It’s easy to want to eat healthy and get to the gym every day at the beginning of your fitness journey. Your motivation is at an all-time high, and you feel like Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art—nothing can get in the way of you reaching your goal.
But nobody’s invincible, and there will come a time when—like the battery in your father’s old Chevrolet Impala—your motivation will die down. Out of nowhere, all it takes is a little rainy weather for you to justify taking a break from the gym.
“I’ll get back to the gym tomorrow,” you tell yourself. Then you find another new excuse not to go and one day becomes a week, a week becomes a month, and so on. Next thing you know it’s January 1st and you set a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym regularly for the umpteenth year in a row.
Staying inspired to exercise regularly isn’t as easy as your favorite Instagram influencer makes it seem. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to help anyone stay motivated to continuously eat healthy and hit the weights, and what works for one person might not work for the other.
That being said, there are some science-backed ways to help keep your mental energy levels up and stay committed to your fitness and weight loss goals.
5 Ways to Get and Stay Motivated According to Science
No, none of these ways to stay motivated require listening to a drill sergeant shout clichés at the top of his lungs or reading a cheesy inspirational quote before getting out of bed in the morning. All it takes to stay on track is a pen and paper, a pair of headphones, and a little introspection.
So whether you’re looking to lose weight, get strong, or add a few more miles to your long runs, these simple hacks will help you find the course you’re looking for and guide you toward the finish line of success.
1. Find Your Fitness Goal, Then Write It Down
The first question you should ask yourself is, “Why am I paying for a gym membership every month in the first place?”. Then build a clear goal around it.
There are goals for every occasion, and people rarely have the same one. Not to mention your goals change over time. You may have started out wanting to lose weight or build strength, but maybe now you just require regular workouts to feel good and reduce stress.
Not having a plan can be problematic and can lead to a lack of interest. Research suggests that aimlessly “going through the motions” at the gym can lead to skipped sessions and flat-out boredom, which can lead to forms of depression.
Once you find yours, mapping out an attack plan is as easy as writing it down in a notebook.
Psychologist Edwin Locke says creating specific goals, then writing them down, creates a structure within a person’s life (1). This helps the athlete see the result they’re striving toward and sets them on a clear path toward achievement.
Keep day-to-day records of everything you do in the gym and the kitchen — this means both the good days and not-so-good ones. In time, you’ll see what you did right and wrong (hopefully not so much of the latter). Once the results become visible—on paper, in the mirror, and on the scale—obtaining your goal becomes a step easier.
2. Visualize Your Success
Another step toward remaining motivated is visualizing whatever it is you’re looking to achieve. Can you see yourself adding X amount of weight to a barbell, or walking up to the squat rack and feeling the heaviness of the bar even before you step foot in the gym?
It may sound a bit New Age hokey, but visualizing your performance, through meditation, yoga, or other mental exercises, can greatly increase strength. A unique study found that people who only visualized their performance prior to testing saw a nearly 15% increase in strength (2). Although not equal in gains, the study does show the benefits of using your mind to make gains.
Practicing regular meditation or yoga is thought to help us snap out of impulsive thoughts in our day-to-day and stay focused on the task at hand. Meditation has also been thought to improve athletic performance. No wonder top athletes such as Michael Jordan and Lebron James use meditation to their benefit already.
Yoga and mindfulness can also help add some balance to your and regimen.
3. Build Your Ultimate Workout Playlist
Numerous studies suggest that cranking beats in your Beats helps reduce fatigue during physical activity (3). The American Council on Exercise reported that listening to music while exercising might help reduce feelings of fatigue, improve motor function coordination, and increase mental arousal.
Whether you’re gutting out a few extra squats or sprinting on the track, the type of music and tempo does matter, according to researchers.
Sports psychologist Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., an expert on music and performance, found that music with a tempo range of 120-140 beats per minute—think upbeat techno—is ideal for those engaging in aerobic workouts. If it’s a heavy leg day, try a 95-125 bpm range, “Welcome to the Jungle” would be a better choice.
Adding a little music to your workout routine, no matter what your preferred genre is, can make staying motivated toward your fitness goals easier.
4. Get a Workout Accountabiliabuddy
You’re less likely to skip the gym and watch tv if you are keeping someone waiting. Whether you hire a personal trainer or ask a friend to go on a run every morning, having someone to hold you accountable can be just the push you need.
For a lot of us, it’s much easier to let ourselves down than someone else. So if that monthly gym fee isn’t enough, find yourself a good trainer or friend who will hunt you down and get you moving every time you need a push.
5. Make it Routine, Then Change it Up
The easiest way to make a habit stick is to make it easy to repeat. And the best way to do this is by using systems. Any way that you can remove friction and increase the ease of your workout routine, the more likely it will become that you keep it up. After all, we quit most things because they are too hard or just downright inconvenient.
If you have to drive out of your way to get some exercise, try a home workout regime or find a fitness center on your way home from the office. Figure out how to fit your fitness plan into your daily life with ease, and sticking to it will become a whole lot easier.
If you’ve been at the same exercise class for a while, try something new - like yoga or other forms of weight training. Just as our bodies require working different muscle groups to stay in peak shape, our minds also need some change in stimulation to keep us motivated.
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