It’s that time of year when New Years’ resolutions fade… the mid-winter crunch where a full class load may cause your spirits to drag. With a full calendar and late nights of study, it’s possible your commitment to exercise may feel negotiable and be getting lost in the shuffle of college life. How can you find the motivation you need to stay active?
Assess Thyself. If exercise isn’t working for you, it’s possible you need a change. Honestly evaluate what you like (and don’t like) about exercise as you’ve known it. What time of day works best for you? Do you do best in a class with others or do you enjoy the freedom of working out alone? Do you like a steady routine or do you thrive on versatility? What types of exercise do you most enjoy? If the gym has lost its draw for you, maybe you need to join a league for a sport you enjoy. If running has not proven itself to be your thing, maybe you’d do better with biking. Be willing to think outside of the box. There are so many ways to get fit and stay fit: from kick-boxing to skiing to spin class to pickle ball to a Just Dance party with friends!
Make a Plan. Based on your honest assessment, make a game plan. Exercise rarely works if we wait around hoping we will feel like it (or find time for it). Look at your schedule and write down exactly what days and times you plan to exercise and then stick to it like it’s your job! Keep in mind as you make your plan that it helps to know what you’re working toward. Do you want to run a marathon or just be able to jog a mile? Are you hoping to lose five pounds or be able to bench press 120? As you think through your goals consider the acronym S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive) and then plan accordingly.
Flex with It. Remember that while your aim is consistency and follow-through, it is ok to build some flexibility into your plan. For example, if you normally play tennis with a friend twice a week, perhaps swimming laps would be a good alternative on the days your buddy can’t show up. If your plan calls for a 45-minute gym work-out, give yourself grace if you’re especially tired and can only pull off half an hour one day. You’re more likely to stay committed to an enjoyable plan than to one that induces stress and guilt. Even if the plan requires modifications, stick with the plan. You don’t have to go fast and far, you just have to go!
Positive Pairings. With the busyness of life, it’s sometimes helpful to kill two birds with one stone. Think about ways you might accomplish two things at once: watch your favorite TV show while doing crunches or lifting free weights in your dorm room, read a book for class (or listen to a podcast) while riding stationery bike at the gym, catch up with a friend while walking or jogging around campus. Sometimes motivation comes when we pair something our minds perceive as negative with something we love! Similarly, think about pairing fun tech with your workout to “up” your motivation: a pedometer app for counting your steps, workout playlists on your favorite music app or a fitness app specific to biking, running, hiking or no-equipment workouts. Some athletes have boards on Pinterest filled with motivational quotes for the days you need an extra reminder about getting off the couch.
Build in Accountability. Surrounding yourself with driven, achievement-focused people can be an effective motivator. Find someone with similar fitness goals and interests and plan a time to meet up weekly for that fencing class you’re both dying to try. Consider signing a work-out agreement with friends (maybe docking yourself a few bucks whenever you break the agreement) or even hiring a personal trainer for a month or two to help you establish a healthy routine.
Create a Reward System. If the above suggestions aren’t enough, think about external rewards that inspire you. Maybe each hour of exercise earns you a hot bath or refreshing smoothie. Add in something you enjoy but don’t have time for to the end of your workout (playing a game on your phone or reading a chapter in a good book) and let that be your motivation while you get into the habit of exercise. Eventually, exercise becomes its own reward! Endorphins–feel good brain chemicals—get released each time we are active and literally become addictive over time. When we finally form solid, healthy habits it’s hard to imagine life without them. Like Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” So as Nike says, “Just do it!”