Senior Airman Angela Duff, 62nd Aerial Port Squadron, runs on a pathway along Heritage Hill Apr 19 as part of her daily routine. SrA Duff, an aspiring fitness competitor, attributes her physical fitness to eating healthy and regular free weight workouts at the base gym. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Abner Guzman)
How many times has your New Year’s resolution been to exercise regularly? If you’re like many of us, you lost count. What about all the springtime promises to yourself that you would be swimsuit ready by summer? These things don’t work but we keep trying them over and over, expecting a different result. I don’t think that makes us insane (Einstein didn’t really say that, but it’s incredibly wise!), but we are extremely well-intended.
What are so many people doing wrong?
Get Your Mind Right
Why are you doing this? Do you really know? Of course, losing weight always ranks way up there. I can spend time telling you all the health benefits too, how it improves your mood and thinking and can slow down or prevent diseases in the future. But you know that, already, don’t you?
I’m not saying those aren’t great reasons to do it. On the contrary, they are fantastic. The problem is, that knowledge itself doesn’t seem to get people up and moving and keep at it.
Figure out what’s on your mind the most. Is it your kids? Chronic pain? Your job, your marriage, or something else? Find an extension of that.
How will being active improve those things? What do you notice about how you feel when you’re exercising or shortly thereafter? How are your interactions? How is your thinking?
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Your “WHY” for Exercising May Evolve, and Embrace That!
For me, it started with wanting to lose weight, I won’t lie. For the first time in my life, though, I kept at it long enough to lose 20 pounds and my motivation is still strong one year later. But, it started working when I stopped worrying about my weight, ironically. I stuck with it because the more immediate benefits became rewarding. I just had to pay attention to them to notice.
Many of those benefits revolved around how well I could handle stress during an intensely difficult time in my life. My chronic pain lessened, my mood was much lighter, and I felt real satisfaction from the gradual gains I was making in functional abilities.
Part of the intense stress was directly tied to witnessing my father’s health deteriorate and my worries about being able to function for my daughter well into the future. This is where all that disease prevention stuff really mattered and became my priority. So how do you get going long enough to see the benefits I did?
Look for the Right Inspiration
When I started really delving into what people want and need help with, I did some keyword searches. I looked up what phrases and images people are searching for when looking for help or inspiration, and I really wasn’t surprised. Thousands upon thousands of people want to look like this, and fast.
Here are a few examples of phrases people look up and the number of times per month:
“How to lose weight fast in 2 weeks” – 40,500 per month
“How to lose weight in 7 days” – 14,800 per month
“How to make exercise a daily habit” – 140 per month. You read that right. Only 140 compared to 40 THOUSAND or 14 THOUSAND.
We want this, and figure if we just follow xxx plan for xx days, we’ll be well on our way to these results. Without quick, meaningful rewards, we’re setting ourselves up for frustration with this, folks.
Go for “lifestyle” not “quick results”. Find stories of people similar to yours who used exercise as a means to an end you can relate to. Google “Exercise Regularly” instead of look for fast fixes.
Change Your Words
If you’re thinking you want to regularly exercise, that’s great. Here’s the key: If you’re just starting out, think “move” – not “workout”. The feel of each word is different, isn’t it? Telling yourself to move today seems like less pressure than telling yourself to work out. Workouts seem so “all-or-nothing”, but just “moving” is something you can build on and doesn’t have the success-failure connotation to it.
Focus on the Right Goals for YOU
How do you define “success” in being active? Too often we compare what we’re capable of to some arbitrary goalpost. We tell ourselves the thing we’re measuring ourselves against has meaning because we see so many other people using it. Then, we go ahead and judge ourselves negatively for it.
- I can’t run xxx distance, or speed.
- I get winded after “only” xxx minutes.
- I won’t crush the xxx workout in xxx days like the ads say I “should” be able to.
- I don’t come close to xxx steps per day.
- I’m not “fit enough” to try the xxx class.
The Right Goals Build Confidence
Research shows making progress in some way increases self-efficacy (your sense that you can successfully accomplish something), which increases your likelihood of sticking with a routine. With things like walking and running, goals are usually pretty straightforward – distance and speed. With other types of activity, what can you work toward?
- Attendance – Setting attendance goals without holding yourself to a performance standard is a great start. Just.Show.Up. It’s a real accomplishment when you are just starting out or are working around a busy schedule!
- Heart Rate – How much effort does it take to reach your target heart rate for cardiac conditioning, fat burning, or athletic performance? As you progress, you will notice it takes a little more oomph to get you there. From there, shoot for keeping it in that range longer and longer.
- Strength Measures – Many group classes incorporate hand weights or resistance bands in the routine. Watching your progress by increasing the difficulty you can handle is very satisfying! Also, what functional improvements are you noticing? Can you stand up from sitting on the floor more easily? Is carrying groceries easier?
Keeping track of progress, either on paper or with a form of technology is part of staying on track. It can make you get real with yourself, and you can see even the smallest amounts of progress, which can be motivating!
People who have the most confidence in staying active have several things in common: They plan ahead, prepare in advance for obstacles, find something they like to do, and stick to the activity that’s most rewarding. This will take some trial and error – identify what you like to do, how you can easily measure progress, and discover what trips you up. Have patience in the beginning! Consider figuring out your process as the first goal if you have to. The more you understand about yourself and what works, the better the chances you will reach your long-term goals!
Make it Enjoyable
What did you like to do when you were small? Play tag, climb things, splash around a pool? How can you adapt those things to “grownup” versions so they’re fun?
You can also pair physical activity with something you enjoy.
- Listen to music, an audiobook or podcast while you walk.
- Call an old friend on the phone and move the whole time.
- Plan fun activities while you’re moving.
- Step or march in in place while watching your favorite tv show. (Just be sure to wear good shoes!)
Find Activity That’s Right for YOU
Your personality has a whole lot to do with what you will enjoy doing. If you’re extremely outgoing, you might enjoy exercising with others more than alone. If you need a schedule to keep you on track, having a planned activity might work well. Not sure what kind you’ll stick with? Take this quiz to see what fits your personality!
Never Forget Why You Started
Something triggered your desire to make a change. What was it? You need to remember this, regularly. Behavior change only happens when the negatives of the status quo outweigh the positives, and the positives of changing outweigh the negatives. In my case, I regularly remind myself about how I feel when I slack off on exercising, and how I feel when I am active. Huge difference.
I also remind myself that time and age don’t care about future plans to start exercising. Planning on it doesn’t bring about the change that action does. The future will come, and what I do now will shape the life I lead decades down the road. I have lots of health problems in my family history to contend with, and I’d rather be strong and mentally fit in my old age. It’s pretty well established in the research now that if I exercise regularly it will get me where I want to be. I need to take advantage of something so powerful, and nobody can do it for me but me.
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