4 Ways to Pump Up Your Workout Willpower

4 Ways to Pump Up Your Workout Willpower

We're betting this is typical exercise motivation math: your old skinny jeans + a photo of a once-slinky you wearing them + next month's high school reunion = a huge spurt of motivation to eat right and exercise fanatically. But whaddya do when that same motivation disappears faster than sunscreen ads in September?

Discover the bone-building benefits of exercise.

Try something new, that's what. Like these four surprising motivation-boosters:

  • Give yourself an "A" first. Yup, award yourself a gold star for deciding to start even before you start. Research suggests that it sets you up to do better automatically. Feeling good about yourself from the get-go makes it easier to choose oatmeal and fruit instead of that supersized onion bagel or to lace up your sneakers for a 30-minute walk instead of lingering over lunch. How to pre-reward yourself? You could literally paste an "atta way" sticker to your calendar, or buy yourself a spiffy new workout log, or just tell yourself, "Wow, it's SO great that you're finally doing this."

    Evidence that advance back-pats work: In a University of Missouri study, when some students got blank test forms already marked with a big "A" before they took the test, they got 6 out of 7 questions right. When others were given blank forms topped with a big "F," they got 3 to 4 questions right.

  • See yourself on the red carpet. It's an old trick of athletes, performers and speech makers: Visualize yourself succeeding and you're more likely to do just that. But there's a new twist: Visualize others seeing you succeed, too (your boss, coach, spouse, gym buddy). It makes pulling off your project feel even more important. In a study from Canada's York University, people who visualized themselves succeeding while an admiring crowd looked on felt more motivated to do well than those who just imagined watching themselves do well.

  • Think like Bob the Builder. Stop bossing yourself around! When you give yourself pep talks, don't make them too high pressure or turn them into guilt trips. Instead, when you think you're finally ready to start a workout routine, instead of browbeating yourself to DO IT NOW, try enthusiastically asking yourself if you're ready to commit (like Bob's "Can we build it?"). In a study from the University of Illinois, volunteers who jotted down the words "Will I?" were more motivated to exercise (and solved puzzles better) than those who wrote down, "I will."

  • Put your "inner buddy" to work for you. Tap into the human brain's "monkey see, monkey do" reaction. Think about it: When you see someone else doing something—running from a loud noise, yawning at a meeting, ordering a salad for lunch—your inner self starts thinking about doing the same thing, and the next thing you know, you're actually doing it. The instinctive reaction to imitate others around you may be one reason that married couples are more likely to lose pounds and work out regularly when they do it together: When one sees the other doing something healthy (and vice versa), they almost can't help imitating each other. But you don't have to be married to make this work for you. Whether it's your spouse, an exercise buddy or a diet support group, hanging out with people who are already doing what you want to (shedding inches, building rock-solid bodies) reinforces good behavior by automatically making you want to do the same thing. You know that old saw about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery? Looks like it's also the sincerest form of de-fattery.

How to make fitness fun.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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