Filed under: Motivation
Do you make a New Year’s resolution every year to “get in shape” and then approach year’s end dissatisfied? The problem might be that fitness is a long-term goal that’s hard to keep in focus. Goals that seem more in reach often feel more desirable (for example, money, food, or a finish line) than ones that seem further away. For example, when you’re at the end of a race and can see the finish line in front of you, you’ll probably see the finish line as closer than it really is. However, runners who are less fit and less motivated estimate the distance to a finish line as farther than do runners who are fit and highly motivated. Whether or not the goal is actually closer, believing that it is triggers excitement and fuels effort towards achieving the goal.
That’s all well and good if you’re already out running that race, but sometimes getting off the couch is the hardest thing to do when you’re out of shape. And even if you want to get in shape, your poor fitness can affect whether you believe you can achieve your fitness goals.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape. Keep your eye on the prize! The “prize” could be anything. It could literally be the finish line; the next milestone on your route, such as the building at the end of the block; or even be a post-race reward, such as a healthy post-workout smoothie.
Remember, some goals are harder to achieve than others, but you can stay the course by imagining what's coming, keeping the self-talk positive, and setting SMART goals along the way. This will help keep your motivation high and the prize within reach. Exercisers who focus on an end goal and ignore the distractions around them perceive their goal as being closer, perform better, and—perhaps most important—don’t consider the exercise as difficult. So, if you see your goals as being closer to you in your mind, you’ll have something motivating to look forward to.
While it’s good to “think positive” when setting lofty goals, think about what might prevent you from actually getting there too. Imagining success should (and can) inspire you to put in the hard work needed to do well. However, dreaming of how things could be down the road might make them feel so tangible that you don’t do what’s needed to get there.
That’s why it’s more realistic to picture where you want to go along with what might be in your way. Then you can either decide that the goal is out of reach or plan to deal with the obstacles in order to succeed.
Here are four steps to help you overcome obstacles and reach your goals:
- Identify an important goal that’s challenging and achievable. For instance, maybe you’re aiming to improve your PFT score by 20%.
- What will it mean to accomplish your fitness goal? Maybe you picture yourself being more active with your family at home and then performing well on a mission.
- Consider what stands between you and your goal. You can still keep your eyes on the prize. But you need to recognize the obstacles. Maybe exercising in the dark makes you nervous, or you’re less organized, or even tired, so it feels like an uphill battle.
- Strengthen your awareness and face obstacles with an “if…then” plan. Here’s an example: “IF my fear of nighttime running creeps up, THEN I’ll put on my high-visibility clothing and stick to well-lit streets.” Here’s another: “IF I find myself disorganized and grasping for time, THEN I’ll walk around the block while planning my day.” Or how about: “IF I feel tired when I come home this evening, THEN I’ll take a short walk or jog and go to sleep right after.” If…then plans help you face your fears instead of hiding from them.
Try this four-step method to shift from just dreaming about important goals to tackling the obstacles along the path to accomplishing them. And you might find this works even better if you combine it with setting SMART goals.
To accomplish your New Year’s resolutions, really think about the obstacles you’ll face to make those changes happen. Resolutions often come with optimism, but then they tend to fade and become forgotten. Notice how many people are at the gym for the first few weeks of January, then later stop coming. One reason resolutions don’t work out is that people underestimate how hard it will be to maintain the changes. Believing that changes will be easy can initially fuel your motivation, but it also makes following through less likely.
If you want to experience the satisfaction of following through this year, consider the obstacles now. This way, you can picture what you need to do to overcome your obstacles and experience success.
Here’s an example: You want to get more fit. You could enthusiastically decide, “This is the year!” and join the masses of people who are no longer in the gym in February because you found out later that you “don’t have the time.” Or you can set aimed at realities you deal with. This means envisioning the steps needed to overcome your obstacles, such as:
- I am working out 5 days per week!
- I know it’s a challenge after my kids are out of school, so I’ll ask my boss if I can arrive at work earlier so I can squeeze in a mid-day 45-minute workout later.
- On days when I can’t make it to work early, I’ll do some work from home in the evening after the kids are in bed.
- When worse comes to worst, I will jump rope and do push-ups and sit-ups after the kids’ bed time.
- When I have to, I’ll arrange play dates on weekends to get my workout in
Listen up, ladies! Women are more likely to engage in physical activity if they do it as part of a group and if they have friends who are active. Whether you’re looking for a group exercise class, a spotter for strength training, or a partner to join you on your run, social support from friends or family increases your chances of sticking to an exercise plan.
