Build Your Motivational Muscles

Use our three-week plan to successfully focus your mind on fitness.

Karen Asp | December 26, 2015

This year, like millions, you’ve resolved to get fit and healthy. In 2013, nearly two-thirds of adults who set New Year’s resolutions focused on fitness goals, according to a Bodybuilding.com survey. Unfortunately, 73 percent of them gave up before they achieved them. This year, you’re going to succeed the Oxygen way. Our motivational plan will get you past those first three make-or-break weeks and set you firmly on the road to success.

Keep Your Motivational Mojo

The biggest motivation killer is setting unachievable, overwhelming goals. “Because a goal is too lofty, when you don’t achieve it, you quit,” says Kim Waldauer, a personal trainer in Beverly Hills, Calif. Unattainable goals also tend to be extrinsic, meaning they’re driven by external factors such as the number on the scale or the size of your jeans. While such goals can motivate you to a point, they work for only so long, and you’ll have trouble going the distance if they’re your main focus.

“If you want long-term success in fitness, intrinsic motivators — such as getting more energy from exercise or using exercise to help you sleep better — are more important,” says Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios and a certified trainer in Virginia Beach, Va. Keep this in mind when setting your goals and you’ll be more likely to achieve them.

Make a Habit of Health

It takes about three weeks to form a new habit, so if you can get past those initial 21 days of your program, you’re in good shape. “Each time you repeat the same action in the same situation, you increase the strength of that habit,” says Jeremy Dean, a psychologist in the U.K. and author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits (Da Capo, 2013). “The stronger that habit becomes, the more likely you are to perform it automatically without having to exert your willpower.”

In addition, you’ll begin to see tangible results after three weeks, which is a super-strong motivator. “Whether it’s your pants fitting looser, being able to lift grocery bags with less effort or rocking it in the front row of a fitness class, these results will be key to keeping that motivation high,” Waldauer says.

Check out this week-by-week plan of attack to finally achieve your fitness goals this year. Follow these strategies, and in no time, fitness will be a permanent fixture in your life.

[Week 1]

Get Your Goals In Order

Make your goals as achievable as possible. For instance, if you haven’t exercised in years, trying to work out six days a week right off the bat is unrealistic and overwhelming. Start small and commit to two to three days per week at first. The same holds true for weight-loss goals, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t lose 20 pounds right away like they do on The Biggest Loser. “You can safely lose only about 2 pounds a week,” says Robyn L.K. Becker, an exercise physiologist and founder of Healthy Results in Chicago. Any more than that is likely water weight, which fluctuates on a daily basis.

Ditch The All-Or-Nothing Mentality

Life happens, whether you want it to or not, and sometimes things will get in the way of your intentions. The key is not to get discouraged or quit. Your goals will always be there, so if there’s a glitch in your plan and you can’t get to the gym or you eat half a bag of Oreos, it’s not the end of the world. Chalk it up to a bad day and get right back to your plan tomorrow rather than throwing in the towel.

Give Yourself A Weekend Treat

Making it through this week will be tough, so at the end of it, give yourself a treat. Try not to focus on food-related rewards, which can set up a negative relationship with food. Instead, rent that movie you’ve wanted to see or schedule a mani/pedi with your girlfriends. It’s a good idea to give yourself rewards as you progress so you have something to look forward to, White says.

[Week 2]

Do The Fun Stuff First

In the gym, most women put the moves they dread first in their workout, but that isn’t very motivating or enjoyable. Instead, rearrange your lineup so you do your favorite exercises first. You can look forward to starting your workout that way and enjoy it more as a result.

Add In Accountability

Going it alone is never easy. That’s why White recommends hiring a personal trainer, roping in an exercise buddy or using technology such as Fitbit monitoring devices and smartphone apps to stay on track. If you’re accountable to another person or a device, you’ll be more likely to show up and work hard.

Give Yourself Frequent Reminders

Remember that goal you set in Week 1? Revisit it frequently and think about it every time you exercise, says Kim Waldauer. Remind yourself that you have to do only about an hour of exercise three to five days a week. That leaves you more than 160 hours to do whatever else you want! Is that so hard?

[Week 3]

Try Something New

Are you having fun doing the activities you’ve chosen? If not, it’s time for a different tack. Variety is the key to sticking to your program, so throw yourself a curveball at least once a month to reignite your interest. Take a group fitness class or try a local fun run or 5K to step out of your comfort zone and change things up.

Plan Ahead

You finished your first three weeks —now what? Set more goals. “Three weeks is a good time frame to continue because it’s short enough to see the end but long enough that you have to stick it out,” Becker says. Get on a schedule in which you set a new goal for yourself every three weeks. That way, you’ll always have something to look forward to.

Celebrate Your Success

You did it! You made it past that horrible hump. Think about where you were before and where you are now, and give yourself some credit. List your successes on paper to make them real and tangible, and congratulate yourself, Waldauer says. Writing out your success will also help quell any negative thoughts about being able to stick with your program in the future.

One-Minute Motivators

Even die-hard fitness fanatics need a kick in the motivational pants from time to time. Use these tips to get your brain on board with your body.

1) Crank the tunes. Studies have found that music can motivate you to train longer. In fact, those who listen to music exercise on average 19 minutes longer than people who sweat in silence, according to a recent U.K. poll.

2) Distract yourself. Movies, TV shows, even chatting with your best friend as you walk or run can help take your mind off what you’re doing. This is especially crucial if you hate exercising because the distraction could be enough to keep you interested, White says.

3) Fifteen or bust. Because the first five minutes of any workout are often the toughest, especially if you’re not in the mood, slog through it for at least 15 minutes. Chances are, you’ll feel so good that you’ll want to keep going, Waldauer says. If not, give yourself a pass and come back tomorrow.

About the Author

Karen Asp