Do you feel like you’ve tried numerous tactics to get in shape and lose weight, but nothing has worked? Have you spent hundreds of dollars on equipment, memberships, and services only to call it quits after a few weeks? Well, you’re not alone. Studies indicate that 50% of people starting an exercise program call it quits within the first 6 months.
Obviously the desire to make a change for the better is there; otherwise we wouldn’t have dusty treadmills in the basement or inactive gym memberships. The problem that I’ve found from my experience as a fitness professional is not that there is a lack of awareness; the average person is aware that daily exercise and a balanced diet is important for good health and many have a basic understanding of how to go about doing it. The dilemma is that there is a lack of motivation and the correct mindset for success.
So how do you program your mind for success?
- Be in tune to your fears
- Set goals
- Be held accountable and find positive reinforcement
- Practice positive thinking
Be in tune to your fears
Studies suggest that a person’s self-perception plays a critical role in exercise adherence and motivation. This theory is based on psychologist Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory. According to Bandura, one must feel confident in his or her abilities in order to succeed. This is better known as self-efficacy.
There are many situations in life that can damage one’s self-perception. Attempting to get in shape, but failing to do so can create negative associations with exercise and diet, past injuries can create fear of further damage or flare up, and unfamiliarity can cause one to feel uneasy or afraid of embarrassment.
All of these situations have one thing in common. Fear. Fear is debilitating. It will hold you back from new experiences that could be liberating. Why limit your own potential? Often times, fear and doubt creeps in whenever we start to dream about the possibilities. “I could do that! Oh, wait, but….”
Being aware of a negative thought is the first step toward positive thinking. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. What you believe to be true about yourself and your abilities will affect your daily habits and effort towards improvement.
Discover your intrinsic motivation to get in shape by going deeper than surface level. Surface level reasons for getting in shape include feel better, lose weight, prevent disease, feel good in my clothes, etc. A surface level reason is what the media tells us exercise can do. It is the “known.” In order to adopt a healthy lifestyle once and for all I urge you to search for the “unknown.” Discover the motivating factors that drive YOU, because the spark of motivation is internal. It may be deep within, but with enough searching and prodding you have the ability to find it.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what intrinsically motivates you try this exercise:
Make a list of all the surface level reasons to be in shape that come to mind: Have more energy, feel more confident in a bathing suit, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease…
Next, draw a few branches off each statement and write how it will directly affect your life. “If I feel more confident in a bathing suit I will finally book a vacation to Puerto Rico.” “If I have more energy I could help coach my kid’s soccer league next fall.” Then, use all 5 senses to visualize how you would feel doing those things. Make the vision as vivid as possible. See how happy your child is learning a new game with your help; imagine lying on a sunny beach and feeling good about your body.
Finally, turn those “ifs” into “when.”
Congratulations, you now have a goal set. It’s time to get after it.
Be held accountable and find positive reinforcement
Research indicates that social support from a loved one is highly associated with exercise adherence. Seek out a support unit. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Once you have your goal set tell your friends, family, and even your co-workers. Let it be known that you are planning to eat healthier or start a regular exercise program.
It’s important that you feel enthusiastic about your goals and show it when informing others about your new plan. Avoid saying things like, “Oh man, I’m going to have to eat healthier; no happy hour for me. It’s such a bummer.” This attitude will cause others to match your mood and be down in the dumps with you. Think positively, speak positively, and radiate your positive energy so others feel the warmth of your spark.
On the flip side, even the strongest flame can be extinguished by gusty cold winds. Try to surround yourself with others who are positive and supportive. Perform your workouts in an environment where you feel comfortable and can gain positive reinforcement whether it’s in the form of a motivating exercise class or simply attending a gym with a friendly staff.
When you’re excited about your new fitness goals your friends or significant other may be motivated to join you. Studies show that just observing someone else exercise can motivate them to do the same.
Ask a friend or your spouse to join the fun. It’s beneficial, because it holds you both accountable. If you make plans with a close friend to meet at the gym or go grocery shopping for healthy items you are less likely to cancel. Make a pact to hold each other accountable to reach your individual goals.
Another method that influences program adherence is setting up “check in dates.” As a fit lifestyle coach I have my clients check in with me at least every week to review progress and work out any kinks or limited beliefs that may be getting in the way of their goals. Just knowing that you are going to have to check in with someone can strongly motivate you to adhere to your exercise and diet plan, because you will want to show improvement week after week and receive positive reinforcement.
Practice Positive Thinking
I think I can, I think I can. This simple mantra goes a long ways. There will be ups and downs along the way towards your ultimate fitness goal. Don’t waste precious energy on negative or counterfactual thinking (imagining what could have been).
A study in the Sports Psychologist discovered that 79.9% of participants reported upward counterfactual thinking–focusing on how things could have been better. The results concluded that upward counterfactual thinking had a negative affective response influencing motivation, training intensity, and promoting guilt. The bottom line is to accept the outcome, learn from the experience, appreciate the opportunity, and move on towards improvement.
We all want to increase the quality of our lives, there’s no question about it. The real question you must ask yourself is, “where do I begin?”
Remember to start at square one–shape up your mindset-–how you think about your body, goals, and the process first. Your body will follow.
Bandura, A. (1992) Exercise of personal agency through the self-efficacy mechanisms. In R. Schwarzer (Ed.), Self-efficacy: Thought control of action. Washington, DC: Hemisphere
Trost, S.G., et al. 2002. Correlates of adults’ participation in physical activity: Review and update. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(12), 1996-2001.
Whaley, D.E. & Schrider, A.F. 2005. The process of adult exercise adherence: Self- perceptions and competence. The Sport Psychologist, 19, 148-63.
Dray, Katie. Uphill, Mark. A survey of athletes’ counterfactual thinking: Precursors, prevalence, and consequences. Sport & Exercise Psychology Review. Vol 5. No 1. 2009. EBSCO. Web 8 May 2010.
Santrock, John. Life-Span Development. 11th Ed. McGraw Hill. New York, New York. 2008.