Working out isn't fun for everyone, especially during the first few weeks of a new program. So how do you stay committed if you aren't enjoying the process? According to Richard M. Ryan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Rochester in New York who has studied motivation for more than 20 years, you need to find ways to make the experience positive and fulfilling. "Some people approach exercise with a 'work' mentality," says Ryan, who has conducted research on motivation for more than 20 years. "They do it because they 'have to' or 'should,' not because they get pleasure from it." Ultimately, such people are unlikely to continue, he says.
Ditto for those of us who exercise purely for "external" reasons like looking better in a bikini, studies show. You're more apt to persist if you're doing it for "internal" reasons such as feeling strong or gaining confidence. "Exercising for the sole purpose of losing weight or getting into a swimsuit usually doesn't work," Ryan says. It's like doing a job that you hate or find unsatisfying just to get the paycheck. You may tolerate it for a while, but eventually you'll throw in the towel.
Bottom line: If you're going to stick with your workouts, they must make you feel good or give you a sense of accomplishment. Here are some strategies that worked for the women in Shape's study -- and they can work for you too:
Do a program that will deliver results. You'll be less likely to quit if you feel as if your efforts are paying off. To produce positive changes, your workout sessions should be challenging, but not so difficult that they cause pain or injury. "You want to push yourself as hard as possible without creating discomfort or a feeling of failure," Ryan says.
Monitor your progress. Knowing that you can do an additional push-up or lose a pound of body fat can be gratifying and inspiring. So take the fitness test at Shape.com/fitnesstest every two weeks, or get a health-club professional to test your strength, aerobic capacity and body composition (which measures, in pounds, the amount of fat you've lost and muscle you've gained) every few months; in some gyms, it's free.
Make it a group effort. While you may not like lifting weights or jogging alone, it could be fun if you do it with a friend (or several), Ryan points out. Practically all of the participants in our anti-cellulite study cited "working out with co-workers or friends" as the main reason they stayed motivated throughout the eight-week program -- and beyond.
3 more movitating tips
1. Keep a workout log. In addition to tracking your progress every two weeks, write down how your workouts are making you feel and set new goals for yourself. Read through the entries whenever you need a lift.
2. Spice up your surroundings. Take an urban hike or run along a tree-lined trail. Fresh air, sunshine, and new sights keep workouts refreshing. If you exercise at home, make your workout room more fun: Paint your walls, light candles, or crank up the music.
3. Start slowly. If you go from zero minutes of working out to 40, you'll end up sore or injure yourself. "You want your program to be challenging, but you never want it to cause pain or discomfort," says clinical psychologist Richard M. Ryan, Ph.D., a motivation researcher. As you get stronger, your workouts will seem easier. Until then, listen to your body and pay attention to the signals. "Getting started is hard," Ryan adds. "That's different than 'I'm really hurting and too exhausted to exercise.' "