At Last! Exercise Motivation Tips That Really Work

Even when all you want to do is crash on the couch, these strategies will get you moving on your feet.

Everybody—even the most die-hard fitness fan—struggles at some point to get motivated to work out. Yes, some days the TV lineup or your Twitter feed can look more inviting than a treadmill or yoga mat, but don’t let yourself get sucked into the sofa cushions. Instead, muscle up that motivation with these five can-do strategies.

 

1. Do a mental dress rehearsal

Heard of visualization? It’s a technique pro athletes use to boost performance, but it can also make you more likely to work out. Just spend 10 minutes or so—at night if you’re a morning exerciser and in the morning if you exercise later in the day—running through your entire workout. If you’re a walker, for example, you might think about what hills and turns you’ll take, and at what spot you’ll speed up or try some intervals. If a group class is on the agenda, picture where you’ll stake out your spot and imagine your feet mastering a tricky combination of moves. “You’re strengthening neuropathways in the brain, which increases your likelihood of exercise,” says Kim Chronister, health psychologist and author of The Psychology Behind Fitness Motivation.

 

2. Try some retail therapy

“Studies show that what you wear greatly affects your performance,” Chronister says. The more you can dress the part, after all, the more you’ll want to “be” the part. So treat yourself to some new fitness gear, like a super-comfy pair of sneakers or a jacket that’s perfect for chilly morning walks. Time to go shopping!

 

3. Find the fun

Perhaps it’s a no-brainer, but if you don’t like what you’re doing, you probably won’t do it. That’s particularly true with exercise. Don’t force yourself into the latest workout craze or take up a workout just because your friends are doing it. Instead, find something you enjoy—maybe it’s dancing, cycling, or stand-up paddleboarding—and enjoy the sweat that comes along with it.

 

4. Be consistent

The more consistent you are with your workouts, the more exercise will feel like second nature. “By being consistent—doing a minimum of three workouts a week without skipping any—you build new dopamine receptors in the brain,” Chronister says. Dopamine makes you feel rewarded, and it can make your brain actually crave exercise. Commit to your workouts for just a few short weeks, and soon they’ll become habitual. And on those days when you are battling the urge to quit early, bargain with yourself: Tell yourself that you’ll stop after 10 more minutes. It’s likely those exercise endorphins will kick in and show you that you don’t want to hit the shower just yet.

 

5. Treat yourself

With a “prize” at the end, exercise suddenly seems more fun. Treat yourself at least once a week to something that doesn’t deter your diet or fitness program. Something like a new workout shirt, a new app or download, a long bath, or a night out at the movies.

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