Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Can Busy Moms Stick With an Exercise Plan?

Since it's mid-January, it's safe to assume that many people have already fallen off the New Year's resolutions wagon. Statistics show that most of us slip up and abandon our efforts by February--and often much sooner.

I didn't make any resolutions this year, but I have my behavioral weak spots just like anyone else. As I've illustrated on this blog many times, a doctorate in clinical psychology, a specialty in women's health, and experience helping others reach their health and life goals does not make one immune to bad habits or the occasional willpower deficit.

However, one thing I don't struggle with at all is exercise. I mean, sure--there are days I have to talk myself into working out. Maybe it's 90 degrees outside, or five degrees, or the wind is gusting to 40 mph. (Most of my willpower failure stems from weather. That's what happens when you live in Northern Plains territory. We have WEATHER.) But in general, being active brings me joy. (When I'm not waylaid by running injuries, that is.)

But I know that many (most?) people find it extreeeeemely challenging to muster the motivation to work out regularly. So I thought I'd share some of the tricks that work for me and keep me feeling happy about exercising. These may not all resonate with you, but perhaps one or two will be the difference, some day, between a completed workout and an evening on the couch.

  • Don't think, just go. Does anyone else recall that years-ago Nike ad that showed a photo of an office cubicle and a desktop computer adorned with a note that said, "Gone running. Back in half an hour"? The ad copy said something like, "If you'd gone running when you first started thinking that you should, you'd be back by now." You can talk yourself out of anything. So don't give your brain the chance.
  • Use your tunes. Not everyone is into listening to music while exercising, I know. But my iPod is very often the thing that gets me out the door. An hour to be by myself and peacefully listen to my own tunes? Yes, please. Plus, music can be very motivating mid-workout. Certain songs can keep me running--I swear, even increase my energy and muscle power--when otherwise I'd probably stop.
  • Relatedly, give yourself a new tune or two. When I've heard my playlist a thousand times, one new MP3 download makes a huge difference. If you've heard a great new song somewhere, track it down and spring for it. It'll be waiting on your iPod the next time you're slated for a walk or run.
  • Buy some new workout clothes. Only if you can afford them, of course. It might sound odd, but cute, new workout gear really is motivating.
  • Plan a post-workout reward. I'm often guilty of choosing a bowl of ice cream or slice of cake as my after-run treat, and you know what? That's perfectly fine if you're not trying to lose weight or address some nutrition-related health issue. But if dessert would undo all the progress you just made by working out, choose something else. Before you head out for a run or fire up that at-home workout DVD, tell yourself that when you're done, a hot bath, fat novel, new nail polish color on your toes, favorite DVR'd TV show, Netflix movie, or whatever else floats your boat, will be waiting for you when you're done.
  • Start thinking of your workout time as a luxurious chunk of alone-time. I talk about this one in the fitness chapter of my book. As moms, most of us are in serious me-time debt. So, when you can get to the gym or out the door by yourself in the evening or on the weekend (or any other time you have alternate childcare), consider that time a valuable commodity. Before Genevieve started half-day kindergarten, my runs were typically the only me-time I got in a given week; even now, the three-hour chunks of kid-free weekday afternoons, though solitary, are usually packed with endeavors that support my household--errands, cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, meal planning, freelance writing. When I head out the door at 5:30 p.m. for my evening run, I'm doing something solely for me, and I view it as a well-deserved break from the happy chaos of family life. That hour of peace and quiet is priceless!

Let me know if you try any of these motivational tricks, and how they work for you. Even better, if you have any of your own, fill me in! Busy moms can never have too many tools in our fitness-motivation arsenals.

Oh, and remember--it's not too late to re-make your New Year's resolutions. Resolutions don't have to be tied to January 1st--you can make them, or start over with them, any day. Maybe even today.

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