This post isn’t going to espouse all the benefits of exercise. We know that we need to keep moving our bodies. What this newsletter is about is HOW you can be more consistent with your exercise plan. These are the psychological tactics that I have found to be the most impactful for me.
#1: Put my training schedule on my calendar.
One of the main factors that keeps people from regularly exercising is not setting aside time for it on their calendar. Exercise becomes one of those things that they’ll get to, if they have time for it. But, of course, they never do, because something else always comes up.
If you want time to exercise, you have to make time for it. And the best way to do that is to schedule your workouts on your calendar and treat them like doctor’s appointments. Just as you’d tell someone you were busy if they wanted to do something at the same time you were scheduled to see a doc, you’re going to inform people you’re busy when they ask you to do something during your workout “appointment.”
I usually set my workouts for the week ahead on Sundays.
#2: Have a plan for my workout.
When most people take a first stab at working out, they just show up at the gym and do whatever exercise machine is open. Thirty minutes after aimlessly wandering around the gym, they get bored and go home. With “workouts” like that, any type of result (i.e., strength, endurance, weight loss, etc.) is going to be tough to come by. No results leads to more uncertainty which drains motivation.
To avoid this fate, set a workout plan for yourself before you head over to the gym. Know exactly which exercises you’re going to do and for how many sets and reps. Write your plan down, bring it with you and refer to it frequently throughout your session so you stick to it. If you’re running, have a weekly running plan for yourself so you know that you’ll be working on speed one day and endurance another.
To keep things easy, I hire another coach to write my training programs for me.
#3: Just get moving (even when I don’t feel like it).
Sometimes the hardest part of working out is simply getting started. The thought of getting out of bed or off the comfortable couch to go exercise is too daunting. The pull of inertia is strong.
Fortunately, if you don’t feel like working out, but get after it anyway, you’ll get into a flow and will be glad that you started. Of course, this sets up a catch-22: you’ll feel like working out if you start working out, but how do you start if you don’t feel like it?
Here’s what I do: I set the bar low and make a deal with myself. I decide that all I’m going to do is my mobility warm-up circuit for 10 minutes. Afterwards, I can assess my mood and see how my body is feeling. Most of the time, I decide to continue on with the rest of my workout. Rarely do I decide to stop and go home (but I still give myself that option). It’s an easy deal to commit to. Get in. Move for 10 minutes. Assess how I feel. That’s it.
#4: Aim for consistency in frequency.
In my 15+ years of coaching (and training), I can say that consistency is the biggest factor to one’s health.
When circumstances prevent you from doing a “perfect” workout, err on the side of doing something. Feeling just a little sick? Work out, but go a little easier. Have a crazy busy day? Work out, but make it a little shorter. Traveling? Work out, even if you have to improvise with the equipment available in the hotel gym. Sluggish and grouchy and can’t get into the mood to exercise even after you’ve tried? Move, however tepidly, through your planned workout (because you already committed to it by writing it into your daily schedule).
I keep a list of bodyweight exercises in my phone to reference. They’re easily modifiable, equipment isn’t necessary and they can be done just about anywhere.
#5: Exercise for something.
Motivation research shows that when we have a clear purpose for a task, we’re more likely to do that task regularly. Create a compelling reason for your workouts. It could be something long-term like being ready for the zombie apocalypse or living a long time for your (future) kids and/or grandkids. It could also be something more short-term like just wanting to look good with your clothes off. Whatever it is, get clear about it and write it down. When you don’t feel like exercising, reminding yourself of your purpose can be the motivation you need to get started.
Another way to go about this is to sign up for fitness events to participate in. If you’re looking to do more running (or insert any other activity) this year, sign yourself up for a 5K or an obstacle race a few months from now. Your goal might not be to win the race, but just to finish it.
Competitions serve as a big motivator for my training. Signing up for a Weightlifting meet gives me something very concrete and date-specific to train for, and knowing that I will be performing the lifts in front of people keeps me on-track with my training.
#6: Get accountability.
Some people find it useful to get an accountability partner for their workouts. This could be a coach, a friend or both.
Currently, I have a coach to stay accountable to. Looking back, I’ve made my best progress (losing fat mass and increasing strength) when I trained regularly with a team or training partner.
Making exercise a habit doesn’t need to be hard. Choose an activity to prioritize, plan for it daily/weekly and point it towards a purpose.