No one ever thinks being obese is better than being a healthy weight. Everyone knows what a pushup is and that walking around the block is good for you. So why is it that so many of us do not maintain a healthy weight and will not walk around the corner or do a pushup to address it? It’s because for people starting out or returning to it, physical activity sucks. Let’s just be honest with ourselves. Most of the immediate feedback associated with new physical activity is negative. How many of us can relate to these statements?
- “Physically exerting myself doesn’t feel good and often hurts.”
- “I’m so out of shape that I’m embarrassed to go into the gym.”
- “I look terrible in my workout clothes.”
- “I’m going to be so sore tomorrow that I won’t be able to get out of bed.”
- “I have to take care of (insert any other responsibility) first.”
- “I’m too tired.”
- “I’d rather be doing something else.”
Most of us, regardless of level of physical activity, can relate to all of these statements. We’ve put together a list of dos and don’ts to make exercising suck less and to help you get back on track to being a healthier you.
Physical activity is key to long productive life, but when starting out it takes 30, 60, or even 90 days to see the benefits. Most of the immediate feedback is painful. So how do we encourage ourselves to stick with it? By doing the same things we do with children when they accomplish something as simple as eating their vegetables. Immediately reward ourselves with healthy, and positive reinforcement.
Your exercise routine should work for you. Make a habit of working out first thing in the morning or on Mondays, as these tactics are more successful in the long run. Your routine should be simple enough so it’s easy to accomplish. When you start accomplishing your goals, it builds momentum to reach your next goal.
By rewarding yourself immediately after completing an activity, your brain subconsciously correlates the reward with the actual act of working out. This improves the effectiveness of the reward and makes it more likely that the reward will influence future behavior.
Despite the fact that the rewards of looking better, feeling better, and living longer are some of the most fulfilling rewards you could ever receive, it’s often hard to mentally connect completed actions to rewards that have not yet materialized. As a result, it’s easy to give up or get distracted before your body delivers these ultimate rewards.
Make the rewards meaningful to you. Some people just need a “Good job.” Others need acknowledgement from their peers, family, or friends. Still, some respond best to something tangible. It could be a new pair of running socks, a Fitbit, or the Ab Carver Pro.
Rewards don’t have to be large to be effective. In fact, large rewards can actually hinder long-term progress because the task becomes overly associated with the big prize. Once that prize is obtained, the motivation to continue the desired behavior dissipates. Verbal reaffirmation or rewarding yourself with a small but meaningful gift is often all that is needed.
Don’t scoff at the power of “gamification.” Many people think that motivation comes only from within and that someone who can’t stick with their exercise plan is either lazy, not dedicated, or not disciplined. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, however, 78% of people do not have sufficient internal motivation to stick with exercise long enough to see the health benefits. Most of us need an external nudge or motivation.
In addition to different classes of rewards, provide variety within the realms of your rewards. For example, one week provide yourself with a dessert, and the next week with a more tangible product - something you’ve had your eye on for a while.
We tend to make things more complex than they need to be. Stick with rewarding the things that matter. Focus on changing only key behaviors, not all behaviors.
Focus on rewarding behavior when it comes to lifestyle changes. In most aspects of our lives we focus- often rightly- on outcomes. We give bonuses for job performance and prizes to people who achieve certain results. However, when we are trying to change ingrained behaviors for ourselves, we need to reward the behavior that will lead to long-term success. Don’t reward yourself after losing 25 pounds. Reward yourself after you’ve gone for a walk every day for 5 days in a row.
Rewards resonate differently depending on the person. Some like the spirit of competition or winning “stuff.” Others like public support and recognition while private, individual feedback works for others. A great rewards-based physical health system can motivate individuals across the feedback spectrum. The key is having diversity of rewards while focusing all the rewards on changing your key behaviors that lead to success.
More expert advice about Fitness and Exercise
Photo Credits: © Daddy Cool - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com