Get motivated to exercise when you are off track

It’s easy to make plans to exercise. It’s the follow-through that sometimes gets people caught up. That’s where motivation comes in. It gives purpose and direction to your behavior, providing the internal push you need to overcome excuses and get started. Unfortunately, sometimes it deserts you right when you need it most. Many of us believe motivation will come to us if we wait long enough: Someday, we’ll wake up and finally want to exercise. The reality is that motivation is something we can and need to create for ourselves.


The first step is having something to work for. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a weight loss goal or a goal to run a marathon—anything that gives you a reason to exercise will work. And don’t think you have to set only one goal. You can set as many as you like, whenever you like. The best way to reach your main goals is to set daily goals (“I’ll walk for 20 minutes today”), weekly goals (“I’ll get a minimum of 3 workouts in this week”), or even hourly goals (“I’ll get up every 45 minutes and walk around the building”). Always having something to work for, big or small, keeps you going.


Create routines and you’ll develop the discipline to stick with them. If you can, plan a regular day and time you work out so that you’re on auto-pilot once that time comes. You can also create a ritual around your exercise sessions—a prompt that helps you get into workout mode. For example, take a few minutes to stretch before you get started. Listen to an upbeat song that gets you ready to work. Find ways to make your workout just another regular habit, like brushing your teeth.


Routines are helpful, but not if they’re overly rigid. Part of being able to stick to them is allowing some leeway. You may plan on jogging five miles four times a week, but there will come a day when you’re too tired, or you don’t have time. Have a backup plan. Allow yourself to walk instead of run, or alternate jogging and walking. Everything counts.


Being healthy isn’t a decision you make once—it’s one you make every day. Recommitting to your goals keeps you on track. Spend a few minutes each morning thinking or writing about what you want to accomplish that day and how you’ll do it.

Remind yourself of your goals and take some time to appreciate how far you’ve come in reaching them. Tracking your progress in a journal helps: Notice changes in how your clothes fit, you need to upgrade to heavier weights, or your ability to run for longer. Logging pounds or inches lost might also work for you.


Promise yourself a treat after you reach a goal. It might be something small, like a leisurely trip to the bookstore, or something big, like a massage. But don’t forget to look for the intrinsic rewards of exercise too: That feeling of achievement, stress relief, or calm that you enjoy after a good workout.

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