How to Hack Your Life to Stay Motivated to Exercise - Part 1

 Photo via  Expert Beacon

Photo via Expert Beacon

This article originally appeared on LifeHacker.

If getting active and staying healthy were easy, everyone would do it...but we don't. We come home after a long day of sitting in a chair to de-stress by sitting in another chair, unable to summon the energy to take a walk or hit the gym. Sure, everyone says to "make time for what's important to you," but oversimplification doesn't make the struggle easier. 

Whether it's time management, stress, a busy job, bustling family life, or something else, in this post we're going to help you break down the barriers that may keep you from getting up and active. We sat down with some experts—people who have really motivated others—for their tips on how to do what you already know you should. When we're through, you'll be in the mental position to take advantage of the great fitness resources we've put together.

No Excuses: Tear Down Those Mental Walls

First of all, if you're struggling with a sedentary lifestyle, you're not alone. Millions of us are just like you, and we all know we should get moving, but we stumble and fall back into old habits or never get the traction you need. This is completely normal, don't think anything otherwise. Very few people spring out of bed one day and say "I'm going to change my behavior for the better for the rest of my life," do it, and never look back. In the real world things are different. Here are some things to remember:

  • Don't be too hard on yourself. Fitness expert (and Lifehacker contributor) Roger Lawson notes that we're often our own biggest hurdle. "They're simply too hard & expect too much from themselves; they think it has to be much harder than it has to be and when they don't live up to the expectations they've set for themselves, it all begins to fall apart," he explains. This is the cycle many of you know: you start something with good intentions, stumble, get frustrated, and give up. Be nice to yourself—stumbles and failures are going to happen, no one's perfect. 
  • Don't get caught up in the "all or nothing" mindset. Exercise doesn't have to be complicated. Doing something is better than doing nothing. "Don't let optimal be the enemy of good enough," Roger says. "Sure, you could be doing more or could be doing better, but if in the long run that gets in the way of you doing anything at all then it's not use to you. Do what you can do and do consistently then worry about optimizing later as you gain traction." Remember, getting started is everything.
 Photo via  LifeHacker

Photo via LifeHacker

  • Understand how habits work. We've talked about the habit loop and how to break bad habits before, but it's critical here. Richard Talens, co-founder of Fitocracy, your pick for best fitness tracking site, explains it like this: "Most people fail in fitness because they never enter a self-sustaining positive feedback loop. In fact, most people don't even start. In order to be successful at fitness, it needs to be in the same category of the brain as sleeping, eating, and sex." He explained that if exercise worked the way it does in the movies—where a montage plays and after every workout you look better and see results instantly, more people would stick to it. The key is to find a routine replacement that works for you, and that gets results for the energy you put into building it into your habits.
  • You're not lazy, you're just starting from zero. One discouraging thing you've probably thought (or heard) before is that you're just lazy and will give up eventually, so why bother. Richard dismissed this idea: "To say that people don't exercise because they are lazy is actually backwards. Often times, people are actually lazy because they're out of shape and don't exercise!" He points out that it's easy for someone in-shape to tell someone who's having a tough time that they're just lazy, but the truth is running a mile for a couch potato is far more difficult and requires more physical and mental will than it does for someone who does five every day. Recognize that, especially when you start down the slippery slope of comparing yourself—and your habits—to others.
  • Find your "Secret Sauce". A lot of people will tell you to "just put the fork down," or "just get up and do it," which is easy when that person a: isn't you, and b: is sitting behind a keyboard. Don't listen to them: minimizing and oversimplifying the challenge doesn't help, and while hearing what worked for others can help you figure out things to try, it's almost never going to be exactly what works for you. Look for your own combination of tools, tips, techniques, and advice that will support you and your health and fitness goals. Accept advice, sure, but remember you're in this for you—no one else, and you're the only one who'll know what really works.

Remember, health and wellness are extremely personal sciences. You'll be assaulted on all sides by articles, scams, self-help books, poorly-reported scientific studies, internet commenters, and more who all claim they know what will work for you—and it usually boils down to what worked for them (which is great!) or what they're willing to sell you (which is not so great.) Having an abundance of options isn't a bad thing, but remember who you're in this for.

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