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Staying Motivated to Work Out

Updated on November 1, 2011

I was a serious athlete in school, so working out and staying in shape has always been a part of my life. But the truth is, it’s so much easier in school to dedicate your time to a sport, because you have so much of it! And the competitive nature of school sports is a huge motivation to perform and improve. But when you enter the real world, life starts to take over, and finding the time and motivation to stay in shape becomes more and more of a challenge. Once you start having kids, it’s all but a lost cause!

But I think there are ways to stay motivated and maintain at least a minimum level of exercise in your life. Here are some of the ways I have been able to stay motivated to work out.

Make it Routine

We are creatures of habit. Sometimes it can be good to change our routines, but routine is also an important part of our lives, and it can be hard to change them. It can help with stress and stress-related disorders, reduce insomnia, and help you to be consistent with things that are important to you.

One of the best things you can do to stick with a workout plan is to make it part of your routine. This is particularly important when finding time in your busy schedule for exercise is a challenge. But because we are creatures of habit, we thrive on routine, and we're not comfortable when our routine is disrupted. Changes in routine can actually be stressful. So, if our workouts are a solid part of our routine, then it will actually be harder to miss it. You'll be so used to your routine, that disrupting it by missing your workout will stress you out.

Just because it’s part of your routine doesn’t mean that it has to take up all sorts of time. You can use your routine to include exercise, even on a tight schedule.

Workout at Home

I have always found that working out at home makes it easier to actually get it to happen.

  • It's convenient. You don't have to spend all of that time getting to the gym, waiting around for other people to be done with the equipment, and getting back home.
  • Because it’s so convenient and less time consuming, it makes it that much easier to fit into your routine!

Some people claim that being home is too distracting with all of the other things there are to do. But seriously, it’s all in yer head, already.... You can overcome this by having a designated area for workouts. It can be a room, a designated area of your basement or garage, or whatever. As long as that particular area is for exercise equipment only and is free of other distractions. Pretty soon, going to that place will soon be the mental equivalent to "going to the gym".

I have one section of my basement designated as a “workout zone”. There is nothing there but exercise equipment, a TV and DVD player, and a boombox. I’ve been using it for a while, so being there lets me stay focused on working out.

Get a TV and DVD Player

Working out can be fun, especially in the beginning. But let’s be honest, after a while, the workouts themselves become too “routine” and can get a bit tedious, or even boring. If that happens, then you won’t look forward to it, and you’ll be more likely to make excuses for skipping it.

An easy way to keep it interesting is to find movies or TV shows that truly interest you. This isn’t like going to the gym and hoppin’ on one of the treadmills in front of the TVs. That’s usually some mundane, random show that doesn’t really engage you. The import thing here is to find something that you actually WANT to watch. If you only watch it while working out, then there will be added motivation to work out. Then you get to watch the show you are so interested in, and you get a workout at the same time. It’s a win-win!

This is really only possible when you work out at home, because you have complete control over what you watch. And having a DVD player opens up more options for you, because you can buy or rent almost any TV show on DVD now-a-days.

One other aspect of this you may want to think about, is that this is an opportunity to watch something that your significant other has no interest in. This didn’t really occur to me until it happened. I am admittedly a trekkie. I have been a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation since it was on the air! My wife very generously got me several of the seasons on DVD as Christmas and birthday gifts, but when it came down to it, she didn’t have a whole lot of interest in watching it very often. How the heck was I supposed to ever watch seven entire seasons of Star Trek on my own!?!? We have two kids, so I feared I’d be waiting quite a while.

But it was actually a blessing in disguise, because I really wanted to watch it, and I needed something to watch while I was working out. Because I’m such a fan, and because I hadn’t seen them all already, I always looked forward to watching the next one, and that quite often translated into that little bit of extra motivation I needed to get myself started! It helped so much that I have been working out steadily for over a year now, which is far longer than my previous attempts at staying in shape. And now I’m in search of something else to watch while working out because I’m finished with all seven seasons!

Be OK with Just a Warm-Up

Missing a workout is not the end of the world.

Exercise should be something you enjoy. It should be a positive experience. If it becomes a negative experience, you’ll eventually stop. And you will be missing something that is integral to a healthy lifestyle. While it’s good to push yourself and be disciplined, I believe that people can sometimes put too much pressure on themselves to work out, to make leaps of progress, to lift heavier weight, to work out harder, faster, and stronger. Pushing yourself it good, but if your goals are too ambitious, or if you push yourself to workout when you’re sick, or if you push yourself to injury, then working out quickly becomes a negative, discouraging experience.

I push my self too, but in the past I have pushed myself too hard. I have injured my self several times, and I have convinced myself that if I can’t do a full-blown workout with a half-hour of cardio followed by 45 minutes of weights (or whatever your workout is), then it’s not worth it. Then I would just start to feel like a failure, because fitting that in three times each week was next to impossible. Finally, I would be so discouraged that I would give up. :(

Finally, I decided to be more laid back about it. Something is better than nothing. And if all I have time for on any given night is just a 10-minute warm-up on the elliptical trainer, then so what? It’s still something, and at the very least, it will help maintain the progress I’ve make so far. The other thing I realized is that missing one workout doesn’t undo anything. I’ve missed workouts on several occasions, and the next workout was just as good and effective. In fact, there have been occasions where the extra rest made me stronger, and allowed me to make even more progress on the next workout!

Use Exercise as a Stress Relief

There are so many benefits to exercise, it would be silly for me to try to talk about them all here. But one of my favorites is how it can reduce stress. So many of us are under a lot of stress each day, that stress becomes a real problem. But, in my experience, exercise can reduce stress in at least two ways.

The first is through the natural benefits of exercise. It helps release endorphins, which give you a sense of well-being. It also helps your self-esteem, lets you sleep better, and brings you more confidence. All of those things allow you to deal better with stress throughout the day. If you are able to see that actually happen, and you see first hand your ability to better deal with stressful situations, then that payoff will motivate you to stick with your workout routine.

The second way is by “letting it out”. If your stress is being caused by a particular person, or by anger toward someone or something, then this emotional charge can be released during your workout. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing weights or only doing cardio, you can gather all of your anger and frustration and take it out on whatever equipment you’re using (the dumbells, the heavy bag, the elliptical trainer, the road, etc). Just pretend that the source of your stress is at the other end of it. Just let it all out. I can confirm from experience, this is very therapeutic. And if you’re having a particularly crap day, or the dog just crapped on the floor (AGAIN!!! That little &^$#!!!), you can use this as a tool to calm you down and bring you some clarity.

Both of these things work for me. But whatever works for you, it can become a tool to keep your motivation to work out.

Keep Looking

Everyone is different. These things all work for me, and hopefully they will help you. But keep looking for the things that motivate you, and use it to your advantage. Maybe these things will at least give you some ideas that will help you find your own motivation!

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Everything in this article is based on my own research and experience.Consult your physician before starting any exercise program.


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