One of the biggest barriers to engaging with a lifelong fitness plan for so many people is figuring out how to stick with a commitment to fitness over the long term. Though getting started on a new fitness program is challenging, staying with it after the newness wears off is even more challenging. This is true for so many people, from the passionate rock climber who wishes to improve at climbing to the now-and-again yoga student who wants to make yoga practice a regular part of their world, but struggles when push comes to shove to make it onto the mat for classes on a weekly or even monthly basis. To make matters worse, missing one workout or class can lead to a domino effect as a cascade of negative self-judgement turns into a reason to disengage entirely from the once-regular (or semi-regular) workouts that marked the start of the recommitment to fitness. And, the more times a person misses, the more negative that person tends to become about their fitness, and the harder it becomes to reengage and try to get back into a workout routine again.
At this point, the honeymoon period is over, and the real work begins.
Instead of deciding that you’re an utter failure for missing so many climbing days, training sessions, yoga classes, or whatever fitness activity you’ve been missing out on that you were once more committed to, decide to work on discovering what works for you and your style of training. Here are 10 hints and suggestions to help you find a more permanent path to fitness, one that may be more sustainable in the big picture.
- Start small. Instead of deciding you’re going to work out 5 days a week for a minimum of one hour, try for 2 or 3 days per week for a minimum of 10 minutes. One of the biggest reasons people stop pursuing fitness is that they try to start out with too much, too soon. This is great way to get exhausted, injured, and burnt out.
- Look at your calendar and schedule in your fitness activities the same way you would schedule in important work meetings or other life events. Make a commitment to yourself – you are worth it! Don’t let other life obligations rob you of the chance to be a healthy, fit individual.
- Choose fitness activities that you don’t dread, especially to start your workout. If you hate a certain lift or exercise, don’t begin your workout with that (unless getting it over with right away gives you a certain sense of satisfaction!). Start with something that is relatively easy, like a brisk walk for 5 minutes, some jumping jacks, cat-cows, or sun salutations.
- About that first 5 minutes – one of the easiest ways I find to get myself to start a workout that I don’t feel that into doing is to tell myself I only need to work out for 5 minutes, and then if I’m not into it, I can stop. More often than not, I continue with the rest of the workout. Be aware that starting a workout is often the hardest part of the whole workout. If you can get yourself over the starting point, after 5 minutes of physical activity you might find that you are much more motivated to continue with the rest of your plan.
- If you do stop your workout after 5 or 10 minutes, don’t label yourself a failure – consider it a success that you worked out at all. Doing a little bit of something that’s physically challenging is better than doing absolutely nothing.
- If you’re trying to add in a training or personal practice component to an activity that you do enjoy, but you’re struggling with it, choose one small aspect of the activity and make a commitment to train or practice that for the next month for a short, concise session once or twice a week. Set aside 5 minutes and do it. Examples of this: for climbing, doing three sets of pull-ups (or one set); for yoga, choosing one pose you like, warm up with some cat-cows, and then work on the pose until your time is up.
- Sign up for a class or training sessions, and pay in advance. Commit to yourself and commit to the class or training sessions, knowing that you forfeit the money if you don’t show up. Otherwise it becomes easy to bow out on a day-to-day basis and to make up an excuse each day or week that you don’t attend as to why you can’t go this week, but you’ll go next week.
- If #7 isn’t enough to push you into sticking with it, sign up with a friend and/or make a standing fitness date with a friend/exercise partner to be there at the same time, same day, every week. You’re less likely to let the commitment go as easily if someone else’s fitness program is interlinked with your own, and a partner can help you stay motivated and help you push harder during the workout/class, too.
- Play music that you like to add pep and vigor to your workout, but try to stay engaged wholly in the workout – don’t put your body on a treadmill and engage your mind with a book or television show. Keep your workouts mindful and pay attention to what’s going on with your body while you work out. Be fully present and make workouts a time when you are fully present and committed to your whole-being health, not distracted by a media barrage. This is your time for you.
- If you truly hate what you’re doing to work out, seek out ways to change this. It may take you months or years to find activities that actually motivate and inspire you to stick with them. Don’t give up; there are so many paths to fitness out there! Learn what your community offers and approach each activity with an open mind. You might be surprised to discover what you love is something you never even thought of doing and that you don’t think you’d like. I had no interest in rock climbing at all before the first day I finally got talked into trying it. Little did I know that it would become a major part of my lifelong journey!