How To Stay Motivated With Exercise

Staying motivated and being consistent with exercise is the biggest obstacle most people face on their journey to fitness. In this article, I’ll show you how to win that mental game. I’ll teach you how to develop a winning mindset that will help you overcome these obstacles and empower you to take control of your fitness.

Visualization Can Boost Strength and Function

Visualization (also called mental imagery) as a technique for performance enhancement has its roots in the 1984 Olympics, when Russian researchers found that Olympians who had employed visualization techniques performed better than those who didn’t.

Since then, visualization has been widely studied as a way of conditioning the brain for successful outcomes.

Visualization Benefits

Early studies focused mainly on performance enhancement for athletes, and scientists have now reached a consensus that mental imagery is effective for athletes of all disciplines and levels of experience, from bodybuilders to gymnasts and from novices to experts. 

One study published in The Sport Psychologist showed that just five minutes of visual mental practice resulted in significant improvements in overall performance for both experienced as well as novice gymnasts.

Another study found that people who visualized strength training workouts increased their strength by 13.5 percent.  By simply thinking about exercise, this group made almost half the gains seen by the group that actually exercised!

The power of visualization or mental imagery isn’t just for athletes. Over the last two decades, much work has been done demonstrating the effectiveness of mental practice for retraining function in older adults and people with physical disabilities like chronic pain, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries.

One study showed that people aged 65–85 improved their performance on an indoor obstacle course with just a single session of mental imagery training.

How is visualization such a powerful tool? Here’s what happens: when you visualize or imagine successful performance, you actually stimulate the same parts of the brain as when you physically perform that action.

Additionally, visualizing successful performance can improve confidence, which can positively impact actual performance. One study demonstrated that mental imagery improved the confidence (related to feeling “psyched up” or energized) of participants during strength training, and this was associated with a higher performance during exercise.

With this in mind, I recommend that you visualize the successful performance of physical activities for five minutes a day. I’ve found the best time to do this is while you’re lying in bed before sleeping at night or after waking up in the morning. Don’t worry that you haven’t learned the actual exercises yet. For now, you can just visualize yourself performing any physical activities you enjoy.

Guided Visualization Script

Listening to this script may be helpful. You could record yourself reading it out loud, then playback the recording when you practice visualization. 

Get into a comfortable position, away from any distractions. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Take about a minute to breathe a little deeper and a little slower than you normally would.

Trace the movement of the breath through your body. Follow it all the way to your belly and back up, releasing any worries, stress, or tension you may feel. With each breath, relax a little deeper.

As you continue to relax and breathe, imagine yourself physically active and doing something you love, as though you were watching yourself on a movie screen. This can be an activity from the past or present.

Notice whether you’re indoors or outdoors, by yourself or with others. See your entire body move with grace and ease and also notice the expression on your face. Is it one of joy? Determination? Focus?

Now shift your perspective by stepping into the image of yourself on that movie screen so that you’re now entirely inside your body looking out.

Notice what it feels like to be moving freely with an abundance of energy. Give yourself permission to dream, to push beyond any boundaries or limitations. What are the sensations, feelings, and emotions that are present and alive for you as you do this?

Imagine that a dial, like a volume knob on a stereo system, appears in front of you. Turn the dial up a little and notice how it increases the brightness of your surroundings and how your positive sensations and feelings intensify along with it.

Turn that dial all the way up and notice how it also makes your body stronger, boosts your energy, and leaves you radiating with the most incredible sensations and feelings.

Now imagine that you’re surrounded by the most important people from your past, present, and future. Imagine them cheering for you and encouraging you on your journey toward health, wellness, and improved physical function.

Open your hands and your heart to receive their love, joy, and encouragement. Deeply feel what it’s like for your body to receive this gift.

Bring your attention back to your breath.

As you breathe, know that you can take with you the gifts you’ve just received. When you’re ready, wiggle your fingers and toes, open your eyes, and bring yourself back to the present.

Don’t worry if you find visualization difficult at first. With practice, you can visualize with more vividness and detail.

Visualization is a powerful tool for boosting strength and function even without exercising. Start today and commit to sticking with it for five minutes daily. In the next chapter, I’ll show you how to make exercise a habit with three powerful techniques.

Action Steps

Record yourself reading the guided visualization script so you can play it back to yourself. 

Spend five minutes daily listening to the guided visualization while you’re in bed before sleeping or in the morning after waking up. Start today and notice any changes physically, emotionally, and mentally over the next week.

