This is the last week of our Challenge and it has been a really amazing journey for some of our participants.
Conventional wisdom hasn’t been particularly helpful in figuring out how to become that person who says, “I’ll meet you for brunch later. I have to fit in my run first.” You’re told you have to “want it” enough. Or that you have to do something 21 days in a row before it becomes second nature. But what do you do on day 29 when it’s cold outside, you want to sleep longer and you’re dying to skip your run?
Here are a few strategies that we have found helpful for people who have a hard time finding the motivation to workout.
Give Yourself a Real Reward
Sure, some people might be motivated by vague goals such as better health or weight control, but what if that’s not doing it for you? Making the benefits of working out more tangible, such as by treating yourself to a smoothie or an episode of your favorite TV show once the workout is complete.
Creating a neurological habit loop – which involves a cue to trigger the behavior (setting out your cycling shoes), the routine (making it to and completing your cycling class) and then a reward (Herky J Café smoothie). An extrinsic reward is so powerful because your brain can latch on to it and make the link that the behavior is worthwhile. It increases the odds the routine becomes a habit.
Over time, the motivation becomes intrinsic, as the brain begins to associate sweat and pain with the surge of endorphins – those feel-good chemicals released in the brain that are responsible for that “I-feel-freaking-amazing” rush you get after a great gym session. Once you’ve trained your brain to recognize that the workout itself is the reward, you won’t even want the treat.
Sign a Commitment Contract
We can make promises to ourselves all day long, but research shows we’re more likely to follow through with pledges when we make them in front of friends.
You can up the ante even more by signing a contract agreeing to pay a pal $20 every time you skip Pilates. It’s a simple notion of changing the cost. We can all say we’re going to make a commitment to do something for a certain amount of time, such as exercising 30 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks. If I don’t do that, I’m going to pay some kind of penalty, whether it’s monetary or the embarrassment of having friends know I didn’t live up to my word.
In studies of people who created online contracts via the website www.stickk.com (great website to set goals and be held accountable to them), those who signed longer contracts ended up exercising more than those who agreed to shorter durations. We have to get past the initial experience of displeasure in order to recognize the longer-term benefits. The challenge is designing tools to help make that happen.
Rethink Positive Thinking
Devotees of positive thinking have long promoted visualizing the benefits of a behavior as a motivational strategy. For example, when deciding whether to get out of bed to go running in the morning, it helps to imagine how the sun will feel on your face as make your run, or how great it is to see your new muscles developing. But such feel-good fantasies are only effective when accompanied by more realistic problem-solving methods.
Here’s the rest of the formula: After identifying your wish and visualizing the outcome, you have to identify what’s holding you back — a technique called “mental contrasting.” In one study of 51 female students who claimed they wanted to eat fewer junk food snacks, researchers asked each woman to imagine the benefits of nibbling on better foods. Those who identified the trigger that made healthful snacking difficult for them — and came up with a plan to reach for fruit when cravings hit — were most successful at sticking to their goal.
Feel too tired to go to the gym after work? After you imagine the obstacle, you can figure out what you can do to overcome it and make a plan. For example, you can switch to morning or lunchtime workouts or go straight to the gym instead of stopping at home first.
Still struggling? It may be time to turn to cold, hard cash…because, hey, money talks. Research looking at monetary incentives and exercise found that people who were paid $100 to go to the gym doubled their attendance rate.
Don’t have a generous benefactor? Check out the app Pact, in which a community of fellow users will literally pay you to stick to your schedule. If you miss your session, you authorize the app to charge your credit card or PayPal account. When you reach your goal, you get paid out of a common pool funded by yourself and other pact-breakers.
No matter how you get there, you know you’ve succeeded once the day arrives when you can’t imagine skipping your workout. You can call it an addiction, a pleasure or an escape. The important thing is that you’re doing it on a regular basis and that you’re doing it for you.
– Meghan F., Assistant Fitness Manager