Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2004 issue of Body Sense magazine.
Now you’re exercising again, and it feels great. Of course, it felt great last year, too, when you went to the gym every morning for almost the entire winter. If it feels so great, why do you keep quitting? You may be able to make your physical activity more consistent by using some of these tricks.
1. Look at exercise differently.
This is the big one, from my perspective, says James Gavin, Ph.D., sports psychologist and professor at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. All movement is exercise. People need to give themselves more options. Take the dog for a walk, bike to the store, take five-minute stretch breaks. If you don’t count something as exercise unless it happens in the gym, goes on for 40 minutes, or requires a shower afterward, you’re missing some of your best opportunities to stay active.
2. Think small.
This advice can be hardest for people who expect the most from themselves. Why bother walking around the block when you should be running your usual four miles? Because when you don’t have time to do all four miles, a brisk hike can keep you from feeling that you’ve failed.
3. Set an agenda.
It helps to challenge yourself with a learning or performance agenda, Gavin says. Set a goal, such as increasing the speed, frequency, or duration of your activity. Maybe it’s time to train for a marathon or take a walk up the hill in the backyard without getting winded. (It’s perfectly fine to think small for your performance agenda, too.) Your trainer can help you determine appropriate goals.
4. Get off the beaten path.
Have you ever tried snowboarding? Bowling? Swing dancing? Body surfing? Qigong? How about reversing your power walk route? Exercising at a different time of day? Physical activity isn’t boring, but how you participate in it can be.
5. Use your brain.
The active mind needs to be engaged, Gavin says. If you’re new to exercise, dissociate tactics, such as listening to music, watching TV, or playing computer games may help you stick with it — but stay aware of sensations that could signal injury or overdoing it. As you become more experienced, associative strategies, such as focusing on your breath or concentrating on the movement of your body, can help you enjoy exercise more.
6. Get an accountability partner.
Minneapolis lifestyle coach Kate Larsen suggests finding a friend, mentor, or coach to keep you honest. You can either exercise with your partner, or simply check in with her to report your progress.
7. Plan to stay active.
Don’t decide in the moment if you can make the choice beforehand, Larsen says. Plan to park farther from the office and put your walking shoes in the car the night before. Plan to take that new yoga class next week, and call the babysitter now.
8. Face your fitness foes.
Does vacation throw your exercising schedule out of whack? Do projects at work overtake your activity time? Do injuries sideline you? Boredom? Fear of success? Fitness foes can be beaten once they’ve been identified. You can change your vacation style, set work limits, get guidance for injury-free activity, find new challenges, or face your fears with counseling and support.
9. Go tribal.
Even if you are introverted, the presence of others in your exercise environment can be motivating. We pick up on other people’s energy, Gavin points out. We get into the tribal rhythms of being fully alive. Choose places and times to exercise where there will be other people who are actively involved in exercise.
10. Use a script.
We tell ourselves things like, “Skipping this one little walk won’t matter all that much,” according to Larsen. Next time, be prepared with an answer for this excuse. Use images of past successful experiences to remind yourself of how good exercise makes you feel. Or repeat a simple phrase to yourself, such as, “Every little bit makes a big difference.” If you use planning, flexibility, and imagination, you won’t ever need to feel like a dropout again.