You made your New Year's resolution and you've been doing pretty good for those first couple of weeks -- but now you're starting to lose focus and are struggling to stay motivated. That extra hour of sleep sounds better than that morning run, or those free breakfast tacos are more appealing to you than your healthy homemade meal. You still want to reach your goals but you haven't established these new behaviors as habits just yet. This is the critical "make or break" phase where your decisions have enormous impact.
What can you do? Let's talk options.
1. REAL REWARDS FOR YOUR WORK
One surefire way to keep your healthy habits going strong is to give yourself a real reward for a job well done. Working out a positive "habit loop" which involves a cue to trigger the behavior (setting your running shoes next to the door), the routine (running) and then the reward (getting a smoothie or watching an episode of your favorite show afterward) will generate a Pavlovian response to the behavior, increasing the chances of the routine becoming habitual according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Over time, the extrinsic motivation (that is, the tangible reward mentioned above) becomes an intrinsic motivation and the brain begins to associate the sensations of the new behavior with a surge of endorphins. Once your brain is trained to recognize the workout itself as the reward, you won't feel the need for the treat anymore.
2. JOIN A GYM OR GROUP YOU ENJOY
Logic stands to reason that if you're doing your new activities in an environment you like or with people whose company you enjoy, you're more likely to look forward to going. The cost of a given gym or club membership may be prohibitive for you, but definitely shop around and look at your options as best you can. There are many free or low-cost clubs out there, as well as online groups on social media who meet up in person. So long as you can find a way to look forward to being in the place you perform your new behaviors, or enjoy the company you have when you get there, you will generate a new form of motivation for yourself. A strong and supportive fitness community or appealing environment can make all the difference.
3. DRESS FOR SUCCESS EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE IT
Oftentimes putting your running shoes on even if you don't feel like running will help to talk you into enacting the behavior you're trying to maintain. Research suggests that our brains are susceptible to "enclothed cognition," which is a fancy way of saying that dressing the part helps to galvanize you toward completing the task. If you put on your workout gear, even if you don't feel like working out you are very likely to find yourself doing just that.
4. MAKE A COMMITMENT, POSSIBLY COMPETE
Joining a fitness or wellness challenge or signing a commitment contract with a gym buddy is a great way to keep you accountable. But don't just put in the work -- be sure that you check in regularly with the people participating in the challenge, or set up a schedule with your buddy so that you know that someone else is counting on you to show up and get it done. Don't let your gym buddy off the hook -- and make sure they don't let you off the hook either!
When you have a friend or two to train with and they're killing the workout, you also feel motivated to push yourself. If you're a competitive person, set up a competition with other people. Maybe you do a versus battle with coworkers for who has the highest number of steps each week, or set up a weight loss challenge; whatever it is, make sure there are some sort of rewards at the end. Anything from simple bragging rights to perhaps a gift card purchased with a money pool from participants who now have a financial stake in the event. You can even bet on yourself using Pact, where you and others pay into a collective pool and set individual goals. If you meet your targets, you cash out; if not, you lose the money.
5. NO RULES ARE THE BEST RULES
Once you set up strict rules for yourself ("I have to start on Monday otherwise I won't be able to do it") makes it easy for you to talk yourself out of that behavior according to Dr. Deborah Feltz, professor of Kinesiology at Michigan State University and author of several fitness studies. The fact of the matter is that life happens and your hard and fast rules don't allow for the bending that needs to take place on a regular basis when conditions are not 100% favorable. Be willing to be flexible and change up your routine if you need to in order to get in whatever you can. Even if you're scheduled for a long run, if you wake up feeling ill perhaps the most you can do is take a walk or perhaps an easy, short jog -- or maybe you need to change up your activity entirely and do yoga instead. Be willing to be flexible.
6. CHANGE IT UP
If you're a resolutioner and you're only a couple of weeks in this possibly doesn't apply to you just yet, but keep it in mind: you may just be bored of the routine and need to switch up what you're doing and how you're doing it. Once you fall into a rut of doing the same thing every day you stop feeling excited about it and your effort ceases to be focused as you start to run on autopilot.
You may want to select a fresh goal (even if it's only slightly adapted from your original goal) and adjust your plans accordingly. You may want to find a new place to execute it or new method to enact it. Your goals that you set may simply be too far off and you need to add some smaller sub-goals to keep yourself going. In either event take a look at what's making you lose interest and swap things up as needed.
7. RETHINK POSITIVE THINKING
Everyone's heard about the power of positive thinking, and perhaps have even experienced it for themselves. But visualizations and other mind tricks only work when you add realistic problem-solving to the mix according to Dr. Gabriele Oettingen, psychologist and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.
It's not just about making a SMART goal and visualizing the outcome (as discussed in last week's article), but it's also about identifying what is holding you back and then troubleshooting. During a study of students who wanted to eat fewer junk food snacks, researchers asked participants to imagine the benefits of snacking on better foods. Those who identified the thing that made healthy snacking difficult for them and came up with a plan to counteract it were most successful at sticking to their goal. The trigger? They wanted something sweet. The solution? Eating fruit.
If you feel too tired after work to work out, try swapping to lunchtime or morning workouts or go straight to the gym after work rather than stopping at home first.
8. TRACK THAT
Nothing kills motivation like the sensation that you're getting nowhere. Chances are you're making progress, but you may not notice if these changes are gradual. Weighing in each week or noting how much weight you're lifting and keeping a record -- or participating in a fit test each month for example -- are great ways to see where you're at with regard to your wellness goals.