Three Powerful Techniques to Make Exercise a Habit

For most people, being consistent with an exercise program is challenging. Even though you know you should exercise and you need exercise, it’s not always easy to get yourself to do it. 

Common complaints I hear from older adults are “I don’t like to exercise because it doesn’t feel comfortable” or “I feel too tired to exercise.” Getting fit and staying fit is not a comfortable endeavour—remember that “good pain” we talked about?—and it can be difficult to be consistent with a program when you’re feeling tired.

So how do we get ourselves to exercise consistently even when we’re feeling tired and would rather relax than break a sweat? The answer is to make exercise a habit—a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur without much thinking. In other words, something that you do almost automatically.

Research shows that it takes on average two months to form a habit. The fact that it takes this length of time makes forming a habit more easily said than done because we’re now dealing with the chicken-and-egg problem: you have to exercise consistently for two months to make it a habit, but it’s difficult to exercise consistently unless it’s already a habit. 

Which comes first? Luckily, you don’t have to solve this problem because the three techniques I’m about to show you will make exercise a habit in a snap.

Technique 1: Habit Stacking

One of the easiest ways to build a new habit is with a technique called habit stacking, which is the idea of attaching a habit you want to acquire to a habit you already have.

This works because the old habit is already built into your brain. By mentally linking the old habit with the new habit of exercise, the old habit becomes a trigger that reminds you it’s time to exercise.

The formula for habit stacking is simple: before/after <existing habit>, I will <new habit>. Print this statement out in big letters and post it in prominent places throughout your house. For example, you can make signs using the statement “Before breakfast and lunch, I will exercise,” and place it in obvious spots in the bedroom, restroom, living room, and kitchen. 

The trick to making habit stacking work is to have these multiple reminders in places where you can easily see them.

While you can stack your new habit of exercise with any current habit that you perform daily, I’ve found that stacking exercise with meals works great; you’ll be exercising twice daily and most people have at least two meals a day. 

It can be before breakfast and lunch, before lunch and dinner, or before breakfast and dinner. It doesn’t matter which meals you combine with exercise, so choose what works best for you.

The purpose of habit stacking is to remind you to exercise. But if we stopped here, few people would actually take action and start exercising when they’re supposed to. The second technique is designed to help you overcome this obstacle.

Technique 2: Conditioned Cues

While habit stacking will remind you when to exercise, conditioned cues will help you take action. Conditioned cues are triggers that flip a switch in your head to “go”—in this case, to begin your workout.

The cues are unique to each person; experiment to discover what works best for you. It could be a specific song, the smell of fresh ground coffee beans, the sensation of cold water splashing on your face, or anything else you can think of that gets you pumped up and energized to exercise. 

Personally, I’ve found that the trick to making conditioned cues work, besides being something that gets you psyched up, is to use something that you have to physically do when it’s time for exercise. 

For example, it’s better to push a button on an electronic device to turn on a song that gets you pumped up than to set an alarm that turns the song on automatically. It’s even better if you have to get up from your chair, go to the kitchen sink, and splash cold water on your face because now you’re taking even more action. 

Remember, conditioned cues are triggers that flip a switch in your head to “go” and begin your workout. The idea is that the more action you take as part of your conditioned cue, the more likely you’ll begin to exercise. To remind yourself to perform your conditioned cue, write down the action you will take below your habit stacking statement on the signs you’ve made.

Even after you’ve taken action and launched your conditioned cue, you may still feel a lack of motivation to exercise. The third technique is designed to get you over this final hurdle.

Technique 3: Intrinsic Reward Statements

Psychologists have found that intrinsic rewards, such as the sense of accomplishment we feel from achieving a personal goal, are more powerful motivators than external rewards like money, power, fame, or avoiding consequences.

Thus, reminding yourself of the intrinsic rewards you get from exercise will boost your motivation when it’s time to work out. The key to intrinsic rewards is to notice what is internally rewarding when you have great workouts and create a “reward statement” that makes the connection between these two things. 

For example, you might notice that you feel really tired and sluggish before exercise but energized and clear-headed afterwards, or that you tend to feel unmotivated when it’s time to exercise but pumped up once you get started. These positive changes are the building blocks of your reward statement.

It may take a bit of experimentation to pinpoint exactly what makes exercise an agreeable experience for you and to create a positive statement based on it. Here are some examples of intrinsic reward statements:

  • My mind feels energized and my body feels relaxed after exercise.
  • I love challenging my body with exercise to see what I can achieve.
  • Once I get started with exercise, I feel pumped up and I don’t want to stop.

