An article on Huffington Post this week discussed the #1 reason why most resolutions fail; people set unrealistic goals.
When I was overweight I had the same problem. My goal for years was to "lose 50 pounds." Well, the years passed and I never lost a pound. Then, one day, I just decided to stop eating fast food. Then I quit drinking calories (I drank a lot of coffee with sugar/creamer and coke!) Then I started working out a few times a week. Two years later I was down those 50 pounds. When I started making one small change at a time, it ended up leading to a really huge transformation.
So how do you set realistic goals? Set SMART goals and follow these 10 tips!
1. Realize this is for the rest of your life – not a temporary solution! It's always surprising to me when I find people starting to exercise and treating it as though it will be a temporary state. Being fit is a way of life! Don't start exercising under the assumption you can do it for a few months, get the results you want, and then stop. Enter into this new phase of your life with the understanding that it is a permanent life change.
2. Embrace the positive psychology movement: Focus on the benefits of working out, how great you feel and the energy you have. Don’t ever use exercise as punishment or you will start to avoid it! Make a list of all the things you love about working out: how you feel, the confidence you get, the energy you have, the results you see from weight loss and muscle gain. Keep that list posted somewhere and pull it out often!
3. Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. Don’t just say “I want to work out more.” You need to pick a specific goal (like a 5k) and create a plan to get there (like this great training plan from Hal Higdon!) Don't say "I want to lose 50 pounds" say "I want to cut 300 calories a day to lose 2.5 pounds this month."
4. Keep an exercise journal/calendar. Having a visual record of my workouts has helped me in the past when I thought about skipping a workout and seeing the poor empty box on the calendar! Plus, it’s amazing to look at and see all the hard work you’ve done.
5. Use operant conditioning to reward yourself. The theory of operant conditioning is so simple: If you reward behavior it is far more likely to keep occurring. Don’t use food as a reward, ever. If your goal is a 5k, plan on buying a new outfit to run in the week of the race. If you just want to exercise 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week consider paying yourself to exercise. Keep an exercise jar at home and put $2 into it every time you complete a workout. Have a specific treat in mind you’d like to reward yourself with once you have enough money (like a heart rate monitor!)
6. Try new workouts! You need to keep things fresh or you will get bored. You also need to make sure your working out new muscle groups and don't do the same routines over and over. Some of my favorite free workouts:
- Hulu's Health/Wellness channels (hundreds of free workouts!)
7. Join an online community like SparkPeople, DietBet, or Challenge Loop! One of the most difficult things for me when I first started to lose weight was not having someone to share it with. Most of my friends weren't interested in exercising or eating right so I had no one to talk to about what I was going through. Joining sparkpeople helped connect me with people who were actually interested in sharing new healthy recipes or crazy challenging workouts.
8. Understand the incredible things exercise does for your mind and body. I'd say 50% of the reason why I exercise is mental. It's one of the best anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-stress medications.
9. Identify your excuses and create a plan of attack.
- No time? Wake up at 5 a.m.
- No money? Do a free workout online
- Too tired to work out? Get over it! A moderate amount of caffeine pre-workout is fine and imagine the rush you’ll get after releasing those endorphins!
10. AVOID 'Fitspiration.' Research is finding that it actually hurts weight loss efforts. It’s too easy to get caught up in the social comparison trap (more on that topic soon.) I tried to go on Pinterest to find motivational quotes to use here and all I found were pictures of supermodels with 8 packs that made me feel like the 6 miles I ran this morning wasn't adequate enough. Bump that. Inspire to be the best you that you can be. You are beautiful.
Want even more tips? I came across so many great articles researching this post:
- Lifehacker: How to motivate yourself into an exercise routine you'll actually stick to
- Girls Gone Sporty: 41 ways to motivate you to exercise
- Mental Health Foundation: Benefits of exercise on mental health
- American Psychological Association: The exercise effect
If you have any tips to staying motivated please share them! I promise once you make exercise a habit (give it about one month) it will become something you look forward to and you will start to see the most incredible positive changes in your life.
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What small change have you made that led to big results?