It’s hard to find the time for things you really want to do. It’s even harder to find it for things you really don’t want to. You know that exercise is really important for you, that you need it for weight loss and a great body, for energy, good general health, a strong heart and healthy bones, disease prevention, etc. But sometimes just telling yourself all these things is still not enough to motivate you to do it – especially when you’re busy at your job, when you have a lot of work and family responsibilities, when it’s cold outside, when you have a looming deadline at work, when you didn’t get to sleep until late last night, when the house needs to be cleaned, when you didn’t get a chance to grocery shop this weekend, when the season finale is on tonight, when you’d really rather nap instead…
Often, it feels like life gets in the way between you and exercise. You’re told you’ll do it if you “want it enough,” but most of us already do genuinely want to get healthy and fit and look our best – wanting just doesn’t seem to be powerful enough to reprogram so many years of living a different lifestyle. Luckily, science has stumbled on a few ways to help bridge the gap between wanting to do something and actually getting it done – even when you don’t want to at first.Check out these scientifically-backed strategies to motivate yourself to exercise and live a healthier, more active lifestyle.
4 Proven Ways to Motivate Yourself to Work Out
1. Give Yourself A Reward
While each exercise session moves you closer to important long-term goals – like losing weight, a better body, stronger health, etc. – these sorts of rewards often feel too distant to really push you off the coach and get you going. That’s why Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life & Business, insists that creating a more immediate reward system for behaviours that you want to keep repeating is so important.
“An intrinsic reward is so powerful because your brain can latch on to it and make the link that the behaviour is worthwhile,” Duhigg says. “It increases the odds that the routine becomes a habit.”
Therefore, forming a new positive habit like regular exercise involves setting up a re-occurring “habit loop.” This habit loop involves creating a Cue (like having your gym bag already packed and waiting by the front door in the morning), a Routine (getting through your morning spin class at the gym), and a Reward (a creamy, delicious Double Chocolate SLIMQUICK Pure Protein Smoothie, or a bonus hour of your favourite television show, etc.)
Eventually, as you continue to exercise regularly, your brain starts to associate exercise with the natural surge of feel-good endorphins that your brain receives after a workout, making you feel naturally happy and energized. Soon enough, this rush of feel-good energy becomes the reward in itself, making it easier and easier to get yourself to exercise every day and to look forward to it – even without any extra extrinsic rewards.
2. Give Yourself a Punishment
Psychology studies have shown (and anyone with children will tell you) that people are far more likely to do something (or not do something) if they know there will be a consequence for the undesired behaviour. The promise of a reward for doing the behaviour is definitely a good motivator, but sometimes losing out on the reward is not enough; research has shown that coupling a lost reward with a dreaded consequence is even more effective at kicking you into gear.
When it comes to motivating yourself to workout, one effective consequence is losing face in front of other people that you see regularly. If you’ve made a pact out loud with a girlfriend that you will meet her at the running track at 6:00am tomorrow morning, and then you don’t show, you’ll feel like you not only let yourself down by not exercising, but that you also let her down to by not living up to your word.
Or, even more effective: mix in a shot to your personal pride with a shot to your wallet, suggests Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University who studies health decision science. Sign a contract with a friend or one of the employees at the gym, agreeing to pay $20 every time you skip a workout (and make sure that you’ve laid out exactly which workouts per week you are responsible for showing up for in the contract). “It’s a simple notion of changing the cost,” explains Professor Goldhaber-Fiebert. If missing a workout is more painful than doing the workout, odds are stronger that you’ll do it.
3. Fantasize, Analyze, Strategize
More and more studies are confirming the benefits of “positive thinking”, a term psychologists adopted to describe a group of positive, productive strategies to deal with stress and negative behaviours. One such strategy involves visualizing good outcomes of a positive behaviour in your mind first, to help motivate yourself to do it. This could involve imagining the pleasant feeling of the warm sun as you jog in the park, or imagining looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing a trimmer body.
But it takes more than just fantasizing about it, says Gabriele Oettingen, Ph.D., New York University psychologist and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. You have to visualize what you want, then visualize what gets in the way of what you want, and then visualize yourself overcoming those obstacles. In a study of female college students who were trying to reduce the amount of daily junk food they ate, researchers asked the women to visualize the benefits they would experience from eating healthier foods every day. However, the women who were the most successful at actually reaching their healthy eating goal were the ones who also identified the triggers that consistently led them to eat junk food, and who came up with a plan to avoid those triggers.
Fantasize about having what you want. Then figure out which obstacles are preventing you from having this fantasy become a reality. Next, take out your pen and come up with a practical plan to overcome those obstacles.
Want to wake up early every morning to exercise? Imagine how energized and alive you’ll feel every morning after working out and before starting your work day. Imagine how proud of yourself you’ll feel. Imagine the pleasure of rinsing off hard-earned sweat in the shower after the workout, and slipping into slimmer, more attractive clothing for your work day ahead. Imagine the relief you’ll feel from having checked it off your list and being able to attend to all of your other priorities throughout the rest of the day. Now consider why you haven’t been waking up early every morning to exercise. Are you too tired? Too squeezed for time? Do you have to get your kids ready for school? So try giving yourself a bedtime curfew. Try prepping lunches and outfits the night before. Try laying out a simple breakfast on the table before you slip into another room to work out, so that the kids can wake up and come feed themselves without bothering mommy, who is finishing up her morning workout in the basement.
4. Get Paid
Economics 101: Want people to do something? Pay them. Exercise research found that the same thing is true about working out. When people were paid $100 to go to the gym, their attendance rate doubled.
Who’s going to pay you for going to the gym? www.gym-pact.com will. It’s a new mobile app that charges you money when you skip a workout, and pays you money when you’ve stuck to your goals. Getting the body of your dreams and getting paid? Priceless.
Whether you are a lover or hater of exercise, all of life’s many demands can often seem to get in the way of getting it done, and knowing that you should do it just isn’t enough to make it happen. No more empty promises to yourself or leaving your health to chance. Take control of your life and make it into whatever you want it to be by using scientifically-backed strategies to forge ahead in the direction you choose.