As the cold weather rolls in and the temperature drops, so too does our motivation. When it comes to our health and wellbeing, exercise included, motivation is powerful. It predicts success better than intelligence or ability. We all know we should exercise. And most of us know why but yet 70% of Australian’s are not sufficiently active. In other words, we spend too much time sitting and not enough time moving. In fact, research suggests that 50% of people starting an exercise program will drop out within the first 6 months. Exercise has numerous health benefits including improved psychological well-being, reduced stress & anxiety, improved brain power and treating or preventing chronic medical conditions and injuries.
Simply put- we all know why we should exercise, so what gets in the way of getting yourself moving when the morning alarm goes off? Knowing why you should exercises isn’t enough, it’s important to develop the right mindset to get and stay motivated. Change is hard, and starting seems overwhelming, so here are some evidence-based ways to get you moving in the right direction — and keep you going.
1. Ditch the ‘poor me’ mentality
Perspective is everything when it comes to life, and adopting a glass-half-full attitude will do you wonders when it comes to being consistent and motivated with your health goals, exercise and healthy eating. Instead of focusing on what you’re missing out on- be it a boozy Friday night, morning cake and caramel latte, or an extra thirty minutes sleep- focus on what you’re gaining. Sure you didn’t knock back a bottle of wine on Thursday night, but you woke up without a deadly hangover and saved yourself 900 empty calories. Yes you’re not having a can of diet coke everyday with lunch, but you just reduced your risk of developing Type Two Diabetes by 22%.
Focus on what you’re gaining (improved energy, better sleep, greater muscle tone, better health) and what you can eat (everything in moderation) and not what you’re cutting back on (sugar, alcohol) or missing out on (half a packet of Arnott’s biscuits and half a kilo of sugar) . Making a commitment to your health is about compromising and prioritising- but guess what- we’re all in the same boat so ditch the poor me attitude. All worthwhile things take time, effort, persistence and hard work, and your health is your biggest investment.
2. Give yourself a real tangible reward
Some people are motivated by intangible rewards and goals such as “better health” or “weight control” but if that doesn’t cut it, make your rewards more tangible. How about rewarding your successes with a new pair of running shoes or treating yourself to a DVD boxset of your favourite show? Extrinsic (outside) rewards have been shown to be powerful when adopting healthy behaviours, as the brain connects the reward and the healthy behaviour together, and you begin to subconsciously regard the healthy behaviour as worthwhile. This in turn increases the likelihood of the routine becoming a habit as the motivation becomes intrinsic (internal).
Create a ‘habit loop’ by setting a cue to trigger the behaviour. For instance, you might make a commitment to meet a friend at the gym every morning, or lay out your gym clothes next to your morning alarm. The routine (making it through your morning gym class with your friend) and then the reward (a new pair of shoes) closes the loop and rewards the whole process. Bring on the next goal (and reward)!
3. Don’t exercise, take up a hobby
A 2005 study found that when participants were questioned about why they played sport, they reported intrinsic reasons such as enjoyment, team bonding and challenge. When they were asked about reasons for exercising, their responses were extrinsic and focused on things such as appearance, weight and stress management. Psychology tells us that when a person is intrinsically motivated, they are much more likely to start and stick with a new habit.
A 2014 study found that how much a person exercises is strongly related to appreciation of their body, a focus on how it makes them feel, and satisfaction with what their body can do. Further to that, they found that motivation based purely on appearance (smaller love handles, bigger muscles) weakened their appreciation of their body, reduced the enjoyment from the exercise, and made them less likely to be satisfied!
So, what’s the take home message? Enrol yourself in a team sport you enjoy such as oz tag, or some other fun activity such as yoga or bushwalking. Move your body in ways you find enjoyable.
4. Measure you progress
Nothing is more motivating than progress. Small wins, such as shaving a minute off our morning run, lifting a heavier weight, or fitting into a pair of jeans that used to languish in the back of your closet, ignite motivation and joy! In fact, it has been scientifically shown that life satisfaction is 22% more likely in those who achieve a steady stream of minor accomplishments, as opposed to those who focus all their interest and attention only on major accomplishments. Simply put- progress is powerful!
Take time to reflect on how far you have come. Have you noticed an improvement in your energy levels? Have you gained muscle or lost weight? Are you lifting a heavier weight or accomplishing a personal best? A DEXA body composition scan is the most accurate way to track changes in your body composition and monitor your progress!
If you are struggling to find motivation, a quick attitude adjustment, setting goals and rewards, taking on a hobby rather than an exercise chore, and measuring your progress, are great ways to fire up that motivation engine.
- Amabile, TM. Kramer, SJ. (2011). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review. 89 (5): 70-80
- Orlick, T. (1998). Embracing Your Potential. Human Kinetics
- Wilson, K. Brookfield, D. (2009). Effect of goal setting on Motivation and Adherence in a Six-Week Exercise Program. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Physiology. 6 : 89-100
- Whaley, DE. Schrider, AF. (2005). The process of adult exercise adherence: Self perceptions and competence. The Sport Psychologist. 19: 148-163.