Staying motivated

Staying motivated is important to maintain regular exercise

Image courtesy of & Ambro

We’ve all got motivated, started to make some healthy changes and then sometime down the track, often in less than 6 months, we have slipped back to our old ways.  What happened?

In this post, I talk about staying motivated.  We build on the skills and strategies you have learned and used in getting motivated.  But there are a couple of extra things that we’ll cover here.

Look at failure differently 

Probably one of the things that I have learnt that has made the biggest impact is to change the way I look at when I have ‘failed’ at changing a habit or I’ve gone back to my old ways.  I was shocked to discover that ‘lapsing’ is actually normal and it is better to view this as a learning experience.

Because most of us have never learned the skill of developing or changing a habit, we think that if we ‘fall of the wagon’, it is because we are lacking in willpower or are ‘weak’ or ‘lazy’.  A better and far more useful thing to do is to view the experience as a learning opportunity.  It lets us look at what actually happened and to put in some strategies to deal with that occurrence.

We can be very quick to criticise ourselves if we stop exercising or perhaps we haven’t been able to resist the beautiful cake someone brought into work for afternoon tea.  Not only is this not helpful, if we are emotional eaters, this is likely to send us straight to our usual comfort food.  Dr Rick Kausman, author of If not Dieting, then what? has a beautiful saying ‘I am doing my best to speak gently to myself’.  We all need to do more of that.

Revisit all the things that you did to get the motivation in the first place.

Are you looking at your goals twice a day?  If not, why not?  Do you need to revise your goal?  If you’re exercising, it it fun?  Do you need to make some changes there?  I remember reading once about a study where the participants were on exercise bikes and cycled as hard as they could for 8 seconds and then at a relaxed pace for 12 seconds, with the workout being completed in 20 minutes.  The group that did this were more successful in losing weight than the group that cycled normally and for a longer duration.  I was excited about getting such great results in such a short amount of time and couldn’t wait to get started.  Anyone who doesn’t think that time is relative should try this!  Never has 8 seconds taken so long and 12 seconds seemed so short!  I found myself making excuses for not exercising and when I finally looked at what was happening, I realised I was dreading the exercise sessions.  They were just too hard!  When I changed what I did, I was able to re-establish the exercise habit.

One of the things that tripped me up again and again in establishing the exercise habit is setting the goal too high to start with.  I’d heard all about starting with small steps initially but dismissed that advice, thinking that was OK for others but surely I could do more.  I finally learned to become quite disciplined about starting with what I felt was a small goal and then slowly building on that with a focus on getting the exercise habit going, rather than duration of sessions.

Plan for danger times

During the time that we have begun a new habit, we need to be really alert and plan ahead for danger times.  For example, I don’t crave chocolate when I get up in the morning and most days it is pretty safe until around 3pm, but if I am hungry, tired, emotional or driving, these are red alert times.  Now I plan ahead, ensure that I have healthy snacks around and remove chocolate from my environment to minimise the chances that I will lapse.  (I’m actually using 3 strategies here – the planning, ensuring I have an alternative available to avoid hunger and removing temptation).

Similarly, with exercise, I find that when I am sick and haven’t been exercising for a few days that I need to really work on taking that initial step again.  With an awareness of when we are most likely to lapse, we are able to plan ahead.

Most of us are not aware of the extent to which our environment influences our habits.  This may mean the people in our immediate circle – family, friends or co-workers, or our physical environment such as whether our cupboards are full of tempting high calorie foods.  The authors of Change Anything discuss how small changes in our environment can make a big difference to our success in changing our habits.  Do we need to go through our cupboards and replace tempting high calorie snacks with healthier alternatives?  One of the things I hear frequently is that the biscuits and cakes are for the kids or the visitors.  My response to that is ‘Do they really need to be offered those types of snacks’?  Could we be sabotaging a friend’s efforts to develop better health by offering her biscuits or cakes?  Could we offer visitors a lovely fruit platter instead?

Sometimes we need to have a conversation with our nearest and dearest about how they can best support us.  We may need to ask them not to bring us chocolates home or perhaps they can help in the house to give us more time to exercise.

This was going to be the final post in this series but there’s a bit more to cover so stay tuned to find out more about coping with cravings and using rewards.

What’s worked for you in keeping that motivation going?  Let me know in the comments!


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6 Responses to Staying motivated

  1. Jen Brown October 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Great post Claire & rather timely for me. Being a personal trainer, I find most people expect that I have an unlimited supply of motivation on tap & that it is never a problem for me.

    But I am no different from anyone else & struggle with my motivation from time to time. What works for me – be prepared! Organise my workout clothes the night before, make sure I have healthy snacks available BEFORE I get hungry. Having an understanding with my nearest & dearest about their actions which sometimes feel like sabotage to me.


    • Claire October 22, 2011 at 8:19 am #

      HI Jen,
      Some great tips there.

  2. Debi December 8, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Great article Claire!

    • Claire December 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

      Hi Debi,

      Thanks so much! Very timely at this time of year as well.




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