Ever since I got out of physical-labour type work, I knew I had to develop a disciplined exercise regime at the gym. While I have some physical hobbies, they’re not enough to counteract the sedentary nature of my work, which is mostly sitting around and talking.
I have now been going to the gym regularly without fail for almost a year. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to stay on track with this, because unless you’re a fitness model or body builder, it’s very easy to just stop going. Anyone else who half-heartedly attends the gym will know what I’m talking about here, right?!
So now that I am disciplined with this, let me share with you some tips that may help you stick to it:
1) HAVE A BODY SHAPE IN MIND THAT YOU DESIRE
Two big de-motivators for the gym are not changing shape and not knowing what shape you want to be in anyway.
When you are constantly looking at yourself in the mirror you will never see any changes. Your eyes adjust to changes, which are happening slowly over time, so unless you take before and after photos you will not see these changes happen. So, knowing for sure that you still have work to do is an important factor in driving you to get to the gym.
Find a picture of someone who has the body shape you want. I personally don’t have an actual picture but there’s a certain character out of Fight Club that I want to look like. That image is firmly in my mind and I know I don’t look like that yet. Having a clear image of your own personal ideal body shape will help you compare your current self to that, rather than to your past self which you cannot remember.
Most importantly, use measurements that are objective and will accurately show change, such as a measuring tape and before/after photos. Avoid weight and BMI as measurements as they are too unreliable.
Check out this article if you want more guidance on how to get results.
2) USE A PROGRAM THAT HAS A DEADLINE
One of the most effective factors for keeping me in the gym is wanting to finish a 3-month program. I get mine from the Mens Health website usually, which are free and proven for effectiveness. You might get yours from a personal trainer, the internet, or a friend.
The main point is that you have an end-date in mind which you are aiming to finish the program by and you have a clear idea of what exercises you need to complete each day you’re at the gym. This way going to the gym has a purpose. This is better than feeling like the gym is a chore that you will simply have to do forever without a point. Make sure you always have a goal with an end-date.
Then mix it up to keep it interesting. When you complete a program, choose a new one which will require you to learn different exercises and is more intense. This will prevent boredom and repetition from reducing your motivation. This also has the added benefit of trial and error to discover which regimes your body-type and metabolism respond to best.
3) FIND A GYM BUDDY
Having a gym buddy is a great motivator, because they make you feel obligated to attend and can force you to do that extra rep you can’t be bothered with. However, an unreliable gym buddy is actually worse than not having one. It is really easy to become dependent on their attendance, like if they don’t go you don’t kind of thing.
To get the best of both worlds, follow step 2 and have a program with daily obligations that you need to meet. Then simply invite others to join you, but do not have a program that requires them to be part of it. Always think of them attending as a bonus rather than an expectation, and arrange/organise going to the gym regardless of their plans or level of commitment.
The exception is when you find someone super-motivated and reliable, which could include a personal trainer, a body builder, an athlete, or some sort of coach like me.
4) HAVE A SET TIME AND DAY
Unless you have a weird fluctuating work shift-pattern, aim to go to the gym the same time on the same days. Don’t leave it to chance or wait until you have the time. It’s better to have a goal that gives you 3 or 4 days per week with a set time that is “gym time”. This makes gym part of your life that other things have to work around. Best to choose a time that is most unlikely to conflict with anything unexpected, like before or directly after work.
Remember your physical health and level of fitness will provide you with the strength you need for success in other areas of your life. The most inspirational people almost always take care of themselves physically, there’s a reason for that. To function highly your body needs to work smoothly and reliably. Health is not something you do when you can find the time; it’s a requirement that comes before success.
5) ONE STEP AT A TIME… “Just put my shoes on”
Going to the gym just seems like a hassle sometimes. This is because you think of the whole picture at once, like getting ready, getting in the car, driving to the gym, warming up, stretching, working out, cooling down, showering… and so on. Of course it’s too much to deal with if you have to face all of that at once. So don’t think like that!
Instead consciously make yourself commit to just the next step. Rather than promising yourself that you’ll go to the gym, just focus on getting ready. No commitment – you’re just lacing up your sneakers. You can still bail out if you want. Then once you’ve got your gym clothes on, then just do the next step, like filling up your water bottle. Still no commitment, heck you’re just getting some water! Then once that’s done, get in the car. Y0u may not even work out, you’re just going to drive there… and on and on until Hey! you’ve done your work out and you’re home again.
Main point is just stay focused on one step at a time and ignore the full picture (this concept can be applied to all activities in your life that are process based and hard to stay motivated with).
6) MENTALLY TIRED IS NOT PHYSICALLY TIRED
A total de-motivator for hard workers is mistaking mental tiredness for physical fatigue. It’s easy to confuse the two because they feel the same. But of course if you can just get your ass to the gym you will realise you still have tonnes of physical energy left – of course you do, you’ve been sitting around all day!
Know the difference. The main thing is to say “I’m going anyway, even if I just sit on a bike”. Once you get there you should feel obligated to do your program.
Hope that helps, now get your ass to the gym! Of course there are even better ways to stay in shape, like sports or training for an athletic event, but some of us don’t have huge physical goals, so just staying fit and healthy is still a minimum expectation from a successful person!
For more on goal setting and how to fit health care into your daily life, check out my book DRIVEN: