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The Science Behind Why Keeping Your Fitness Goals Is Hard & How To Overcome It

science-behind-working-out-and-consistent-fitness-goals

It’s New Year, you’ve made your resolution to workout consistently this year. You felt optimistic and determined so you signed up for a gym membership.

That night you planned out your morning gym session and drifted off into a visualization of your optimal self.

The next morning, you went to the gym, did a quick workout. You kept this up for a couple of weeks before you started missing workouts, and before you knew it, a few weeks had passed since you went to the gym.

This is not an uncommon series of events for most people who eagerly jump into working out at the start of every year only to watch their motivation quickly burn out as fireworks on New Year’s eve.

Adopting a new habit like working out is hard on the brain.

It’s a mentally and physically challenging activity that you want to do daily and forever.

This makes absolutely no sense to your brain because it works to minimize pain and maximize pleasure.

Even the grand benefits of working out alone aren’t enticing enough to trigger long-term change.

Winging it or going all in rarely works. Instead, there is a more effective way to start working out consistently and daily.

If you’re really serious about making workout a daily habit, then this in-depth guide is just what you need.

Key Points In This Blog:

  • Making working out a daily habit requires a smart approach.
  • The brain is resistant to change. It sticks to current habits and behaviors because they provide maximum pleasure while minimizing pain.
  • You need to understand the process of change
  • Have a meaningful reason and a specific and realistic goal to start with.
  • With consistent repetition, your brain will slowly adopt the new habit.

The Formula To Create A Lasting Workout Habit

Understanding Change + Developing An Effective Workout Mindset + Working out Consistently + Monitor Change = lasting workout habit

Understanding Change

why-your-brain-doesnt-like-working-out

Key point: The brain is resistant to change because change requires effort and energy. 

If you really want to capitalize on the gym membership you were so eager to sign up for, you’ll have to play smart.

Any time you incorporate a new habit into your inner workings, you’ll face resistance.

Especially something like working out which requires energy, effort, and consistency. The process itself is challenging and painful.

Keeping this in mind, the first step to making working out a lasting habit is to understand the process of change.

The more knowledge and awareness you have about this process, the easier it will be to form a habit and work against the inner resistance to stay the same.

Let’s start with the basics.

How The Brain Works:

Key point: The brain works to maximize pleasure and minimize pain by sticking to easy habits and behaviors. 

You have your reasons to work out. Whether to get in shape or to improve health. The question is, why does this not translate into action?

Your brain operates on simple terms. Maximize pleasure and minimize pain with the least amount of effort possible.

It uses existing routines to feel good, even if these habits or activities can cause harm in the long run.

So, workouts, that are hard on the mind and body, will be something the brain automatically avoids even though the benefits vastly outweigh the pain.

In a book called Change or Die by Alan Deutschman, he found that 90% of people who were told to adopt healthy lifestyles or die within a year, actually leaned towards dying rather than changing.

Simply, fear and force are not enough to convince our brain to change.

Knowing that your brain is this stubborn, the best way to work with it are the three R’s: relate, repeat, and reframe.

Relate is when you look to an inspiring person or group for motivation. This can be a coach, an influencer, or supportive friends/family.

Repeat is when you keep on doing an activity until it becomes a part of your routine.

Lastly, reframing is when you start to think differently. This is the stage when your brain will start rewiring itself to adopt workouts as part of your habits.

Building New Pathways:

Key point: Learning a habit creates a new neural pathway in the brain, the more the action is repeated, the stronger the pathway gets making it easier to do the action. 

You might have heard about neuroplasticity. It’s a very trending concept among neurologists, life coaches, and self-help influencers.

The theory is quite straightforward. Every time you learn something new, your brain makes new neural pathways. So, every thought, action, habit, skill, or reaction of yours has a pathway in the brain. The more we walk through a pathway, the easier it is for our brain.

For example, driving a car the first time around was difficult. Now, it’s automatic.

The concept of neuroplasticity is crucial in the process of change.

You can use this to your advantage by knowing that the first couple of days will always be the hardest. However, the more you stick to a habit, the stronger the pathway will become, making that habit easier to do routinely.

One Change Triggers Other Change

Key point: Another reason your brain is resistant to change is because one change requires other lifestyle changes as well. 

When you adopt workouts into your routine, you’ll have to change other things in your life as well.

Like going to the gym, eating healthy, spending chill time to work out, investing in gym memberships and gym wear.

We make New Year’s resolutions hyped up on motivation but it’s just an idea at that time. When we start making practical plans, our brain floods us with all the other sacrifices we will have to make.

