Strong motivation is essential in building health and fitness. In fact, the Latin root of the word 'motivation' actually means 'to move'.
This article helps you to acquire the drive to achieve your fitness goals with quick and effective techniques that build sustained motivation.
Visualise where you want to be
What is it that you want to achieve?
Motivating yourself to get fit takes more than visualising the new you, in fact, studies show that simply envisaging your goals may make you feel better about yourself, but won't do much to help you realise those goals (1) (2).
Whilst visualisation can help develop a positive attitude, this is only part of what it takes to be successful. This visualisation is your overall goal, what you want to achieve. Now you need to figure out how you're going to get there...
Create your fitness plan
How are you going to achieve your goals?
Procrastinators are frequently put off starting certain activities because they're overwhelmed by the size of the job in front of them. You might know what you're working towards but if you're not sure how you're going to achieve it then it's likely that you'll not make much progress.
Many people hit the gym two or three times a week, throw some weights around with neither rhyme nor reason and get disillusioned when they're not cover model material when the month's out.
...but you're different. You recognise that you need a plan.
- Your goals are clear, measureable and time-bound
- Your task is less daunting and more granular
- You have something more concrete to work towards and track against
- You've intelligently devised what you're going to do in order to meet your goals
Ambiguity and obscurity are cast aside for clarity and focus and suddenly it's clear what you have to do.
Consider reading how to create a fitness plan for more information.
Monitor progress and adapt your plan
How are you progressing and what should change?
Monitoring progress toward your aims is essential for motivation because it allows you to see that you're improving and moving towards your goal. As progress is incremental rather than immediate it can sometimes pass you by without noticing.
Try documenting everything in a training journal like weight, diet, exercises, reps, sets, distance, mood, energy... Not only will you be able to see progress but you'll be able to make informed judgements on what to change in your training regime and identify areas for improvement.
See the Fitstream article on maintaining a training journal and download our template for tracking your workouts.
Share your goals
Sharing fitness goals with friends, family and colleagues increases the likelihood of meeting the goals according to studies (3).
Not only can your friends provide much-needed help and support but you're also publicly throwing down the gauntlet and the reluctance to share potential failure with others can be a strong motivational strategy.
Make sure people know what it is you are working towards and publicly share your tracking system against targets.
Focus on the benefits of change
It's important to keep a positive state of mind and focus on the benefits of what you want to achieve and not the negative aspects of failure.
Remind yourself how much better life will be for you and those around you once you achieve your aim, instead of how failure to change will affect you. For example, if trying to lose weight, successful people might focus on how good they'll look at the end of it, rather than on how unhappy they'll be if the continue to put on weight.
Focusing on the positive outcomes of your fitness training encourages you to look forward to the future, so define at least three benefits and write them down in your journal.
Mentally, a positive, 'never gunna quit' approach to your help and fitness is essential, but keeping yourself motivated by simply imagining that success is right around the corner can be dangerously demotivating.
Losing weight and building muscle are two common goals, but these require hard work, commitment and perseverance. Fitness pursuits aren't short term missions. Unrealistic expectations may spike your initial interest enough to don the joggers, but long term it's a motivation killer as you become disillusioned with slow progress.
It's best to lose the false hope, accept the difficulty of physical change and set about the path with a more realistic approach.
Reward your progress
To keep yourself motivated with your fitness training you should build in rewards as you meet goals. Rewards don't have to be anything big and shouldn't conflict with the goal itself (like not eating your bodyweight in biscuits for hitting a weight-loss milestone!).
Also, try rewarding postives instead of the negatives. Instead of aiming for weight loss (measuring the negative), reward and measure positives such as how many workouts you've accomplished, or healthy meals you've consumed for the week.
This is a more realistic way to measure improvements, as weight loss can be difficult to reward due to slow, unpredictable progress.
Attaching rewards to goals gives you something to look forward to and provides a sense of achievement, that helps motivate you for that next big milestone.
Taking a break
Working towards challenging fitness goals can be a tough and relentless pursuit, so it's important to take a break from training and unwind at times. Not only can overtraining be damaging to your body, but psychologically you risk turning the whole pursuit into a miserable task and will reduce your motivation levels.
Summary of how to build motivation
Meeting your fitness goals is largely to do with mental attitude, which boils down to motivation. Your motivation level determines your persistence in the face of obstacles when training. Your resolve is put to the test when training, and it's your commitment to goals that will determine if you get out of bed for that run in the morning, or summon the energy for that extra set when weight training.
To help meet your fitness aims and keep you motivated we've defined six key steps;
- defining what you want to achieve,
- planning how you're going to do it,
- recording progress,
- telling people about it,
- focusing on the benefits of change and
- rewarding yourself as you hit goals.
- L.B. Pham and S. E. Taylor (1999). ‘From Thought to Action: Effects of Process- Versus Outcome-Based Mental Simulations on Performance’. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, pages 250-260.
- G. Oettingen and T A. Wadden (1991). ‘Expectation, Fantasy, and Weight Loss: Is the Impact of Positive Thinking Always Positve?’. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 15, pages 167-75.
- M. Deutsch and H. B. Gerard (1955). ‘A Study of Normative and Information Social Influences Upon Individual Judgement’. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, pages 629-36.