You vow to get fit and, after making your New Year’s resolution, hit the gym, walk the dog more, maybe start swimming. Then February arrives, and daily demands lead to skipping one workout then another. Pretty soon, you’re not going at all.
“It’s easy to pick a resolution,” says NAIT Personal Fitness Trainer instructor Kate Andrews. “The harder part is to actually change your behaviour.”
That’s a challenge. Resolving to be fitter requires a lifestyle shift. It takes time and energy, and the results aren’t immediately obvious. To stay motivated, says Andrews, you have to “train your brain.”
Here are her tips for looking past the pain and staying focused on what’s to be gained.
Identify motivating goals. Ask yourself why you want to exercise. Frame your answers positively. “I don’t want to be overweight” isn’t a good enough reason, says Andrews. “Really dig into it.” Maybe you want to keep up with active friends or play soccer with the kids in the backyard. Frequently remind yourself of these goals – post them somewhere – and of how they’ll improve your life.
Track your feelings. After a workout, “we all feel great,” says Andrews. “It’s an adrenaline boost. Those hormones help us feel better.” Note that feeling. When the idea of exercise doesn’t appeal, remember the emotional benefits.
“If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to continue doing it.”
Reward yourself. “You have to be somewhat strategic about it,” says Andrews. Don’t undo hard work with a greasy burger and fries, of course. But if you’re, say, a chocolate lover, go for it. A small piece – or other reasonable treat – is “actually going to trick your mind. Your brain is going to associate exercising with really good feelings.”
Don’t go it alone. “Establish a support network.” Andrews recommends something more than an encouraging spouse or partner. An exercise buddy can keep you accountable. No takers? Join a class and meet people with similar goals and determination. And socializing will add to the feel-good nature of exercise. “Now you’re getting those good hormones you get from connecting with other people.”
Try, try again. If you're uncomfortable with your exercise activity, pick a new one. “If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to continue doing it,” says Andrews. Move on to something else without regret. Andrews, for instance, dislikes structured exercise. Instead, she focuses on constant movement and working or playing outdoors as much as possible.
“I’ll do lunges back to the office before I’ll go to the gym,” says the Personal Fitness Trainer instructor, acknowledging the irony with a smile. “It’s really important to find what you love doing.”