Women also enjoy activities more when they’re done with others instead of alone. Feeling better about a workout leads to more minutes of exercise per week too. Surround yourself with others who want to stay fit and have similar goals. You can decide whether you want to join an organized exercise group or keep it small and informal by asking one of your friends to participate in an exercise routine. Either way, get motivated!
For more about Women’s Health Month, visit the Military Health System website during October.
Think of a goal that you’ve been working for lately or that you’re about to go after. How about all those New Year’s resolutions? Do you know why you want it? In other words, what’s your motivation? Do you simply love what you’re doing, or is there a reward you are pursuing?
Being clear about what motivates you can help fuel your motivation with intention. For example, if you’re a runner, maybe you love the feeling of pushing yourself hard with training runs. On the other hand, maybe it’s the end result—the accomplishment—associated with completing another marathon that’s the fuel to keep you going or even push you to the next level.
There isn’t one right form of motivation, and your motivators might be a mix of little steps and big outcomes. Remember to enjoy the steps along the way; they can make the experience more enjoyable. But sometimes remembering your ultimate goal can help you persist on days when you’re just not feeling it.
Often when you’re pursuing a goal, you’re part of a larger community, and you may find that just being involved is motivation itself because of the people you meet, the places you see, or the experiences you have along the way! It’s true what they say: The journey matters.
What do you value? It’s an important question to ask yourself—often.
When you figure out what matters most to you, it can help guide what you do, even when you’re at your lowest. Values help you make big things happen—and little things along the way too.
In identifying what you value, consider aspects of your life now or how you’d like it to be in terms of family, independence, adventure, stability, compassion, financial security, integrity, health, outdoors, and so on. Sometimes a key word or group of words says it all. Sometimes the essence is best expressed in a statement such as, “I am a healthy family man.”
Warfighters know the importance of values. Values are embedded in military life and center on excellence. The Warrior Ethos, for instance, helps Airmen reach and maintain an optimal state of readiness and survive the rigors of operational demands and life in the military.
When you know what you value, and you act in line with that, you experience a sense of clarity. When there’s a disconnect between what really matters to you and your behavior, however, you can either ignore it (through distractions such as drinking, drugs, video games, and reckless behaviors) or you can give yourself a gut-check and take action.
Try asking yourself these questions:
- What do I value most?
- Do I view each day as a chance to better myself and learn from my successes and failures?
- Do I pursue excellence (not perfection) but act with compassion towards myself and others?
- Do I maintain balance and perspective between work and the rest of my life?
- Do I respect other people in my day-to-day life?
- Are my actions in line with my values?
There is no one right set of values, and there is no one right set of answers to these questions. Whether you call it a “New Year’s resolution,” or use a different name, launch 2015 by giving yourself honest answers to these questions and staying on target with what really matters to you.
Some intense military training, such as in the Special Operations Forces, screens personnel by ultimately selecting those who can handle extreme adversity. In fact, how you view stress can have a big impact on whether the stress you experience is helpful or not. When you have a positive interpretation of your stress—that is, “eustress”—you may feel “amped up” enough to perform your best without experiencing any negative effects.
How do you experience stress in a positive manner? Try reframing it. Your situation doesn’t have to “suck”—it can just be a challenge that ultimately helps you grow more resilient. When you use this approach, it’s easier to take on whatever comes your way instead of engaging in unhelpful practices that may just increase your stress. Learn to find meaning in what’s difficult with your word choices. Here are some examples of statements you may find helpful:
- “Go beyond!”
- “I can!”
- “I am!”
- “Makes me stronger.”
- “For my buddies.”
- “For good.” (Or if you are spiritual, “For God.”)
- “Feel it!”
- “Dig deep.”
- “You got it!”
- “It’s all good.”
The list goes on. Figure out what words or phrases help you switch from seeing stress as a negative to feeling it’s just another challenge to tackle.
For more information on how to handle stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.
The state in which athletes perform at their best is often referred to as “the zone,” but researchers refer to it as “flow.” This experience of being completely immersed in an activity involves:
- Clear goals and immediate understanding of whether actions are helping or hurting progress towards goals.
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
- Merging of action and awareness.
- Absence of self-consciousness and anxiety.
- Time seems distorted (slow in the moment and fast retrospectively).
- Targeting of your attention where it is most needed.
- Challenges or opportunities feel like a stretch but still match your skill level.
- Feeling in control and prepared to face whatever happens next.
You can experience flow in myriad ways, whether you’re engaged in combat, playing competitive sports, or raising children. Flow can’t be forced, but you can set the stage for it by learning good stress management and practicing key skills through repetition.