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The Psychology of Motivation: Exercise Edition

Posted Jan 30 2013 4:00am

When it comes to eating right and exercising most people have a pretty good idea about what to do (move more) and eat (lots of veggies). The issue comes with finding the motivation to get out of bed and hit the gym, or pick up an apple instead of a candy bar. This week I will be sharing some insight on the psychology of motivation, as well as some great tips and resources, pertaining particularly to exercise. Next week I will cover how to find the motivation to eat healthy (similar for sure but worthy of it’s own post!) My tips here come from my education and experience as a Psychology Instructor and my own ability to find enough motivation to do this:

Before and after

Here is a video going over the highlights of what I’ll be discussing today. I apologize for the blurry quality. It took me 4 hours and many trials and for some reason my camera was not cooperating with me!

10 Tips for finding motivation to exercise:

1. Realize this is for the rest of your life – not a temporary solution! It’s always surprising to me when I find people starting to exercise and treating it as though it will be a temporary state. Being fit is a way of life! Don’t start exercising under the assumption you can do it for a few months, get the results you want, and then stop. Enter into this new phase of your life with the understanding that it is a permanent life change.

2. Embrace the positive psychology movement: Focus on the benefits of working out, how great you feel and the energy you have. Don’t ever use exercise as punishment or you will start to avoid it! Make a list of all the things you love about working out: how you feel, the confidence you get, the energy you have, the results you see from weight loss and muscle gain. Keep that list posted somewhere and pull it out often!

3.  Set SMART goals : Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. Don’t just say “I want to work out more.” You need to pick a specific goal (like a 5k) and create a plan to get there (like this great training plan from Hal Higdon !)

4. Keep an exercise journal/calendar. Having a visual record of my workouts has helped me in the past when I thought about skipping a workout and seeing the poor empty box on the calendar! Plus, it’s amazing to look at and see all the hard work you’ve done.

5. Use operant conditioning to reward yourself. The theory of operant conditioning is so simple: If you reward behavior it is far more likely to keep occurring. Don’t use food as a reward, ever. If your goal is a 5k, plan on buying a new outfit to run in the week of the race. If you just want to exercise 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week consider paying yourself to exercise. Keep an exercise jar at home and put $2 into it every time you complete a workout. Have a specific treat in mind you’d like to reward yourself with once you have enough money ( like a heart rate monitor !)

6. Try new workouts! You need to keep things fresh or you will get bored. You also need to make sure your working out new muscle groups and don’t do the same routines over and over. Some of my favorite free workouts:

- Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred Level 1

- Jillian Michaels 6 week 6 pack

Jillian Michael’s Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism

- Hulu’s Health/Wellness channels (hundreds of free workouts!)

7. Join an online community like SparkPeoplemy next DietBet , or my Plank ChallengeOne of the most difficult things for me when I first started to lose weight was not having someone to share it with. Most of my friends weren’t interested in exercising or eating right so I had no one to talk to about what I was going through. Joining sparkpeople helped connect me with people who were actually interested in sharing new healthy recipes or crazy challenging workouts.

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8.  Understand the incredible things exercise does for your mind and body. I’d say 50% of the reason why I exercise is mental. It’s one of the best anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-stress medications.

9. Identify your excuses and create a plan of attack. 

  • No time? Wake up at 5 a.m.
  • No money? Do a free workout online
  • Too tired to work out? Get over it! A moderate amount of caffeine pre-workout is fine and imagine the rush you’ll get after releasing those endorphins!

10. AVOID ‘Fitspiration.’ Research is finding that it actually hurts weight loss efforts . It’s too easy to get caught up in the social comparison trap (more on that topic soon.) I tried to go on Pinterest to find motivational quotes to use here and all I found were pictures of supermodels with 8 packs that made me feel like the 6 miles I ran this morning wasn’t adequate enough. Bump that. Inspire to be the best you that you can be. You are beautiful.

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Want even more tips? I came across so many great articles researching this post:

If you have any tips to staying motivated please share them! I promise once you make exercise a habit (give it about one month) it will become something you look forward to and you will start to see the most incredible positive changes in your life.

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