11/12/2012 12:19 EST | Updated 01/12/2013 05:12 EST

Getting Off the Couch and in Workout Mode


Someone once told me that the hardest steps to take in life are from the sofa to the front door. His comment, which speaks to how hard is to muster up enough inner motivation to exercise, is spot on. It doesn't matter if you are an avid exerciser, or a newbie, finding the internal motivation to be active is, more often then not, hard.

In large part the fitness industry is a profitable because to varying degrees we all find it hard to motivate ourselves to make lifelong lifestyle changes.

So, if you would typically rather veg in front of the TV instead of exercising, know that you are not alone. Even someone like me, who love to exercise, has to re-commit to being motivated on a daily basis. (Full disclosure -- currently it is repeats of ER that entice me to be lazy.)

Don't misunderstand me. I don't think you should stop trying to commit to exercising. On the contrary, I spend my life encouraging people to exercise because becoming more active was the best choice I ever made for myself.

What I do think is people need to stop beating themselves up about past lapses in exercise. Guilt is counterproductive. It often just leads to a re-occurence of the actions (think emotional eating) that lead to the feelings of guilt in the first place. Instead of feeling guilty, learn from your experiences and move on. Get back on the horse, as they say. Just get back on as a more informed rider.

Know that once you start exercising, it is easier to continue. If you are someone who has never worked out, becoming motivated can be a challenge because you are not in the habit of exercising. The good part is that it does become easier once you have established a habit since you (mostly) don't question if you should or shouldn't workout. Plus, when you exercise regularly you develop a kinesthetic memory of how great you will feel post workout. This will help motivate you to exercise.

Try this: For the next two weeks rate your mood on a scale of one to 10 before and after exercising. A rating of "1" means you have intense negative feelings towards exercise and general grumpiness. A rating of "10" means you have intense positive feelings towards exercise and couldn't be happier. I have found that when people rate their mood between a "1" and "5" before exercise, it is normally "6" or above after exercise.


Fitness Motivation Tricks

I once did this for two weeks, and each time I recorded a higher number after my workout then before. Any time I don't want to exercise I remind myself that my numbers were consistently higher after exercise. Since I know that I am almost guaranteed to feel better I am less likely to skip my workout.

Another way of framing this same idea is the "law of initial value." That phrase has been etched into my brain ever since I took a psychology of exercise class in undergrad. When applied to exercise the law of initial value dictates that the worse you feel prior to exercise, the more opportunity there is for your mood to improve. Under this logic, the more unmotivated, cranky or tired you feel before a workout the more important the workout is.

The other trick I use is the "10 minute rule." The next time you don't want to exercise tell yourself, "you have to do a minimum of 10 minutes. If you still want to stop after 10 minutes, you can." The rationale is this. Ten minutes of exercise is better then nothing, so if you do stop, that is OK. Usually once you have done 10 minutes you will continue and finish the workout.

I am also not above negotiating with myself. For example, last week I was scheduled to do bike intervals. (I do my intervals by placing my bike on a computrainer. A computrainer is a machine that is able to measure watts, speed and elevation.) The intervals are hard. I did not want to go, I wanted to stay home and watch ER. The deal I made with myself was this -- if I did my workouts I was allowed to put my laptop on a bench beside my bike and watched ER on my recovery breaks between intervals.

The take away -- the next time you don't want to exercise, remember that everyone has moments of low motivation. Remind yourself that you will feel better after the workout and find activities that you enjoy and/or that inspire you. Sign up for a race. Train with a friend. Catch up on your guilty TV pleasures. Reward yourself post workout with a pedicure or hot bath. Use whatever means necessary make your workouts more fun, or at least more palatable.