Moreover, tracking what you eat raises your awareness and personal (internal) accountability when you log that cheat meal in on MyFitnessPal or your tracking app of choice. Especially when you link up with a friend and allow them to see what you're up to, you know that someone else is noticing what you do and that allows for external accountability as well.
9. PLAN YOUR ROUTE AND SET REMINDERS
Planning is a crucial element of reaching any goal, and most of us need reminders as well in today's culture of distraction. I talked all about it in last week's article, so check it out!
10. THE EARLIER THE BETTER, OR PACK SNACKS
If you're finding that you get distracted by the events of the day and your plans are consistently getting derailed you may benefit from waking up earlier and getting your workout in before your day begins. Getting out of bed is tough especially that first week, but it may just be your path to success.
If low energy is the cause of your after-work workout woes, be sure you're eating breakfast and packing snacks. Eating breakfast helps you stay energized all day long according to Wendy Bazilian, RD and co-author of The Super Foods Rx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of SuperNutrients. Be sure it includes protein, a fruit or veggie, and a complex carbohydrate such as whole grain toast. A pre-exercise snack to eat about 45 minutes before you train is an optimal habit as well to attain energy to power through. Your snack should be small and easily digestible, and mostly carbs with a little protein. Something like an apple with peanut butter, for example.
11. CALL IN A PROFESSIONAL
You may find that you've reached the limits of your personal knowledge and need some expert advice. A certified fitness instructor or registered dietitian may be just what you need to help you reach your goals. These folks can program training that works best for you, teach you how to use your gym's equipment, account for your personal situation and conditions, set up a meal plan etc. If you have a professional service contract in place, this is also a tangible, financial commitment that may help you feel more obligated to your goals (yes, this is really a thing that helps motivate people).
12. STOP MAKING WELLNESS ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK
A frequent pitfall of resolutioners is obsessing with how they look and making that the be-all, end-all for their wellness goals. Chances are you desire to look like someone who has an entirely different body type and wellness history than yourself. While sometimes it's possible to reach a state of having six-pack abs or whatever your goal may be, it may also be outside of your genetics/body type. I for example will never have an hourglass figure because I have a short torso; I will also never have a thigh gap regardless of how small I am because of how my hip and leg bones are positioned. Set goals that begin with where you are and are attainable, and be sure to break down your goals into smaller victories along the way such as losing 5% of your body weight for example, executing a perfect push-up or running a full mile without stopping. Review last week's article for more about successful goal-setting.
13. DO WHAT YOU LOVE
If you hate every moment of the thing you're doing, you're not likely to keep up the habit. Prioritize workouts that you'll look forward to and plan meals that are appealing to you (but still healthy).
14. SHARE YOUR PROGRESS
Posting your gym selfie or results of your meal prep, checking into your accountability group, or just talking to a loved one about how your training or meal planning went is a great way to hold yourself accountable. Very often people I don't even know are paying attention to my posts will ask me during a lapse what I'm up to and when I'll be posting again; sometimes when I'm engaged in an easy-to-follow daily challenge others will participate along with me without posting about it. Knowing that people are watching and deriving inspiration from what I'm doing is a tremendous motivator for me.
15. DON'T BE AFRAID TO START SMALL
Got 5 minutes? Apparently you do if you're reading this! So make a plan to do a 5-minute workout every day and stick to it. Work your way up from there -- when you're comfortable with 5 minutes, bump it up to 10 minutes.
There are all kinds of free workout videos on YouTube for 5-minute workouts you can do right where you are. Take a look, set up a playlist and get crackin'!
16. DO IT FOR A NOBLE REASON
Sign up for a charity race or event or participate in an event that offers charity fundraising. Once you begin raising money for a cause you believe in, you now have a sense of debt that you need to strive for and a deadline in sight, the end goal of completing that marathon or finishing that event for the sake of the people receiving the charity and the people who donating on good faith that you'd execute your training. This is a phenomenal way to keep you focused on your target.
17. CONSIDER EXERCISE AN ESCAPE FROM THE DIGITAL WORLD
Put your phone on Do Not Disturb if you use it to listen to music while you work out or pick up a now-archaic MP3 player that's not attached to any network. Drop your phone all together in your gym locker, leave it at home or in your car. Take your fitness time as time in the real world away from your devices and think of it as your time off the grid.
18. ...OR MAKE IT A GAME
For some folks, the digital world is absolutely essential. So why not use that connection to your advantage? Try Zombies, Run! for example, or any app from MapMyFitness Inc which all have some "fun" components to them.
19. MAKE IT CONVENIENT
Train at a gym close to home. Train at home. Start your run the moment you step outside the door. Set up your meal plan and write up your grocery list in advance of the day you to go to the store. Prep your healthy snacks (cut up fruits and veggies etc) and put them into single serving containers and bring them along. Carry your water bottle everywhere.
The easier you make it to adhere to your chosen behavior, the more likely that you will engage it.
20. TRY THE 5-MINUTE RULE
What is the 5-minute rule? Set a timer and start your workout. If after five minutes you still don't want to be doing it, stop. In most cases, once you get started it doesn't seem so bad after all; starting is the hardest part!
21. TAKE A BREAK
Yes, that's right. Your lack of enthusiasm may potentially be a sign of overtraining and you may just need a day off particularly if you have been consistently training for a long time. If you do take a break, don't make it open-ended: set a hard end date for the break when you resume your normal schedule.