It’s a vicious cycle: First, in a fit of motivation, you decide this is it. You’re going to wake up at the crack of dawn to pump some iron, or hit up that new treadmill class after work, and go all out with your workout routine. But after a few months (or maybe weeks, no judgment!) of sticking to your exercise plan, things go awry. Life gets in the way, and your workouts are put on the back burner until that inner urge to get in shape hits you all over again. Frustrating, right? Know that you’re not alone in your struggle.
“People have a hard time sticking to fitness plans for two core reasons. One is because the motivation isn’t there,” says Michelle Segar, PhD, a motivation scientist and author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. The second reason? “[They] don’t give themselves permission to prioritize self-care,” she says. But Segar proves you can fall in love — and stick with — a workout routine. Whether you’re an exercise newbie or a weekend warrior, here’s Segar’s cheat sheet to perfect motivation — or just a friendly reminder to keep going strong.
The 4 Steps to Fall in Love With Fitness
1. Find Meaning
The first step in revolutionizing your exercise routine is to determine what working out actually means to you. “You assign meaning to things based on your beliefs and past experiences,” says Segar. So there are a wealth of reasons you may harbor negative feelings towards exercise — even just thinking of a workout as one more thing to cross off a crazy-long to-do list can fill each one with a sense of dread. Instead, look for positive motivation (like how awesome exercising makes you feel in the short-term) to create an insatiable workout craving.
To pinpoint your purpose, start by asking yourself whether you see exercise as a chore or a gift. If you see it as a chore, motivation is likely your issue. If you think of it as a gift but still can’t make the habit stick, chances are you don’t feel comfortable prioritizing it in your day. But the good news: The next three steps can help solve both of these problems.
2. Raise Awareness
Once you’ve found your meaning, the next step is to increase your self-awareness. After all, acknowledging how strong, empowered or connected to your body you feel is one of the best ways to reap the short-term benefits of your time on the mat. “When you [immediately] get a positive reward for doing something, it unconsciously motivates you to keep wanting it,” says Segar, who notes that desire is a very powerful motivator. Focusing less on the long-term payoffs (like tighter abs or lower cholesterol), as great as they may seem, and more on the immediate mental and physical boost, can be the exact motivation you need.
3. Give Permission
Exercise is so much more than just getting your body moving. It can reduce stress, amp up your happiness, and offer some solid proof of how much you can accomplish if you put your mind to it. “Yet people have a hard time sticking with exercise,” says Segar. Chances are you put your job, your family and what other people want from you ahead of your own needs. So go on, put yourself first with an hour (or even just 30 minutes a day!) of workout time.
“We’ve been socialized to not consider well-being important, but you have to [take care of] yourself in order to give your all to everything you care about,” says Segar. Once you realize the day-to-day effects exercise has on your mood, happiness and overall ability to get things done, it will be easier to give yourself the permission to always find time for a quick sweat session.
4. Make a Strategy
Bottom line: It all comes down making a plan of action. “You have to figure out the logistics of negotiating exercise within your complex life,” says Segar, otherwise you’ll put yourself back at the starting line. One of Segar’s top tips is to think about a space in your day where you could fit in just five minutes of exercise, like doing a loop or two around the office on your way to lunch. (Or this amazing two-minute routine. Carrying one of these amazing lunch boxes.) “Then ask yourself what excuses you come up with, like that you need to get lunch as quickly as possible so you can return to your inbox,” says Segar.
Part of your strategy needs to be uncovering your personal sneaky excuses, then removing whatever obstacles are standing in your way. It can sound potentially overwhelming, so taking baby steps is an ideal way to start. “If you were new to strength training, you wouldn’t start with a 20-pound weight,” Segar says. Learning to love exercise is a process, but the payoff is more than worth it. You’ll feel stronger, leaner and happier once you dive in.