The Psychology of Staying Motivated

Tracy Stengel
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Fitness routines evolve as goals change throughout life. Some people strive for their idea of a perfect perfect beach body or to fit into their high school jeans. Others want to become stronger and more flexible. Then, there are those who want to lower cholesterol and incorporate exercise to achieve a heart healthy lifestyle. No matter the objective, attaining it requires dedication.

Chris Zaino, personal trainer and former Mr. America, cites consistency as the key to progress in an article in He makes it very clear:

No matter what we do in life we will not achieve the success we want unless we work at it day in and day out for months and months. The same goes for your exercise programs. You can have the best trainer in the world, and the best diet to follow, but if you do not stick with it consistently, you will wind up spinning your wheels. This can be very frustrating for someone who is trying to hit a certain goal.

Sound familiar? Some of us have been there done that … or more accurately, we didn’t do that. We weren’t consistent. Yet, when we begin a new fitness program we are fired up and make elaborate plans to change our bodies, often spending money on the latest and greatest equipment. After a few days, procrastination replaces ambition.
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Those shiny new weights or the fancy spin bike ends up being the elephant in our living room. A neglected elephant that is eventually exiled to the basement or storage unit. It is often replaced by shame that feels like a heavy burden.

But how can we get ourselves to exercise when we don’t feel like it? Marty Nemko, Ph.D. offers some tools to accomplish things when we’d rather be doing anything else in his article in Psychology Today. His tips can be used to get you off the couch and burning calories.

  • Invoke a value. Remind yourself you want to improve your health to improve your life. You many also be doing it for your partner or family. Visualize how you’ll feel once you get your workout in for the day. Think about the negatives if you don’t stick with your plan. How will you feel when you don’t lose that pant size, reduce your cholesterol, or don’t improve your endurance? Try not to find out!
  • Agree to a bit of time. Tell yourself you’ll exercise for 10 minutes, maybe only 5. Just get started. Often, all it takes is a few minutes before you feel invested in your workout and are motivated to finish. Another option is to break the workout into bits. If you planned a 30-minute walk, break it into three 10-minute parts throughout the day. That way, it doesn’t seem as daunting.
  • Give yourself a tangible reward. You know what motivates you. Tell yourself you’ll surf the Internet after the workout or hang out with friends. Make longer term goals with bigger rewards to help you continue to strive for your fitness goals. Perhaps you'll purchase a new outfit if you stick to your program for 30 days.
  • Include a punishment. Stay accountable by making yourself uncomfortable if you don’t follow your health plan. For example, tell a friend or your child you’ll give them $20 every day you don’t follow your exercise schedule.
  • Get support. Tell loved ones you need their support and encouragement. When possible, plan healthy activities with people you enjoy being around and you’ll be more apt to show up.
  • Chart your progress. It’s nice to have a visual of where you started and where you want to be. Make a vision board, use an app, or keep a fitness diary so you can celebrate milestones and “see” results.

For those of you working consistently on your fitness goal, what do you do to stay motivated? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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