?