Finding the motivation to work out can be like looking for a swimsuit that looks good on you in February. When it comes to fitness, long-term commitment to a healthier lifestyle is something that many people struggle to attain.
It’s easy to get short bursts of motivation: Seeing a sexy little black dress that would look great if you could just lose a few pounds. Getting a particularly good view of yourself in a mirror that makes you think, “Wow, I better keep this up!” Viewing a TV ad warning you that coffee is, once again, on the outs – “Time to get my heart pumping in another way!”
After all those thoughts, the intimidating solution comes to mind: The Gym. You pull out your cute Nike tank top and shorts from the bottom of your dresser that you bought the last time you decided to get in shape. With your iPod in hand, you walk sheepishly into The Gym (“It’s been so long! It’s so great to see you again,” grins the 20-year-old behind the counter, with veins popping out of his toned biceps) and an hour or so later, you waltz out feeling invigorated. “Tomorrow,” you think to yourself, “I will come back.”
But tomorrow comes, and the boss makes you stay an hour later at work. Tomorrow comes, and you return home to your cheeky toddler drawing a Crayon masterpiece on your walls. Essentially, tomorrow comes and you just don’t have the time or the drive to get back to The Gym.
In order to combat short-term motivation, researchers and fitness experts are emphasizing a different approach to attain long-lasting motivation to work out: Seek out the immediate benefits.
According to Michelle Segar, MD, University of Michigan, setting a goal to lose weight is not as effective as setting a goal to feel better – today. “The right reasons [to work out] are the ones that are going to make people feel that moving is worth taking time out of their busy day to do,” she explains.
After receiving her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, Dr. Segar pursued two master’s degrees in kinesiology and public health, followed by a doctorate in psychology. Through her studies and research, Dr. Segar found that extrinsic motivations to work out, like to lose weight or to be healthier, will not last for the long run. This extrinsic approach will make you see working out as a chore; the benefits you are seeking will not come immediately, therefore lending to exasperation.
So, the solution is to focus on the intrinsic benefits that come immediately after exercising: more energy and focus, strength, better mood and better performance in other areas of your life. Essentially, working out should be seen as a gift to your well being.
“We have to stop promoting exercise for reasons that in theory are logical and things we want, to reasons and a purpose that makes it compelling for us to do,” Dr. Segar says. “And what makes physical movement compelling is because of how it makes us feel and how it helps us live our daily lives.”
Dr. Segar found a personal importance for movement when she was just a preteen. “My passion for movement came from my own experience using it as a way to energize the way I feel about myself and my life as a teenager,” she recalls. “I just one day decided, because I was feeling blue, to put Michael Jackson [on my Walkman] and I ran outside, and being outside and listening to music that was fun to dance to, something clicked inside of me.”
But committing to a healthy behavioral lifestyle is not something that is reserved for athletes. “I never became a fitness nut,” laughs Dr. Segar. “And people wouldn’t have thought of me as someone being athletic.” In other words, every person is capable of exercising. But the key is to find a workout routine that works for you and that makes you feel good – day after day.
Fitness clubs are also on board with this way of thinking. Fitness Formula Clubs (FFC), which has eight Chicago locations and one in the suburbs, starts motivating its members from day one. Once members sign up for the club, they are encouraged to meet with a personal trainer four times. After an initial meeting where past exercise routines and goals are developed, the trainers formulate a customized workout program that members can use. The three final meetings are used to develop new workouts.
“We feel that helping people achieve results is paramount to their success and our success as a business,” says Jeff Riney, regional director of FFC. “That’s why we do what we can to help motivate them, but we think that motivation to get results is found in achieving results themselves. Any other motivation is going to be temporary.”
Presently, FFC is motivating its members with its Team Trek program. Members get together in groups of four and by converting their workouts into mileage, they work together to reach a destination somewhere across the country – be it San Diego, Miami or Boston. It’s a six-week program and teams can track their progress on a map located in the recreation center.
FFC knows that people will have different motivations to work out, so it tries to provide enough different options that will work for different people. But, according to Mr. Riney, the most important thing to make exercising worth it is to experience the results you’re looking for. “Any time you are doing any behavior modification and looking for the desired results and you’re not seeing the desired results, it doesn’t seem beneficial to deprive yourself of something you enjoy, whether that’s dieting or sleep,” he says, suggesting that you set small goals rather than large, daunting ones. Instead of aiming to lose 50 pounds, start at five. Rather than start training for a marathon, train for a 5K.
Women and men are motivated by different factors to exercise. Whereas men can be motivated to work out by an ad promoting weight-loss, women are more influenced by ads boasting daily well being. “The purpose for exercise infuses exercise with meaning – it symbolizes things to people,” says Dr. Segar. “And that symbol tends to have a positive or negative charge.” Working out to feel good will make you exercise in ways you like; if you’re only exercising to lose weight, you’ll work out hard and quickly lose energy and motivation.
Suddenly, The Gym becomes the gym. You are now exercising to get in a better mood. Or maybe you’re helping yourself focus for a big day at work. At the gym, you don’t feel weak lifting your 8-pound weights. You don’t mind that the tall, lean guy is lapping you on the track. You don’t mind because you are working out for yourself.
All that matters is that you are approaching fitness with a different attitude – an attitude that will lead to a long-lasting commitment to your well being.
By Kirsten Keller