Are you looking to make your occasional strength class or Sunday spin session a regular ritual? Many casual exercisers want to sweat more often, but they struggle with finding the workout motivation to make fitness a part of their daily routine.
Conventional wisdom hasn’t been particularly helpful in figuring out how to get in the groove and become that person who says, “I’ll meet you for brunch later. Gotta fit in my run first.” You’re told you have to “want it” enough. Or that you have to do something 21 days in a row before it becomes second nature. But what do you do on the 29th day when it’s cold outside and you’re dying to skip your run and sleep for another hour instead?
Fitness Motivation Made Easy
Fortunately, economists and psychologists have been studying how to crack the code of what compels us to repeatedly do something we don’t always want to do. Here are some of their best strategies.
1. Give Yourself a Real Reward
Over time, the motivation becomes intrinsic, as the brain begins to associate sweat and pain with the surge of endorphins — those feel-good chemicals released in the brain that are responsible for that “I-feel-freaking-amazing” rush you get after a great gym session. Once you’ve trained your brain to recognize that the workout itself is the reward, you won’t even want the treat.
2. Sign a Commitment Contract
You can up the ante even more by signing a contract agreeing to pay a pal $20 every time you skip Pilates.
In studies of people who created online contracts via the site www.stickk.com, the researchers found that those who signed longer contracts ended up exercising more than those who agreed to shorter durations. The challenge is designing tools to help make that happen.
3. Rethink Positive Thinking
Devotees of positive thinking have long promoted visualizing the benefits of a behavior as a motivational strategy. “After you imagine the obstacle, you can figure out what you can do to overcome it and make a plan.”
Here’s the rest of the formula: After identifying your wish and visualizing the outcome, you have to identify what’s holding you back — a technique she calls “mental contrasting.” In one study of 51 female students who claimed they wanted to eat fewer junk food snacks, researchers asked each woman to imagine the benefits of nibbling on better foods. Those who identified the trigger that made healthful snacking difficult for them — and came up with a plan to reach for fruit when cravings hit — were most successful at sticking to their goal.
4. Get Paid
Still struggling? It may be time to turn to cold, hard cash. (Because, hey, money talks.) Research looking at monetary incentives and exercise found that people who were paid $100 to go to the gym doubled their attendance rate.
Don’t have a generous benefactor? Check out the app Pact, in which a community of fellow users will literally pay you to stick to your schedule. If you miss your session, you authorize the app to charge your credit card or PayPal account. When you reach your goal, you get paid out of a common pool funded by yourself and other pact-breakers.
No matter how you get there, you know you’ve succeeded once the day arrives when you can’t imagine skipping your workout. You can call it an addiction, a pleasure or an escape. But the important thing is that you’re doing it on a regular basis, and that you’re doing it for you.