How to stay motivated [Translation: whatever works].

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 07/22/14 •  4 min read

Ever notice how little motivation you need to do something you love?

That’s how it is with me and skiing. This past season I skied 85 days — a personal record — and as you can probably guess, it was not a problem. Each time I skied, I did it with joy in my heart. But during the rest of the year, getting myself to swim, bike, or work out at the gym can be a little more difficult.

Which leads me to today’s topic: Motivation. Because sometimes it’s hard to get off your butt and get yourself in gear.

What is it that makes that happen? Me, I’m pretty disciplined. I work out probably five days a week. And yeah, it’s not always easy. But two things keep me going:

1) Ski season and 2) my parents.

The first is easy to figure out. I stay in shape the rest of the year so I won’t fall apart next time I click on my skis. I want to be ready as soon as the snow flies, and working out is the best way to make that happen.

My parents, looking pretty good for 85 and 91.

My parents, looking pretty good for 85 and 91.


The second, well, you have to know my mom and dad. I’m at the age where a lot of my friends’ folks are either doing poorly or have passed away. Fortunately, my mom and dad, ages 85 and 91 respectively, are doing extremely well. Why? Part of it is just either just plain luck or good genes. They’ve avoided cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers, all the awful stuff that’s hit a lot of their contemporaries. But it could also be because they make physical activity (and eating right) a priority. They do something active every day. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme — they’ve never gone for that — just something as simple as walking. I look at them and it seems like a no brainer. After all, you can’t argue with success.

But that’s my motivation. It’s personal, and it isn’t necessarily the same as yours. It works for me, and that’s what counts.

Still, getting started and sticking to an exercise program requires a particular mindset. I’ve been doing some reading about this lately, and here are a few tips I thought I’d pass on:

1) Set a realistic goal: If you’re a recreational swimmer who swims laps a few days a week, chances are your routine isn’t going to lead to your swimming the English Channel. Recognize this. Embrace it. Figure out, realistically, what you want exercise to do for you. Do you want to lose weight? Improve muscle tone? Sleep better at night? What goal makes the most sense for you? Then work toward it.

2) Make it convenient: If you work 60 hours a week and have a family and need time to grocery shop, cook meals, clean the house, etc., making time to exercise can be challenging. Be sure to set a goal you can live with. Instead of saying you’ll work out every day, set a schedule that’s more in keeping with your lifestyle. Maybe you can’t work out five times a week, but you can work out twice. Maybe you can leave the house extra early one day a week and fit it in then. Maybe you can just resolve to take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park the car a bit farther from the door. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something you can live with.

3) Don’t expect perfection: It’s okay if you don’t break any records. Accept that you’re not Serena Williams or Diana Nyad or anyone like that. Few of us are. Whatever you do is fine. Just move.

4) Don’t compare yourself to others: This goes along with the above. Just do what you can, and stop looking at the ultra-fit woman next to you in spin class. At least you’re out there. In the words of Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” S’okay.

5) Make it fun. Seriously, this is so basic that it hardly needs stating. But if your exercise routine consists of something you dread, you’re never going to do it. So find something you like. Change your routine. Work out with a friend. Play some music. Anything. Boredom is an exercise killer. Don’t invite it in.

6) Get support: Nothing kills a workout more than a friend/family member/significant other who isn’t behind you. You don’t need to hear, “Why are you going to work out? Let’s hit the bar instead.” Rather, you need someone who takes your workout as seriously as you do; someone who gets behind you and provides you with encouragement. Because really, don’t we all need a cheering section?

Now excuse me. I have to go work out. Don’t you?



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