We have all been there. We start a new exercise program for ourselves with the intention of getting fit, losing weight, or making friends but a few weeks in we find ourselves right back where we started with little motivation to continue. Why does this happen?
Well, we tend to neglect some simple yet very important factors that can help us develop a new and healthy habit that will be sustained in the long term. Many sport and exercise psychologists are trying to bridge the gap between intention to exercise, and the actual action. Just because one person hits the gym to get big does not mean that other people are weak for not having the same type of motivation. Factors such as social inequality, environmental factors, genetic susceptibility, and interestingly, learned helplessness plays a huge role in how we think and behave. What could be a positive experience for one person in terms of staying active, could be a negative for another person because of some past altercation that caused this person to view physical activity as something they are inadequate at. What this means is that we need to start looking at not only personal factors, but also how the social context can affect our motivations to be fit. Incorporating and encouraging an environment where everyone can find an activity that they enjoy will create positive reinforcement for the individual to continue staying active. Social reinforcement plays a massive role in this regard, and having society put down others for not working out is not the way to encourage people to be fit. Everyone has their motivations, and the most important thing is to understand what your values are, and to enjoy what you're doing. But first, it helps if you write down your goals, and work through what it is you want to accomplish.
To help get you started, here are 5 great tips!:
1) The more concrete your goals are, the better!
Formulate intentions and goals as specific as possible
Look at the 4 W's: What, when, with whom, amd why
Make your goals SMARTS: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely, and Self-Determined.
eg. "I will run every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after I get back from work"
2) Anticipate barriers and find solutions!
Think about any barriers that may occur and come up with solutions tailored to you
eg. "If I am too busy to run any of the the 3 days I will make up for it on the weekend"
3) Let the environment help you!
Remove stimuli that provoke sedentary behavior and replace them with stimuli that provide the opportunity for physical activity
eg. Putting your running shoes on the couch or right in front of your door as to remind you of your goal
4) There is always time!
a) It's more a question of managing your priorities
b) Think about combining some of the activities in your day, which can save you alot of time
eg. a) List the top 5 things that are most important in achieving your goal. Then list the top 5 things you are currently doing in pursuit of that goal. Do you see any mismatches? If yes, maybe it is time to move one of these domains up a priority!
eg. b) Parking your car 10 minutes away from your work in order to get some walking in, or bringing some of your running stuff with you and run on your break.
5) Support the three basic needs: Autonomy, belonginess/relatedness, competence)
Your goals should involve the feeling of autonomy, in that you made the choice yourself what it is that you enjoy, and how you will pursue your goals.
Find something you value, and notice how you are related to it. The more related and have a feeling of belonging, the more likely we are to pursue that value. This also includes finding some to do physical activity with if being social is something you value
Start off with small, realistic goals in order to build up your confidence and eventually you will feel like you can accomplish anything!