Getting into a new health and fitness routine is tough. Staying motivated is even tougher. There are hundreds of reasons to get in shape, but once you’ve started it seems like there are thousands of reasons to skip just this one workout, and skip just this one more workout, and before you know it your gym shoes haven’t moved in weeks.
Studies show that the first three weeks of building new habits are the hardest. Some of this is due to inexperience and fear: people don’t like to feel like they’re bad at something (and you will feel bad for the first few weeks. Sorry.), people are afraid they’re going to look dumb (you’re gonna look dumb, too. Get over it).
Luckily there are a few mental tricks for staying motivated and getting over the first 21-day hump.
Staying Motivated by Using Money
You know what most people hate more than working out? Losing money. Motivational studies on adults trying to lose weight showed that folks who paid for a gym membership were more likely to work out regularly than those who were given a free month at the gym. While slipping on your sneaks and going for a run seems cheaper, easier, and less time consuming than making a trip to the gym, the idea of wasting money has been shown to be a big motivator. So spending some dough might make you less doughy.
Staying Motivated by Using Friends
Going in on a fitness pact with a best friend is an age-old strategy for shaping up. If you have the kind of buddies who plan on going for a bike ride but spend an hour talking instead, you aren’t going to be doing your body any favors. You might be better off enlisting the help of strangers: a run club or a personal trainer (remember that tip about spending money?) can give you fitness companionship that is a little more focused than the same people you get beers with.
Staying Motivated by Using Your Mind
A number of studies have looked at mental factors that keep people on their healthy routines. The biggest helper? Clarifying why you’re doing what you’re doing. We’ve all heard of lifelong smokers who quit when faced with their own mortality or the fact that the might not be around to see their kids graduate. These people have their reasons laid out for them by medical professionals. You can do the same for yourself. Research has shown that simply reminding yourself that exercise is good for you helps you stay on track past those first few tricky weeks. If you are trying to keep your heart healthy or beat a personal running record, remind yourself to stay on target.
Again, starting new, healthy habits is tough. There will be mornings when the snooze button looks even more appealing and there will be spin classes that don’t seem to end. There will also be a healthier, happier person waiting on the other side of those first three weeks. Although I can’t promise it will be easy to slog up that big hill in the dead of winter, staying motivated enough to get out the front door with your running shoes on will be.