You wanted to hit the running trails every weekend, but lately you’ve stumbled off the proverbial path.
You aimed to stop at the gym after work, but then you pushed it off to tomorrow — and that was a month ago. You hoped to use that yoga class coupon you bought online, but the week got crazy and you said “namaste” to that plan.
We often set out with the best health and wellness intentions. But sometimes we lose that spark of motivation. When we do, coaches and trainers often like to share with us the usual goal-setting advice. If it were as easy as all the typical motivational advice made it sound, we’d be busting our goals left, right and centre.
Forget the typical goal-setting advice you’ve heard in the past. If you’re ready to hit your health goals every day and lose excuses, read on!
If You Want to Make Fitness Foolproof, Make It Fun
Researchers have uncovered a few interesting psychological strategies that will actually help you stick to your diet or workout plan.
Five recent studies published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin asked people in the gym two questions:
- How important is it that your exercise today is enjoyable and fun?
- How important is it that your exercise today is useful and effective at keeping you in shape?
The researchers wanted to know whether short-term benefits (e.g. having fun) or long-term benefits (e.g. keeping in shape) were equally motivating.
The verdict? Long-term benefits or goals were what got people into the gym, but it was the short-term benefits that kept people going day after day. In the study, people who actually enjoyed exercise and found it fun didn’t just stick with their schedule, but they also exercised for longer periods of time whenever they were in the gym.
When you make it fun, you don’t have to struggle so much with self-control. The scientists in the study summarize their research by saying that we can select a situation (e.g. the gym) that helps us meet a long-term goal, but it’s the enjoyment of the activities that predicted people’s goal persistence.
“A person can plan to go to the gym, and once there select a workout that she finds enjoyable,” the researchers note. “Similarly, [you can bring] in immediate rewards to improve the experience of the activity.” They give the example of turning up your music when in a strenuous workout.
“In this way,” say the researchers, “[you] can facilitate persistence in [your] long-term goal. Maximizing the presence of immediate rewards when pursuing long-term goals, rather than relying on the importance of the goal to carry [you] through, should increase goal persistence.”
You see, it’s easy to lose sight of our long-term goals. They’re distant, abstract and not incredibly inspiring when we’re tired, have had a long day, or a packed schedule.
But immediate gratification is much easier for us to hold onto. If the actual day-to-day experience of exercising is rewarding in and of itself, we’re much more likely to make a positive choice.
Girls (and Guys) Just Want to Have Fun
In the end, this research shows that it’s not just about muscle, but about mindset.
Before approaching your diet or exercise plan, ditch all the negative self-talk. Common fitness mantras like “no pain, no gain” only serve to solidify this idea that our bodies or lifestyles are something to be beaten into submission.
Being unhappy or dissatisfied with something in our lives can get us moving, but finding a positive, healthy approach to our choices is the only thing that will truly keep us on track.
Take a good look at your long-term then find a way to enjoy immediate gratification and pleasure in the here and now by making your health goal fun on a daily basis. Immediate benefits make goals seem like less work and more like fun.
Exactly what “fun” looks like is up to you. It’s all about creating an enjoyable, healthy lifestyle that fits your unique personality. For example, if simply envisioning the gym’s long line of treadmills makes you yawn, toss out the idea of traditional cardio and get creative!
These seven examples can give you a starting point:
- Dance your way to fitness. Whether it’s a ballet-inspired Barre workout or a high tempo spin class, more and more dance-based workouts are helping people get their groove back.
- Have a friend tag along. A study last year found that having a workout partner keeps us motivated to exercise longer. And yes, a furry friend counts too, says researchers.
- Switch up the setting. A gym isn’t for everyone. Try taking your workout outdoors doing a sport you love, such as swimming or trail running. Studies suggest being in nature motivates us to be healthier.
- Take a gourmet cooking class. It’s a fun outing with a partner or friends, and can show you how to make even the healthiest ingredients tantalizing to the taste buds.
- Find your inner child. What activities did you enjoy as a kid that brought you pleasure? Perhaps it’s riding a bike or throwing a ball in a park. Chances are, whatever it was will awaken your inner playful spirit.
- Make it for a good cause. A run or walk for your favourite charity can be incredibly motivating.
- Align your daily goal with a life goal. What’s a big bucket list item you’ve always wanted to do? Perhaps it’s to hike up Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak. Or go portaging in Ontario’s lake country. Or go surfing in Australia. Choose fun physical activities that you need to do today that will help you get to this big life goal.
Take a Moment to Recognize, Appreciate and Feel
Whatever you choose to do, turn your focus inward and really experience just how enjoyable it is! Reflect on the positive experience while working towards your goal. This simple mindset can create an overarching sense of gratitude, excitement and joy in the moment.
- As you sit down to your healthy meal, be sure you have picked the healthy foods you like to eat the most. Bring your attention to how delicious each bite is. Taste the different flavours and feel the different textures.
- When you step into the spin class and your favourite song comes on, take a moment to lose yourself in the beat. The exercise will immediately become more enjoyable, less like work and more like fun.
- As you jog through the forest, feel the sensation of the fresh breeze, and pause for a moment in the sunlight to appreciate the stillness and the warmth. Seeking out the positive experience will increase your persistance of the goal.
By increasing your awareness to how fun and pleasurable each healthy moment is, you create a positive feedback loop that will keep you coming back for more, and give you a better chance at success.
Whatever you choose to do, turn your focus inward and really experience just how enjoyable it is!