Your motivation isn’t gone. It just needs a little pep talk.
If you’re anything like I used to be, you’ve been here plenty of times before. Something finally put you in the right headspace to give working out another shot — a health scare or maybe just another New Year’s resolution. You were sure this was the time everything would be different, and for a while, it probably even felt that way.
Then the inevitable happened. Working out got old and life got hectic, so you decided to put off a workout “just this once”. Before you knew it, one skipped workout somehow became several in a row. Now not only are you not feeling jazzed about your new routine anymore, but you’re feeling guilty for wanting to give up altogether — again. So, now what?
The thing is it’s easy to feel excited about a workout routine when it’s brand new, but staying motivated on an ongoing basis is a lot tougher. I know this all too well, because I’ve been in the same boat more times than I care to admit. Then one year, I finally made it happen. I not only stuck with a newly reestablished workout habit after years of failing, but I successfully turned exercise into an enjoyable staple I now can’t imagine my life without.
I did it by actively looking for ways to genuinely enjoy what I was doing and stay personally invested in what I was working toward. You can do it too, and it’s easier than you think. Here’s how to get on the right track.
1. Find the right workout buddy.
Have you ever noticed how much more fun a day on the job seems when you genuinely like the people you’re on shift with? Or how quickly errands and household chores go when someone you care about does them with you? With the right company, the same thing can happen with your workouts.
Inviting a friend, partner, or other loved one along for the ride helps exercise seem less like work and more like play. You can keep each other motivated, accountable, and encouraged. You’ll be less tempted to bail on a workout if you know you’ll be leaving a friend hanging, so you’ll have an added incentive to stick with the program when the going gets tough as well.
Just make sure you pick the right person. It should be someone who’s not only as serious as you are about finally getting in shape, but good at finishing things they start in general. In other words, pick the friend you can count on to keep you moving steadily toward your goals, not the one you know will already be looking for excuses to slack off only a week or two in.
My past attempts at getting fit were almost always made either alone or in the company of people who weren’t really serious about what they were doing. Choosing my husband instead was a game changer. We were both equally tired of being out of shape and ready to make some changes. We also worked as a team right from the beginning, which made the journey a lot less lonely.
We split the costs of workout equipment and planned meals together. We messaged each other fitness articles and research we found helpful or interesting. We motivated each other through the frustrations and congratulated one another on each little win as well.
Having another person involved like that made me forget to view exercise as work. All I knew is I was having fun, feeling awesome about myself, and kicking butt alongside someone I love. Before I knew it, I had another new habit on my hands, only it was a healthy one for a change.
2. Switch up your routine.
Whether or not you want advice on how to approach your workout routine, you’ll definitely get it. Some of it will be good, realistic advice you can actually grow with. A lot of it will come from people who insist the only way to get results is to make yourself miserable doing specific activities you don’t enjoy on any level. Don’t listen. I’m living proof that it doesn’t have to be that way.
The act of moving your body can and should be fun, or at least tolerable. If you’re having trouble sticking with your routine because you hate it, switch it up. If you can’t stand weight lifting or aerobics, stop doing it. Replace that activity with something that actually interests you, whether that’s martial arts, hiking, cycling, dancing, or something else entirely.
A little variety for variety’s sake never hurt anyone either, and it actually helps you get better results. I personally get tired of doing the same routine the same way over and over again. Switching things up regularly keeps me from getting bored, and it keeps my workouts effective. I add interesting new activities to my rotation whenever it suits me as well.
I actually discovered strength training and shadow boxing because Sylvester Stallone made them look cool in Rocky, and I rightly thought they’d make me feel like a bad-ass. I’m thinking of taking up running soon as well, because it honestly looks like fun to me, and I have a lot of friends who are into it. Figure out what looks like a good time to you, and do that. There’s no limit to the different types of activities you can enjoy either. A well-rounded workout is an effective workout.
3. Do what you can when you can.
A lot of people feel like they have to log 30–60 minutes of solid exercise at one time for it to count as a workout. That can be a lot to ask of yourself if you’re having trouble staying motivated in the first place though. Plus, more isn’t always better when it comes to exercise. Pushing yourself too hard can actually be counterproductive, leading to burnout or even injury, and ultimately making it even harder to meet your goals.
Shorter workouts can be every bit as effective as longer ones, especially if you kick the intensity up a couple of notches. Approaches like high intensity interval training (HIIT) can help you maximize the time you put in and are simply more enjoyable for some people. You don’t have to get your entire routine done at one time either. If it’s easier or more approachable for you to do ten minutes here and there throughout the day, by all means do that.
Look for additional ways to integrate more activity into your day when it makes sense as well, especially if you can have fun doing it. Get up and stretch your legs with a walk around the block on your lunch hour instead of eating at your desk for the millionth time in a row. Take your dog to the beach, and play Frisbee with him. Do a quick set of push-ups in the kitchen while you wait for your microwave popcorn to finish popping.
Make a game out of exercise by challenging yourself to move more often in interesting new ways. It keeps things fun, it’s effective, and it’s a great way to turn exercise into a habit.
4. Keep a running record of your journey.
I’ve been into journaling and diary keeping ever since I was a kid for a couple of reasons. Yes, I do genuinely enjoy writing, but I also love the clarity it gives me when I’m facing a challenge or working through something tough. Writing something down is a great way for me to figure out how I really feel about whatever it is I’m doing. It helps me keep things in perspective, and it gives me a great way to assess the impact of my ongoing efforts.
You don’t have to keep a literal paper diary of your workout journey, but you should keep some sort of running record to add to and look back on. Record your journey with photographs. Start a blog, a Facebook group, or a social media page where you keep track of what you’re doing, and share it with your friends or workout buddies. Make graphs or charts that let you admire your progress at a glance. Be creative.
Make sure you’re recording all of your wins as well. Yes, it’s a good idea to keep track of the numbers when it comes to weight loss, muscle gain, and so forth, but they’re not all that matter. Has it been easier to keep up with your kids lately because you’re building stamina? Were you able to pick up a huge bag of dog food the other day like it was nothing because you’re noticeably stronger? Did you get a compliment that totally made your day? Were you extra productive at work last week because of how your focus is improving?
All of these things — including simply showing up for your workouts when it’s really tough to do so — are achievements that deserve to be commemorated and celebrated. When you do this regularly, it becomes increasingly easier to stay motivated and keep going.
5. Use exercise as a way to relieve stress.
You don’t have to be madly in love with exercise yet to take advantage of its ability to relieve stress. Working out is an awesome way to blow off some steam or decompress after a long day that really tried your patience. Training yourself to see it as such can help you unravel any negative associations you might have about working out.
In fact, that may have been one of the biggest game changers for me personally— consciously reframing the way I thought of exercise until it became second nature. In the past, I used bad news, fights with loved ones, or down moods to justify skipping things I really didn’t want to do, scheduled workouts included. This time around, I used those things as reasons to exercise in the first place, because I logically knew I’d feel better, not worse.
This really is the case too. Deliberately hopping on the stationary bike or taking a walk when I feel angry or upset always helps me calm down and put my ducks back in a row, even when I’m sure nothing will help. I can literally feel my mental knots untying themselves, and by the time I’m all done, I feel like a new person.
Eventually, I learned to associate exercise with those very positive feelings, and that’s the point where I genuinely started enjoying it. Eventually, I even learned to love my workouts. I now see them as important parts of my “me time” — things I do to be good and kind to myself because I deserve it.
At the end of the day, exercise isn’t just an essential part of any healthy, well-rounded life. It can be exhilarating, enjoyable, and stimulating on the same level any other pastime can be. All it takes is a little perspective change to start seeing it that way.