Focus on Fitness: What keeps you motivated past January?

By Gloria Schwartz

How’s the year going for you so far in terms of your fitness and overall well-being? Did you start off the year with enthusiasm for living a healthier lifestyle? Has your enthusiasm fizzled out? Perhaps you started a diet or made a few tweaks to your eating habits. Or maybe you joined a gym or decided to increase your daily step count. Whether you made plans for big or small improvements, efforts can sometimes be short-lived. For some people, the hardest part is getting started – that is, turning thoughts into action. For others, the hardest part is sustaining motivation in the long-term.

Positivity can be a factor that drives you in the right direction. Because we’re bombarded with negativity on a daily basis – whether on the news, on social media or from people in our lives – we may need to proactively seek out positivity. There are many ways to do that.

Toward the end of December, I asked my clients if they’d like to do a free gift exchange. I told them that if they emailed me some positive feedback, I would do the same for them. I received several thoughtful messages that made me feel appreciated as their trainer and I then emailed them personalized messages including praise for their hard work and for overcoming various challenges. We often take for granted that the people in our lives know how we feel about them; however, this isn’t always the case. Taking a few moments to tell someone something positive about your relationship with them or about them as individuals can have a lasting impact and provide much needed encouragement.

Something I started on the first day of the new year is taking one photo of myself each day when I do something physically active. Either I take a selfie or I ask someone to take a photo of me. The purpose is to motivate myself to increase my physical activity, either by exercising more regularly (daily is ideal) or increasing the intensity and variety of my workouts. So far it has been a lot of fun. I edit each photo on my cellphone to include the date and I keep the photos together in a folder. When I open the folder, I can see the series of photos and what I did on each day. There are a few missing days when I didn’t exercise but there are many more days when I did do something. And it’s fun to see the variety of activities, such as weightlifting, yoga, pickleball, running, trampolining and attending various classes.

Whatever the time of year, it’s not too late for you to take stock of your fitness activities using whatever methods work for you. For many years, well over a decade actually, I have been noting what exercise I do each day. I keep the notes very brief. For example, one day may say “full-body workout” and another day may say “attended boxing class” or “ran 5 km.” The point of my list is that it allows me to see at a glance all of the positive things I have done for my fitness and health. It’s very motivating to see the list grow over time. It’s like a bank account. Each time I make a deposit, the account balance gets bigger. Health is wealth after all.

Another way to increase or maintain your motivation may be to consider your intentions. Reflect on the reasons underlying your actions or inactions. Why are you exercising? Are you doing it to improve your health? Perhaps you’re living with chronic disease or your doctor has alerted you to some risk factors (e.g., low HDL cholesterol) that you may be able to control better with exercise. Similarly, think about your dietary habits. Why do you eat the way you do and what are the consequences? Do you feel better physically when you make healthier choices? Has an occasional treat become more of a regular eating pattern that has led to unwanted weight gain or health problems? It’s easy to ignore why we do what we do and simply act out of habit or take the path of least resistance. It’s most comforting but not always most helpful to do what’s the least psychologically distressing. Once we face the truth and understood the whys, we can be better equipped mentally to make the necessary adjustments to our lifestyle behaviours. The key is to find positive approaches that work for you.