Fit Kit

The Best Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise in 2017

Look, it’s almost 2017. You don’t need another “fitness guru” coming out of the woodwork to tell you exercise is good for you, and that you should do it. You already know this.

Failure to exercise is rarely a knowledge problem. It’s a motivation problem. So if you’re ready -- really ready -- to get in shape this year, then let’s talk about how you can set aside your excuses and actually motivate yourself to exercise in 2017.

Write down your reasons (beyond weight loss)

No one likes being out of shape. It’s not fun to feel winded after walking up a flight of stairs. It’s not exciting to worry about whether your doctor is going to tell you you’ve developed type 2 diabetes, or you need to take a new prescription to manage your blood pressure. It’s not uplifting to struggle when trying new activities because you’re not sure you can keep up.

Of course, constantly dwelling on these issues isn’t exactly gobs of fun, either, but really thinking about why you want to get in shape is necessary if you want to stick with a program. You see, achieving weight loss or seeing physical changes can certainly be motivating, but it’s not always the factor that will keep you active long-term. What happens if you achieve your weight loss goal? Do you just stop your program? Do you flounder, not knowing what to do next?

When you think about your “whys” -- about what you hope to gain through exercise -- make sure you include factors that have nothing to do with weight (feel free to include those, too). Maybe you’ve always wanted to be fit enough to hike the Grand Canyon. Or maybe you want to get off your prescription medications. Or maybe you want to be able to play tag with your kid without having to stop after a minute or two. Or maybe you’re just tired of constant joint pain and general discomfort associated with your fitness level. Or maybe you want to feel more confident.

Regular exercise has the ability to help you in all these areas.

Once you’ve written down as many reasons as you can think of, post your list somewhere prominent. You’ll want to review it on the daily.

Remind yourself that feelings aren’t facts

It’s time to douse yourself with a little tough love, and stop allowing your feelings to rule your actions. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “I just don’t feel like exercising.”

Well, if you’re waiting around for the right feeling to hit you, good luck with that. It’s not going to happen.

Feelings aren’t facts, and not wanting to exercise doesn’t mean you’re not able to exercise. Not liking exercise doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. Grow up and do it anyway. You’re an adult -- stop using childish cop-outs and excuses that will never get you closer to your goals. You’re better than that.

Take the guesswork out of your program

If your plan is to work out on your own, but you’re also convinced you hate exercise, you have an excuse list a mile long, and you never know what to do when you get to the gym, you’re basically setting yourself up for failure.

Rather than putting yourself in charge of your own programming, let someone else do the grunt work for you. There are lots of options: sign up with a personal trainer, join a boot camp or group fitness class, find an online program that provides detailed workout instructions, sign up for a streaming video service, or recruit a knowledgeable friend to be your workout buddy. The workouts themselves may not be easy, but by selecting pre-programmed routines, you make the process of starting a regular fitness routine a little bit easier.

Don't get bogged down in negative thinking

The sometimes harsh truth is that you’re the only one responsible for your fitness level. No one else and nothing else can determine whether you exercise regularly.

Sure, you may be busy. You may have grown up in a household that ate poorly or didn’t prioritize exercise. You may have injuries to consider, or a home life that creates additional challenges. No one’s discounting those barriers, or claiming they’re not real.

That said, only you are responsible for whether you exercise today. Period. You either do, or you don’t. No one’s going to do it for you, and no one else is responsible for your follow through.

One surefire way to fail yourself in this respect is to allow your internal diatribe to take hold. If you allow yourself to dwell on how much you hate exercise. If you allow yourself to make excuses, to pass blame, or to explain away all the reasons why exercise doesn’t fit into your life, well, you’re pretty much guaranteed not to follow through. It’s time to stop the mental negativity and replace it with a positive mantra.

When you want to skip a workout, instead, think, “I’ll put on my shoes and do 10 minutes. I can do anything for 10 minutes.” After 10 minutes, commit to 10 more.

When you hear yourself thinking, “Gosh, I hate exercise,” stop yourself and think instead, ”I’m going to find a form of exercise I like.”

When you’re working out and your brain is screaming, “This is too hard! This is awful!,” replace those negative thoughts with, “Only 20 more minutes, and I’ll feel so good for accomplishing this goal.”

You may not believe these positive thoughts initially, but keep up your mental game and you just might learn to enjoy the experience.

Get on a schedule

This step is simple, at least in theory: Create a non-negotiable workout schedule. Sit down and figure out how to add at least 10 minutes of planned exercise into your schedule every single day.

It doesn’t have to be much! Add a 10-minute walk to your lunch break, or do a series of squats, lunges, pushups, and dumbbell rows while watching TV. Follow the advice of success story Spencer Smith, and get up every morning, turn on some music, and dance around the house with your dog. Seriously, it worked for him.

Creating a regular habit is crucial to long-term success, and small, daily steps that you can accomplish relatively easily and feel good about will help cement the knowledge that, yes, you can exercise regularly, and no, it doesn’t have to be a giant, torturous production.

Keep it fun

OK, OK, I know you’re already thinking, “But exercise isn’t fun.” Stop it. That’s the negative thinking you need to get away from, remember?

Sure, you may not love everything about exercise, but it’s not actually a torturous death march. There are lots of ways to make the experience more fun, and it’s your responsibility to make the effort.

For instance, you could decide to only allow yourself to watch your favorite TV shows while you’re on a cardio machine. Or you could try a new fitness class every week. Or you could sign up for a fitness vacation or a yoga retreat. You could trade your regular happy hour for a workout session with friends. You could create new, motivational playlists. You could join a league reminiscent of your favorite childhood games, like dodgeball or kickball. You could actually exercise at a playground, though that could be weird if you show up alone.

These days there are jump rope classes, trampoline classes, hula-hoop classes, boxing, yoga, cycling, rowing, arcade gyms, parkour gyms, dance classes, races, and just about any other type of class or experience you can think of. Gyms and instructors go out of their way to make exercise enjoyable for participants, so if you haven’t found something you like yet, keep on trying. You’ll get there, and you’ll get in shape in the process.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who discovered just two years ago that she loves jumping rope. Also trampolining. And Tabata workouts. And trail running. And she literally wrote the book on Partner Workouts. Follow her on Twitter @girlsgonesporty.