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How to Motivate Yourself to Exercise: 6 Tips You've Never Heard Of

The most popular day to exercise is “tomorrow.”  Motivating yourself to exercise is, for most of us, an ongoing project.  But even if your favorite curls are the cheese kind, here are 6 tips you’ve never heard of to get you moving.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
May 30, 2014
Episode #021

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We know the classic tips: find a workout partner so you’re accountable, make your intentions known so you feel social pressure, set a deadline like running a 5K or your 20th reunion.  Now, it’s not to say that these tips don’t work; they do.  It’s just that we’ve heard them before. 

So how about 6 tips you’ve never heard of?  Read on to get a running start.

Tip #1: Remember a good exercise experience.

A brand new 2014 study found that you can use memory to enhance motivation.  Study participants who described a positive exercise memory were not only more motivated to exercise, they actually exercised more over the next week than those who weren’t prompted to remember. 

So stash your medal from the 5K when you ran your personal record with your exercise clothes, pack your power walking playlist with songs from the wedding where you danced all night, or tape a picture of the view from the summit of your favorite hike next to your boots.  The good memories may pave the way to a good sweat.

Tip #2: Don’t aim to “exercise,” instead, play a sport.

A 2005 study found that when participants were asked about reasons for playing a sport, they thought of intrinsic reasons, like enjoyment and challenge.  Reasons to “exercise,” however, were extrinsic and focused on things like appearance, weight, and stress management. 

Psychology 101 will tell you intrinsic motivation makes you more likely to start and stick with a new habit.   So sign up for softball, join the masters’ swim team, play ultimate Frisbee, or simply tweak your mindset: your Saturday afternoon bike ride suddenly becomes the sport of cycling.

Tip #3: Don’t work out next to the fittest person at the gym.

A creative 2007 study examined how your fellow gym-goers affect your workout.  Researchers hung out around the lateral pull-down machine at a college gym.  When a woman started using it, a super-fit female confederate started using the next machine over.  Half the time, she wore a tank top and shorts.  The other half of the time, she wore workout pants with extra thigh padding and a baggy sweatshirt.  In a third control condition, the confederate didn’t work out at all. 

What happened?  Women working out next to the tank top used their machine for a shorter amount of time than the other two conditions.  And, when researchers later approached and asked women to take a short survey, they reported lower body satisfaction scores.  By contrast, women working out next to the baggy sweatshirt exercised longer and didn’t suffer the same hit to body image

What does this mean for women?  Run on a treadmill behind a 19-year-old in size 0 booty shorts and you’ll probably leave sooner and feel bad about yourself.  Run on a treadmill behind a normal-looking person and you’ll likely leave after a good workout with your body image intact.

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