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HEALTH & FITNESS ARTICLES

Find Your Motivation

A good friend asked me this week to discuss on my blog reasons why people exercise. Earlier this year, he started an evening walking program. He wants to lose a few pounds and improve his overall fitness. He started walking a half mile a day. Within a few months, he increased his distance to 2 to 3 miles a day. He told me that he is more likely to walk if he has a specific destination in mind such as a local store or restaurant.  He said he felt inspired by his Italian relatives who travel locally by foot rather than by car. By thinking of walking as a mode of transportation rather than exercise, he fundamentally changed how he thinks about exercise in a way that inspires him to do it. As a result, he walks to local stores and restaurants rather than drive. He has not changed his plans for the day, he simply changed his mode of transportation. In addition, he said he is most apt to walk in the evening around 9 pm. By 9 pm, he could mentally put away his cares from the day and allow some “me time.” In the mornings and afternoons, he said he feels compelled to check email and handle work issues. 
 
It seems that my friend found a couple of key motivators that have spurred him to stick to his goal of walking daily: 1) he likes to sneak walking into his schedule via other fun activities he plans to do; in other words, it seems that he does not want walking or exercise to be an event in itself but rather a part of some other fun activity such as going to a store or restaurant; 2) he found a time of day that he likes to be active and reserved the 9 pm timeslot for walking. He could not exercise if he felt it took time away from work. By scheduling activity well after the work day, he avoids conflict. As a result of changing two aspects of how he thought about exercise, he made exercise fun and relaxing. This allows him to stick to his goal.
 
His story is about motivation. If you are motivated to succeed, you will succeed. Motivation is like a catalyst in the chemical reaction. The catalyst must be present for the reaction to occur. You could be an intellectual expert in fitness and design the perfect exercise program, but if you lack the motivation to do it, you will not take action and will not succeed. It is far better to be highly motivated to do three simple exercises a day than to keep a library of exercises in your brain that you never do.
 
If you have not succeeded with your exercise goals or other goals, spend a few minutes reflecting on your motivation to exercise. For example, some of us are intrinsically motivated. This means you are a self-starter and exercise for the love of the game or the activity. You gain increased feelings of self-worth, confidence and competence from the activity. You do not need external rewards or praise to motivate you to exercise. However, if you become bored with the activity or you hit a plateau, you might feel frustrated with exercise. Expect and prepare yourself for some bumps in the road, and think of difficulties as bumps rather than mountains. Allow time for breaks and vary your program every 3 to 4 weeks to prevent overtraining and boredom.
 
By contrast, extrinsically motivated people like awards, trophies and external praise for their work. Receiving a finishers’ medal at the end of a race would motivate you to participate in a race. To stay motivated, you might need to create rewards for yourself for reaching specific fitness goals. If your goal is weight loss, obviously, avoid rewarding your completed workout with a late night ice cream binge. If money motivates you, pay yourself for sticking to your exercise plan. If you like to travel, plan a travel reward for reaching an exercise goal. Give yourself an incentive that matches the challenge of the goal.
 
You may be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to exercise. I am primarily intrinsically motivated. I love movement and the feeling of working hard and effortlessly at the same time whether the activity is running, skating or a gym workout. I love to run early in the morning. I like the feeling of cruising along and enjoying the outdoors. I like to challenge my pace, and when my legs start to feel tired, I like to see how long I could endure the run. However, I also like collecting medals and T-shirts from races. They are like badges of honor, and looking back at past success helps keep me enthused about my program.
 
The type of motivation does not matter. Simply be aware of how you think about exercise and what works for you. My friend found that by thinking of walking as transportation, he was more likely to do it than if he told himself he “had to exercise.” I like the Zen moments I experience while exercising. Maybe you have friends at the gym and like socializing as much as exercising. Simply be aware of all the positive reasons to exercise and keep those thoughts foremost in your mind. Plenty of excuses will invade your mind. If your positive motivations are primary in your thoughts, your brain will bury the excuses. You will overcome a busy schedule, emotional stress, fatigue, and any other obstacle in your way. In short, a successful exercise program always depends on continual, positive motivation.    
 
References:
“How to Use Motivation to Deal with Your Temptations,” an excerpt from “Eat to Be Fit – The Truth About Fat Loss,” by Michael J. Foley, M.S. with Pat Walsh, published November 2002, Living Well Publishing Company, Portland, ME.
 
“Basic Sport Psychology for the Fitness Professional Part I,” by Jeff Fields, MS, ATC, 2004.

This article was provided by Free Movement Fitness Inc.
For more information on Free Movement Fitness Inc., check out their full profile here.
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