New year, new you. Or, at least, that’s your ambitious intention when January 1st (or any important birthday) arrives. This approach is understandable; a new year, month, or birthday feels like a great opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with goals you’ve previously neglected.
Unfortunately, this can lead to a difficult-to-escape pattern: you go all-out as you pursue your health and fitness goals with newfound ferocity for a few short weeks…and then you inevitably start to struggle. This frustration can cause you to stagnate or, worse, ditch your goals altogether — or, at least, until a new cycle arrives and you begin the entire pattern again.
As hopeless as your yo-yo lifestyle may seem, the reality of your situation is that you can always jump back into a healthy way of life, even after you’ve slipped up — and even when you don’t have a special date coming up to create the feel of a fresh start. Perfection is not the goal here; what you really need is to move your body in some way so that you enjoy the myriad of available exercise benefits that have nothing to do with aesthetics.
Even a little added movement will get those endorphins flowing, leading to an instant mood boost and a viable path to better physical and mental health. Experts believe that just 10 minutes a day could make a difference — great news when you don’t feel like exercising at all.1
Still struggling to get motivated? Sometimes, all it takes is a minor adjustment to your usual routine, particularly if that well-worn approach is starting to feel stale. Huge changes aren’t always necessary; begin with small tweaks that make your workouts fresh. Below, we’ve highlighted three of the most effective ways to ensure that you look forward to exercising.
1. Find Quality Content to Enjoy During Your Workout
Working out for the sake of a healthy lifestyle sounds nice, but even the most entertaining exercises have a way of getting boring over time. Yes, you can add novelty by trying new moves or classes, but not everybody finds this approach compelling.
Once you’ve developed a fitness pattern that makes you feel confident and comfortable, you might not be eager to shake it up with something completely different. Thankfully, you don’t need to if you find other ways to keep entertained as you exercise.
A great option? Finding music or TV shows that keep you motivated to move. Some people find the most success by ditching couch-based TV-watching completely and, instead, viewing their favorite shows exclusively while using the treadmill or elliptical. This may not be the best option for getting a focused or intense workout completed, but it should definitely get you off your butt when you simply need to move your body.
Another solution if you don’t typically engage in workout activities that are amenable to watching TV: listening to audiobooks or podcasts. This can be a great way to kill two birds with one stone — especially if you’ve been meaning to read more but keep falling behind on your book list.
Some people find TV or audiobooks a great option for getting back in the habit of working out, but music is far more effective for long-term motivation. This is backed by a wealth of research, which indicates that the right music can keep you pushing hard when you might otherwise give up.
A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, for example, found that people who listened to high-tempo music during endurance activities were less likely to dwell on feelings of discomfort brought about by exercising at length.2
If you already make a habit of listening to music while working out, it’s possible that you simply need to try something new. Novelty is important; a workout playlist that gets you pumped up on day one may quickly start to feel stale if you never bother to add new songs. It’s also possible that you need to try a completely different music genre; perhaps swap the usual pop or EDM for, say, hard rock or R&B.
2. Develop Goals That Are Both Challenging And Accessible
At the beginning of each fitness journey, you might feel compelled to reach for the sky with lofty goals. Your efforts to stage a complete makeover for your fitness routine may feel essential after you’ve found yourself stuck in a sedentary lifestyle, but such changes are often unsustainable.
Add a little stress or a few extra commitments to your schedule, and you will quickly find yourself coming up with excuses to blow off exercise sessions you previously were excited to complete. As you realize that you’re making minimal progress towards your goals, you may be tempted to throw in the towel.
This all-or-nothing mentality is not only bad for your physical health — it can do a number on your mindset. It’s tough to feel good about yourself when you keep backtracking on excessively ambitious goals.
What if, instead of pressuring yourself to complete huge goals that ultimately cause you stress, you came up with an exercise plan that you can actually stick to when the going gets tough? This could be as simple as scaling back from the long, complex gym routines that you struggle to keep straight — and replacing them with a simple plan like:
- Walking the dog one mile every day.
- Hitting the gym for strength training three days a week.
- Taking a cardio class with a friend once a week.
The goal is still to move your body most days, but you may find this objective easier to stick to if you simplify. There’s no shame in admitting that your original goals aren’t working; in fact, reassessment is a critical component of developing a healthy lifestyle. It’s far better to scale back slightly than to get discouraged and quit altogether.
Of course, a little challenge may still be needed to keep you striving when you’ve actually arrived at the gym. After all, many people thrive on competition. Find small ways to build this into your workout without overdoing it.
For example: If you’re proud of your ten-minute mile but ready to take this to the next level, set a modest goal of consistently completing a mile in 9:45, followed, later on, by 9:30.
Similarly, if you’ve always wanted to master the chin-up, first set the goal of an isometric chin-up: standing on a box, grasping the bar, kicking your feet out, and holding for 15 seconds.
When struggling with motivation, make sure your goals focus on activities you find compelling, as you’re otherwise unlikely to follow through.
3. Treat Yourself to New Workout Gear Or Other Health-Oriented Incentives
Many would-be fitness enthusiasts hit the store for cute outfits around New Year’s, in hopes that their updated wardrobe will help them look and feel their best as they hit the gym. For others, a new goal sparks an investment in at-home workout gear, such as dumbbells or yoga mats. All this can be helpful, but workout clothes and equipment often lose their novelty as quickly as the goals they are meant to support.
What if, instead of going all out with shopping when you start your goal, you stick with one or two small purchases and then save the remainder of your budget for later? For example: Purchase one gym outfit when you first commit yourself to a healthy lifestyle, followed by additional shopping sprees after a few months.
Finally, set a more significant fitness-oriented purchase as a reward for completing your major goal. Remember: This needs to be something you find extra enticing. For example, a flashy pair of running shoes that you might not otherwise splurge on could make an excellent reward after you complete your first 10k race or meet some other major goal.
Struggling to come up with ideas for special rewards that can help you keep your eyes on the prize? Feel free to source ideas from friends, social media, or articles in fitness magazines.
These top sources of inspiration can also help you with the strategies we’ve discussed above, such as developing accessible goals that incorporate just enough challenge. You may also find ideas for workout-worthy tunes within the pages of a magazine or by simply following your friends’ playlists on Spotify.
Summing It Up: Long-Term Fitness Success Is Possible
In the midst of another fitness disappointment, the idea of an exercise routine you actually enjoy may seem laughable. There’s no denying that it’s tough to find the right approach for your body and your situation, but the effort you dedicate towards discovering your exercise happy space will ultimately prove more than worthwhile.
Be quick to forgive yourself for minor slip ups, and remember: There is a lot of truth to the cliche “fitness is about the journey, not the destination.”
As you renew your commitment to a fit lifestyle, remind yourself what’s really at stake: your long-term physical and mental health. Both can be optimized when you dedicate yourself to moving your body in ways that you find genuinely enjoyable. Up the ante with an inspiring playlist, an exciting incentive, and a realistic set of goals — and you just might find that you like the idea of working out.