After you’ve crafted your intrinsic reward statement, use it to motivate yourself to work out when the time comes. Do this by repeating the statement to yourself, out loud, a few times right after you’ve launched your conditioned cue. 

You may find that simply saying these words out loud does not provide the boost needed to get you fully fired up for exercise. To get the full effect, you need to put a ton of passion into saying your statement while also getting your body involved. 

For example, you would stand with your chest open, chin lifted, and hands up and opened in front of you, and say with passion, “My mind feels energized and my body feels relaxed after exercise.” Research shows that changing your posture in such a way boosts the testosterone level in your body, just like exercise does.

By putting a ton of passion into saying your intrinsic reward statement while also getting your body involved, you can actually alter your body chemistry to more closely match your state during exercise. As a result, you will be mentally, emotionally, and physically primed for exercise. 

To remind yourself to perform your intrinsic reward statement, write it down below your conditioned cue on the signs you’ve made. You’ve seen in this chapter that habit stacking, conditioned cues, and intrinsic reward statements give you a powerful set of tools to form good exercise habits. In the next chapter, I’ll show you how to get in the zone with exercise by setting “micro-goals.”

Action Steps

Decide which existing habit you would like to stack with exercise. Create at least three signs with large letters using the formula: Before/after <existing habit>, I will exercise.

Find an effective conditioned cue that will help you flip that switch to begin your workout. It could be a specific song, the smell of fresh ground coffee beans, the sensation of cold water splashing on your face, or anything else that gets you pumped up and energized to exercise. Once you’ve decided on your conditioned cue, write it down on the signs below your habit stacking statement.

Think about what is internally rewarding when you have great workouts, and create a statement that makes the connection between the action and the reward. Once you’ve crafted your intrinsic reward statement, write it down on the signs below your conditioned cue.

Place the signs you’ve created in prominent places throughout your house. Practice performing habit stacking, conditioned cues, and intrinsic reward statements in order a few times, and observe what happens mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Get in the Zone by Setting “Micro-Goals”

Also known as flow, the “zone” is a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in an activity. This state is associated with a feeling of energized focus, enjoyment of the activity, and a change in the sense of time.

Getting in the zone can make exercise feel less daunting, help the workout pass more quickly, and even turn it into something to look forward to.

So how do you get in the zone with exercise? First, it helps to know that you have a choice about where you place your thoughts during exercise and that your thought patterns can make exercise seem easier or harder. 

If your thoughts are in the future and focused on how much work you still have left to do, exercise will seem harder. On the other hand, if your thoughts are in the present and focused on the process of your workout, as it unfolds, it will seem easier.

Once you know this choice exists, you can choose to keep your thoughts in the present by setting micro-goals. Micro-goals are exactly as they sound: smaller goals within bigger goals.

Endurance athletes, like marathon runners, use micro-goals all the time, whether they know it or not. Running a 26-mile marathon while thinking “I’ve still got 20 miles to go” can have a detrimental effect on performance because the mind is in the future. 

To stay in the present, marathon runners frequently set micro-goals by dividing the race into six smaller races that are each four miles long, with a two-mile bonus round at the end, for example. These smaller goals are much easier for the mind to digest, and they help the runner get in the zone during a race.

You may not be a marathon runner, but you can also set micro-goals to get in the zone during exercise. For example, the idea of performing 15 repetitions of an exercise would be harder for your mind to digest than performing 5 repetitions three times. You could break the 5 repetitions down even further by doing an “easy three” and a “quick two” and repeating that three times. 

How much easier does that sound than counting straight to 15 repetitions? There’s no rule for how to break the exercise down into smaller chunks. Find what works for you, and then focus solely on making it to that smaller goal. Then set another one. Then another.

Set micro-goals during exercise to keep your thoughts present and focused on the process of your workout as it unfolds. By doing this, you’ll get in the zone, and exercise will seem easier and go by quicker.

In the next chapter, I’ll show you how to overcome negative bias to stay motivated with exercise.

Action Steps

Experiment with micro-goals by performing a simple exercise, such as bending and straightening your elbows. Try performing 15 repetitions of this exercise by counting straight to 15. Next, try counting an “easy three” and a “quick two” and repeating that set three times. 

Although you performed a total of 15 repetitions both times, you may notice that setting micro-goals made exercise seem easier and go by faster.

Overcome Negative Bias and Stay Motivated

As humans, we tend to pay more attention to negative experiences than to positive or neutral ones. We often focus on the negative things even when they’re insignificant or inconsequential, making them seem much more important than they really are.

Psychologists refer to this as “negative bias,” and it can have a powerful effect on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. One theory on why humans concentrate on the bad things and overlook the good things is that it may simply be the brain’s way of keeping us safe.

Earlier in human history, threats from the outside world were literally a matter of life or death. Those individuals who were more attuned to danger or who paid more attention to the bad things around them were more likely to survive. 

However, unlike our ancestors, we no longer need to constantly be on high alert to survive, so this hard-wired tendency is not as useful as it once was. In fact, our brain’s well-intentioned tendency to overemphasize the negative can be counterproductive to our goals. Fortunately, we can overcome our brain’s negative bias so we can stay motivated and consistent with exercise.

How to Overcome Negative Bias

The first thing you can do to overcome negative bias is to become aware of any negative internal dialogue and replace it with positive self-talk. Start paying attention to the type of thoughts that run through your mind. 

If you notice negative thoughts about exercise, stop them immediately and replace them with a positive affirmation. Imagine you catch yourself thinking “I don’t feel like exercising today.” You can stop that thought and replace it with “I always feel great after exercise.” If your brain is telling you “I’m feeling tired,” you can replace that thought with “Exercise energizes me.” 

The key is to stop the negative self-talk as soon as you catch it and immediately replace it with positive self-talk that resonates with you. The second thing you can do to overcome negative bias is to give extra attention to the good things that happen during exercise or as a result of exercise. 

Because negative experiences are more easily stored in your long-term memory, you need to make more effort to remember positive experiences. So when something good happens during or because of exercise, take a moment to really focus on it.

Replay the moment several times in your mind, and notice the wonderful feelings the memory evokes. In other words, celebrate it. For example, if you notice that you were able to push out one additional repetition of an exercise than in a previous session, celebrate it. If you notice yourself getting up from a chair more easily because you’re getting stronger with exercise, take a moment to celebrate it. 

On the other hand, if you didn’t improve, or maybe even went backwards a little on your performance compared with a previous session—as sometimes happens—take note of it, and then shift your attention to one of the good results of exercise instead.

Why You Should Focus on Positive Self-Talk

Research in the workplace shows that when the ratio of positive and negative interactions is about five to one, people feel motivated to continue doing what they’re doing well and do it with more vigour and determination.

Psychologist John Gottman found something similar in the domestic setting: the single biggest determinant of whether a relationship endures is the ratio of positive to negative comments the partners make to one another—the optimal ratio being five positive comments for every negative one.

Clearly, in both work and life, positive and negative experiences have an important impact on success or failure. Imagine what we can achieve by changing our relationship with exercise from a negative to a positive one!

By replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk and by giving extra attention to the good things that result from exercise, you will overcome your brain’s negative bias so you can stay motivated and be more consistent with exercise.

Action Steps

Pay attention to the type of thoughts that run through your mind over the next 24 hours, and keep track of how many are positive and how many are negative. Is the ratio of positive to negative self-talk anywhere close to five to one? You can do this assessment with any thoughts, not just those related to exercise.

See what changes mentally, emotionally, and physically when you improve the ratio of positive to negative self-talk over the next 24 hours. You can do this by catching negative self-talk and replacing it with positive self-talk and by giving extra attention to good things that happen throughout your day. Apply what you learn from this to exercise.

Do You Have to Take Supplements With Exercise?

Some people might use natural fat burners as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle to increase metabolism or decrease appetite. When combined with a healthy diet, it will further increase the loss of excess body fat – and may also have other beneficial effects.

Resurge is of the most popular weight loss supplements that promise to help you shed pounds and sleep better. Because studies have shown that sleep deprivation is associated with deficiencies of growth hormone and elevated levels of cortisol, both of which contribute to obesity.

While other supplements promote nutritional factors, meal replacement forms, appetite suppression, or similar effects, Resurge boosts your body’s metabolism by increasing your core temperature. However, before making any purchases, you might want to read some Resurge reviews because the supplement industry is rife with scams.

Besides, it should be noted that supplements are ineffective on their own and are hardly a solution to obesity. Pills or supplements only work when combined with a healthy weight-loss diet and regular exercise.

In any case, it’s always best to talk with your doctor before you start taking a supplement, especially if you are taking medications or have any health concerns.

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