If you're not a natural athlete or fitness buff, getting motivated to start exercising can be the hardest part of the process. It's natural to want to do things that you're good at, but can you learn to love something that you're not yet good at?
Motivation comes in two basic forms: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from inside; you're motivated to do it because you love it and it feels good. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside; you get some kind of reward beyond your own good feelings. If you're not already a regular exerciser, chances are you'll need to start with extrinsic motivation techniques until you develop your own intrinsic motivation.
Here are ten tips to get you started right now:
Give yourself a carrot. Until you develop that intrinsic appreciation for exercise, there's no shame in bribing yourself. It takes time to develop the habits and the skills that make exercise intrinsically rewarding, so in the meantime, celebrate your successes with a massage, a new blouse or a movie with a girlfriend (just skip the carrot cake reward if you're trying to lose weight).
- Make it fun. Early on it can be tough to enjoy a new workout program because you're challenging your body and learning sometimes-difficult new skills. Give yourself a break by starting out with something you love, even if it means rethinking what you consider a workout. Dance, roller skate, jump on a trampoline—anything that gets you moving is a good start. Once you've made activity a habit and begun to enjoy the process, you can begin to learn new skills and new fitness techniques.
Get a watchdog. Enlist a buddy to keep track of your progress. Knowing that someone else is watching helps keep you accountable. Even better if your buddy is in the same boat and you can motivate each other up when one of you is flagging.
Focus on why. Instead of thinking about how challenging or unpleasant your workouts will be, focus on why you're doing it and what benefits you hope to get out of exercising. Don't worry about why you think you should exercise; know your real reasons, and keep them front of mind. Maybe your dress size doesn't matter to you, but being able to play catch with your grandson does.
Focus on how. Surprisingly, one of the best ways to ensure your success at maintaining an exercise program is to spend time figuring out the details of how to get it done. Do you need to pack your gym bag the night before? Set a reminder in your calendar software? Adjust your lunch break to make time for a walk? Worrying about the execution details gets it done.
Commit to 10 minutes. The hardest part is always the first step. Once you get over the inertia, it's much easier to continue exercising. Even 10 minutes of exercise is beneficial to your health, so just set a timer for 10 minutes and give yourself permission to stop when it rings. Odds are, after 10 minutes you'll feel great, and you'll be happy to continue.
Establish a routine. With all the decisions we have to make every day, we often become paralyzed by decision overload. If you make regular exercise just another part of your regular routine—like brushing your teeth or making your morning coffee—you no longer have to think about it. It just gets done.
Rebut your excuses. I'm too busy. I'm too tired. It's too cold. I don't want people to see my butt jiggle. Whatever your excuse, make a rule that for every excuse, you have to come up with at least one rebuttal statement. Be your own devil's advocate, challenge your excuses, and wear a tunic that covers your butt.
- Think want, not should. Let's face it, our lives are full of musts and shoulds. Which would you rather do; something you must do, or something you want to do? Reframe your exercise program in terms of what you want—"I want to feel less stressed and more energetic"—rather than what you should—"I should go to the gym so I won't get fat."
- Track your progress. Keeping track of your progress is the number one way to begin to develop an intrinsic appreciation of exercise. As your body adapts, a written log helps you see your progress. Your tangible success becomes a powerful motivator to keep going and keep getting stronger.
Knowing that exercise is good for you isn't enough. You have to actually get it done. These simple techniques should help you overcome inertia and get you on your way toward a love of fitness.
What other tips do you use to motivate yourself to exercise?
(photo credit: Mike McCaffrey)