“Motivation is like a car—really helpful if you have one, but you can find other ways to get around.” –Jessamyn Stanley
Getting to the gym regularly is something that’s often discussed as an elusive goal or a failed New Year’s resolution. But, as I mentioned in my New Year’s post, even though consistent exercise has never a been a resolution of mine, I’ve managed to stick with it for two years without really trying. I don’t say that to brag, I just mean that it doesn’t have to be a harrowing task if you reframe the way you think about.
Last week I celebrated my 200th ride at Peloton, which was both exciting and alarming. Honestly, it just snuck up on me. When I first started riding, I didn’t think I would even finish 25 rides—not because I didn’t think I could, but because it simply never occurred to me as a possibility. If I’d gone into my first ride with the goal of getting to 200 I think I might have been too overwhelmed to make it happen. Instead I’ve just taken it one day at a time and found a system that works for me. This is I’ve learned along the way:
1. Find an activity you enjoy
This has been the biggest key for me. Over the years I’ve had various gym memberships that I’d use for a few months before getting bored and stopping. I did enjoy the post-workout endorphin rush, but after a couple of months of doing the same thing every time I went to the gym I realized I wasn’t excited to go anymore.
Shifting the focus from “I have to workout” to “I want to move my body in a way that feels good” has been super helpful—but it looks different for everyone. My friend Maggie travels all over New York City to play in different soccer leagues, but would laugh if you asked her to go out for a run. Meanwhile, Josh loves running as many miles as he can in a week. But if you’re not a traditional athlete, this could also be as simple as taking your dog for a longer walk than usual or going for a bike ride in the park.
If you’ve read my blog before, you know the thing that really changed the game for me was group fitness classes. At first I just wanted to try a dance class because I had enjoyed it as a kid, but through ClassPass, I ended up trying a huge variety of things I never would have thought to do on my own. It was so much fun that I wasn’t thinking about whether or not I was working out consistently, I just wanted to keep having fun! Since then I’ve settled on a few classes that I go to every week, but trying different things helped me discover what I liked.
2. Make it a priority
One of the top excuses people make for not getting to the gym (or really starting any project they’ve been putting off for months) is that they don’t have time. Often, that’s not the whole story. The question is how are you choosing to spend your time? Does that align with your stated priorities?
Something that Robin Arzon often suggests is to change the framing from “I don’t have time to work out” to “it’s not important to me to work out” and see how that feels. If it’s important to you to get a workout in, then I trust that it’s possible. You may have to spend less time on other things to make it happen, but you will. If it’s more important to you to spend your time with your family (valid) or scrolling through Instagram (I’m not here to judge) then do that, but recognize that it’s a choice and you can always choose something different. But also, there may be ways to compromise. If you want to spend time with your family and also get in some physical activity, maybe try a home workout or go out and shoot some hoops together.
3. Mark your calendar
To that end, put your workouts on the calendar and stick to them. When I sit down to plan my schedule every week, workouts are the first thing I put on the calendar and then I schedule everything else around them. Sorry, not sorry. If someone asks me to hang out at a time when I have class, the answer is no. I’m happy to hang another time, but if I’m going to cancel my class it better be a damn special occasion. Of course, if there are specific events happening in a given week that are important to me, I’m not so strict that I won’t go. I simply take them into account from the start and plan around them.
4. Get an accountability partner
This sounds more difficult than it actually is. You don’t necessarily have to get a friend to workout with you everyday (though it’s great if you do!). Something as simple as saying hello to the person at the front desk at the gym can be enough. I find that knowing they see me coming in all the time and might notice if I disappear can be enough to convince me if I’m on the fence. Whether or not they will actually miss me is not the point. All I know is that they could and that’s enough to guilt me into it.
When it comes to group classes, I try to make a connection with the instructor or meet other people who attend the same class regularly. That way, even though I don’t have someone calling me to say “get your ass to the gym,” I know they’ll notice if I’m not around for a while.
5. Keep your bag packed
If you’re struggling with motivation to workout, my experience is that you want to remove any extra steps that might deter you. If you’re looking for an excuse to stay home, you’ll find it. If you get up to go to the gym, but get stuck picking out the perfect outfit or searching for your water bottle that can easily become that excuse.
I try to keep everything I need for my workouts in my gym bag by the door so I can just grab it and go. If I need to pack something extra for a specific workout, I’ll add that to the bag the night before also. It’s possible that I keep too many things in my gym bag, but that’s a post for another time!
6. Let go of “should”
There are plenty of external sources that will try to tell you what you “should” do when it comes to fitness. Someone you follow on social media might make you feel bad for not working out everyday. Maybe someone told you that going to the gym isn’t worth it unless you’re there for an hour. Perhaps a friend suggested you take up running, but you truly can’t stand it. There are countless fitness plans out there that will prescribe any number of things, but my advice is to ignore all of that at first. Focus on the things that you like, that work for your body and your schedule, then build from there. If you decide you want to revisit those fitness plans later, they will be there! But don’t get to caught up in trying to do everything perfectly from the start.
7. Don’t beat yourself up
If you exercise consistently for a few months—or even a few days—and then fall off the wagon, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s never too late to start again. In my book, the goal is to create system that you can sustain for the long term, which means things will come up and you will have to adjust. I noticed that this summer between my family visiting, work getting busy, weekends at the beach, and going on vacation there were a couple of weeks where I only did one workout. But once things settled down, I got back to my usual schedule. In the grand scheme of things, taking a couple weeks off is no big deal. You can be consistent and still make time to live your life!
8. Take it one day at a time
Even though I just said the goal is to build a habit that you can sustain for the long term, thinking about it in that way can be overwhelming and make the stakes feel too high. The reality is that the stakes are pretty low. Even if you’re training for a race or play a sport, missing one workout will not ruin you. But when you’ve convinced yourself that the stakes are high, it can be harder to get started.
I generally plan my workouts one week at a time. It’s a manageable time frame and it fits the sign-up schedule for my usual fitness studios. I think about the classes that I enjoy, figure out when my favorite trainers are teaching, and go from there. Other times, I’ll think about what my body needs based on what I did the previous week and try to balance that out. If I only did cycling last week, I’ll try to schedule a boxing class to work my upper body. If I went super hard last week, I’ll book a yoga class or two the following week. Once I have my classes for the week scheduled, I just go. And then, after many weeks of that, years have gone by without my really noticing.
The bottom line is that working out doesn’t have to feel like a chore. In fact, if it does, you probably won’t do it for very long. Staying consistent is not necessarily about willpower, motivation, or tricking yourself into doing something you hate. If you find activities you enjoy and find ways to fit them into your schedule then it becomes a totally different ball game.
What are some things that help you stay consistent? Let me know in the comments!