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Staying Motivated to Exercise

Where There’s a Spark, You Can Make Fire

As many a New Year’s resolution will demonstrate, it’s easy to be inspired to make change. What’s hard is turning that inspiration into the motivation needed to take action. For inspiration to become motivation that works, you need three key ingredients: achievable goals, a plan, and support.

* Achievable Goals

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they decide to get fit is setting impossible goals for themselves. Examples of impossible goals would be things like trying to losing a significant amount of weight in a very short time or running a marathon in two weeks after being sedentary for years. Goals such as these are impossible to achieve and setting them is asking for disappointment and discouragement. There is nothing wrong with setting major goals like these, as long as there are realistic expectations of the time it will take to achieve them.

When setting any major goal, staying motivated can be difficult. The trick to staying motivated with a major goal like this is to set smaller mini-goals. Breaking the bigger goal down into smaller, more immediate goals makes it seem less daunting. It also gives you a measure of immediate gratification, which is a key factor in staying motivated.

For example, if the major goal is to lose 50 lbs, set mini-goals to lose 8-10 lbs in 30 days. That’s very achievable, as healthy weight loss is an average of 1-3 lbs per week with proper diet and exercise. Imagine how encouraging it would be to come to your 30 day mini-goal and find you’ve achieved that stepping stone, maybe even surpassed it. Over time, these mini-goals add up, and before you know it, you’re at the major goal.

* Plan Ahead

Nothing is more discouraging than feeling like a failure – and expecting to change your lifestyle overnight is setting yourself up to feel like a failure. If you’ve been sedentary for years and are in poor physical condition, jumping into hour long workouts five days a week is admirable, but it’s setting yourself up to quit before you’ve even begun. Of course you’re supposed to push yourself, that’s part of the process, but pushing too hard will leave you so sore you’ll come to dread the gym and begin finding ways to avoid it. If you start avoiding the gym, you’ll never reach your goal.

The best way to avoid this kind of unintentional self-sabotage is to have a plan. Take a realistic look at your current physical condition and schedule, then map out a progressive plan for yourself. Perhaps your plan starts with the simplest exercise available – walking. You schedule yourself to walk a minimum of 30 minutes, three times a week. Even if you’re not able to complete the 30 minutes, do as much as you can. Keep this date with yourself, even if you have to reschedule as life events occur. If you follow through on this very simple thing, before you know it, you’ve developed a new, healthier habit, and you will feel a sense of pride in having met your commitment.

As you develop your plan, give yourself milestones. Perhaps your plan starts with two weeks of just walking, to give yourself time to adjust to a new routine and build up your breathing and cardio stamina. The next stage of the plan could be to add strength training to the already established days, increasing your workout training from 30 minutes to an hour. The next stage of the plan could be to substitute a bike (stationary or regular) for the walk.

The object is to create milestones designed to challenge without discouraging. It also helps you develop the habit of making time for taking care of your health. Imagine how encouraging it would be to look back at your plan and see where you started and how far you’ve come, even in a matter of weeks. Remember, you don’t need to become an Olympic athlete to be a success. Simply meeting your commitment to yourself and accomplishing something is motivating in itself.

* Support

As important as goals and planning are for staying motivated, support is equally essential for success. Support provides positive reinforcement and keeps you from feeling isolated in your struggles. It also gives you an outside perspective on your progress, which is essential for beginners, who are the most likely to quit or lose motivation when things discourage them. This is where having support tools will save you every time.

To create a support system that works for you, you’ve got to be honest without yourself about what things are likely to discourage you. Support tools are supposed to help you overcome the things that damage your motivation. By being honest and realistic about your fears, worries, or bad habits, you can set up a tool for countering it.

For example, if you’re self conscious about going to the gym and working out with the hard-bodies and you know this will make you dread going to the gym, then schedule to go at times when it’s very empty or switch to a gym more in tune with you. If you feel changing your diet is going to be a serious stumbling block, then set up a weekly cook-off with your friends where the object is to cook healthy versions of your favorite foods. This is fun and social, while learning new healthy habits.

There are also many very useful support resources on-line. Websites like sparkspeople.com and weightlossbuddy.com are free and offer very useful tools, as well as having a wide variety of communities to find like-minded people. Fee sites, such as biggestloser.com and jillianmichaels.com, offer many of the same features, plus customizable options that free sites do not. Whatever support tools you establish, remember their purpose is to help you stay motivated by providing positive experiences associated with your new plan and goals.

In a nutshell, the key to getting and staying motivated is to think ahead. Determine what changes you want to make, set achievable goals and mini-goals, develop a realistic plan, and establish support tools that address your personal needs. Being inspired to make change is only the first step. By doing these things, you fan the spark and turn it into the flame of motivation, and like any flame, if you don’t feed it fresh material, it will smolder and die. Take your spark and use it to light a fire under your own butt, and before you know it, you’ll be looking at the old you in the rear view mirror, wondering “why didn’t I do this eons ago?”