Yeah, I know. It’s damned comfortable to just collapse on the couch and not do anything. And it feels much nicer to spend an extra thirty minutes in bed in the morning instead of going to the gym. At the same time, it doesn’t get you in shape (unless the shape you’re going for is ‘round’ or ‘pear-shaped’).
Even more worryingly, not exercising doesn’t just shorten our lives but also seriously reduces its quality. That means that you don’t just get less time on this earth, but every minute that you do spend here is going to be that much worse. Now that doesn’t sound like the right way to live!
For that reason, you have to exercise. The problem is, in order to exercise you have to become a person who doesn’t stay seated on that couch but goes for a jog, or who doesn’t stay in bed but gets up. How do you do that?
Here are some of the best strategies you can employ.
1. Focus on immediate goals and not long distant ones
Make your goal ‘exercise three times a week’ not ‘lose so much weight in the next three months’. There are two big reasons for this.
- If it’s a faraway goal that’s abstract, it’s much easier for you to disparage the value of one time in the gym. I’ve got 400 exercise sessions between now and then. What’s one more or less? The thing is, to become an exercise person you need to build up a routine. And if you constantly miss sessions, that’s not going to happen.
- If you discover you’re not at all on target to hit that long-term goal, then you’ve suddenly got all the reason in the world to abandon your exercise routine. And that will turn all your hard work to nought.
A much better idea is to commit to three sessions a week. Put up a calendar or something of the ilk and give yourself a tick or star every week that you do manage to do it. This will make it far easier for you to see that you’re actually carrying through with your commitment. It will even become a game. I’ve done it for eight weeks straight. I can’t go this week!
2. Don’t focus on weight loss
A lot of people exercise to help them lose weight. The thing is, it won’t immediately do that. That’s because while you might be losing fat, you’re building up muscle and so really what you’re doing is converting weight from one form into another. That won’t show up on the scales and can for that reason be hugely disappointing
A much better strategy is to check your condition and inspect your physique. For example, you can take pictures of yourself and compare yourself every few months to see how you’re progressing. Here you should see far more effect, including muscle toning and the slow but steady transformations of your body towards a more fitted shape.
Alternatively, see how you do at physical activities. In the beginning, see how long you can keep up a certain speed before you feel hugely uncomfortable on one of those standing bicycles. Then repeat the exercise after a month to see how much better you’ve gotten.
The great thing about this exercise is that if you’ve got excess fat, it can often disguise the changes that are taking place in your body, even if they’re quite profound. By using these types of exercise, you suddenly can see them. And this will often give you the commitment to keep going until they become visible.
3. Ramp it up slowly
What happens with most of us is that we decide we’re going to exercise, then go to the gym, go nuts a few times and then realize it’s not for us after all. Really, that’s not a very good strategy. You see, it isn’t the actual gyming that’s hard, it’s the convincing yourself to go that is the hard part.
And by going nuts at the gym a few times, you’re actually making it harder. After all, the next time you’re going to go you’re going to remember the pain you felt while you were there and the pain you felt the days that followed. And that’s going to weigh very hard against you going this time. Sure, you’ll be able to overcome it a few times, but as your enthusiasm wanes, that’s going to get harder and harder.
A much better strategy is to ignore that torturer turned personal trainer and build up more slowly. Set goals that get you out of breath but don’t kill you. Then, set a goal of boosting that a little bit week by week. This will avoid a great deal of the pain and suffering, which will make it less like moving a mountain.
4. It’s alright to compromise on how much you do – not on if you go
The trick to becoming a person who works out is to keep going to the gym until it becomes an ingrained habit. In order to do so, you have to make sure actually go. If you really don’t feel like going, then don’t say ‘okay, I’ll go tomorrow’. Instead, say ‘okay, I’ll only do half the exercises this time’.
Chances are, once you’re in the gym and your mood starts to elevate, you’re far more likely to continue and do the full set anyways.
Of course, this trick only works if you don’t constantly compromise on how much exercise you do. If your half routine becomes your new normal, then instead of doing more, you’re doing less. Yes, you can decide to reduce your routine a bit if it was too hard, to begin with. But if your new routine doesn’t even leave you with muscle burn or sweat on your face, then you’re not doing enough.
5. Get an exercise buddy
The best motivator for us to do anything is interpersonal commitment. If I know somebody is waiting for me at the gym, then even though I’m completely not in the mood, I’m far more likely to make my way down there. Funnily enough, that’s often also true of the other person!
So get a gym buddy! They’ll drag you out there and they’ll make it far more fun to actually go through the routines – particularly as you’ll have somebody to compare yourself against.
One thing to note: Choose your gym buddy wisely. If you go with somebody who has the commitment level of a newt, then they might actually talk you out of going. Better to choose somebody who is already going regularly, as then you just slot into their routine. Even better, they’ll be able to show you how to exercise. That’s important, as it’s very easy to hurt yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.
This is also, by the way, why a trainer can be a good idea. If they’re waiting for you, that makes it far more likely that you’ll go. At the same time, make sure you get a trainer and not somebody who would have preferred working at Abu Ghraib prison.
6. Make a financial commitment
If you need another bit of extra motivation, then try out one of the many exercise apps out there where you put up money to reach a goal. So, you might say ‘I want to lose this much weight by this time’ and then make a financial commitment. Alternatively, you can make a pact where if you live up to what you agreed you make money (and alternatively, lose money if you don’t).
Note that this strategy does not work on its own. It is entirely possible that if you follow this strategy you end up seeing the payment as permission to misbehave and not exercise. And that will actually be counterproductive.
But when you use it together with a set of the other suggestions I’ve made above, it can add a little bit more motivation to your strategy, as well as a small but steady financial motivation to help you pay for your exercise and reach your goals.
7. Go the distance
Modern society has become an instant gratification society. We must have our pleasure and our enjoyment right now. And if we have to wait, then we’re going to stamp our feet and throw a tantrum. The thing is, the best things in life simply take time and effort. This includes getting into shape.
So, in order to succeed at working out, you have to accept that you’re going to be in it for the long haul and that it won’t always be enjoyable. Similarly, you have to realize that it isn’t about torturing yourself, but instead improving steadily and effectively until you reach the place you want to be. The key is gentle but undeniable progress.
If you can keep that up for a few months and you can see that you’re physically changing for the better, then something magical happens. Then the mental inertia that initially fought against you going to the gym starts to swing around and actually fight to keep you going to the gym. You’ll think ‘but if I don’t go, then all this hard work will come undone’ and ‘but if I stop now, then my body will go back to how it looks before’.
At that point, you’ll have become a person who works out and it will have become part of your routine. The good news? That place is closer than you think. All you need to do is get there.
Need more info on the subject? Check out our 8 expert tips on how to work on your workout motivation.