This serves as a major deterrence because one change is difficult, let alone three to five things at once. So, when your brain does bring it up, counter it with logic and determination.

Tools To Build New Pathways

Key point: Mental tools like willpower and discipline help to resist urges and do difficult actions while knowledge gives you the practical steps to perform. 

As we’ve mentioned above, your brain will always take the path of least resistance.

To counter this, you’ll need tools to help you stay consistent in your workouts long enough for it to become a habit.

Willpower is an essential tool for change. This is your mental ability to persevere.

People with strong willpower have an easier time resisting urges or doing the extraordinary.

Over time as we resist urges or carry out difficult tasks that are personally challenging, we increase our willpower.

Willpower helps build discipline. These two tools will help you work out even on the days you aren’t feeling it and to stay consistent long enough for your brain to make pathways for it.

Another essential tool is knowledge.

Without knowledge, you’ll find yourself incapacitated whenever a new challenge arises.

Learn the basics about exercises, routines, muscle groups, sets, reps, angles, and diet. This knowledge will give you confidence and raise your belief in your ability to perform.

You’ll need other tools as well like a meaningful reason, a specific goal, and other mental hacks to help you on your journey. More on these below.

 

Developing An Effective Workout Mindset

how-to-make-a-mindset-to-make-workouts-a-habit

Key point: Forming the right mindset will give your brain the necessary instructions it needs to build a habit.

The next step to cementing your new workout routine is by rewiring your mindset. This is your approach to the entire journey.

Again, our purpose is not just to hit the gym for a few weeks but to incorporate it forever into our life.

To create an effective mindset, we’ve listed down a few tips for you to follow.

Meaningful Reason

Key point: Your reason should hold personal value and offer benefits that appeal to you. 

Your reason to change should have a personal value.

Maybe you’re not working out to look good, maybe for you, it’s more about the fitness lifestyle or building strength.

Having a reason that resonates with you on a deeper level will provide you with the fuel you need to keep going.

Also, a personalized reason will also come with benefits that appeal to you.

The reason and benefits that you’ll get will be the logic to convince your brain to keep working through the pain and not resorting to old habits.

Positive Emotional Energy

Key point: Fuel your reason with positive emotions vs negative emotions. Positive emotions are more powerful for change. 

Rejection or shame fueling your motivation to start working out?

This theme is all over Hollywood classics where the hero or heroine goes through an upsetting event and then works insanely hard to change their lives.

But just like most things in movies, they got this concept wrong too. Using negative emotions to drive lasting behavioral change does not work.

After all, there usually comes a time when we overcome these negative emotions. Ergo, we will end up losing the fire to our passion.

For real change, we need positive emotions that truly seek to bring out the best version of us.

Setting Goals

Key point: Start with a specific, realistic, and detailed goal that focuses on one change at a time. 

Now that you have your reason and emotions in check, it’s time to set goals. We often set goals that work against us thus setting ourselves up for failure.

First, make a specific goal vs a vague one.

Behavior change research shows that setting specific goals is more promising than setting generic goals. For example, “I will workout” vs “I will workout 4 days a week for 20 minutes before going to work.”

Next, skip the perfect goals and go for realistic goals. Working out an hour a day 7 days a week is an ideal workout routine, but this perfect goal will only be too difficult to achieve, hence dissuading your efforts.

You should also stick to changing one behavior at a time.

Remember energy and motivation are finite. You have other tasks to accomplish throughout the day. So, you can’t divert all of your attention and efforts to just working out.

If you want to start working out, eating healthier, and waking up earlier all at the same time. It will overwhelm you.

Failing in one area may discourage you to the point of abandoning the entire journey altogether.

The last part of setting a solid goal is to have a detailed schedule. When making a practical routine, include all of the W’s.

When are you working out? Where are you going to work out? Are you working out alone? (Having a gym buddy is definitely going to help). How many times are you working out in a week? What are your workout goals?

Once you have this sorted, you’re finally ready to start.

 

 

Workout Consistently

how-to-workout-consistently

Key point: Consistently perform an action over time to turn it into a habit by using tricks like memory aids, resisting urges, controlling your environment, and affirmations. 

By this stage, you’re aware of what’s about to go down, your mental preparation is done, and you have a solid game plan to execute.

So it’s time to start working out. From the first day, you’ll notice the resistance. But, now you know how to tackle it.

As you slowly progress, more obstacles will prop up. The rest of these tips will help you solidify your actions and turn working out into a new and automatic hobby.

Resist The Urges

Key point: Giving in to an urge will break the mental boundary you set, once a boundary is crossed, your brain will get confident to cross it again. 

“I’ll do it tomorrow”, “I’ve had a long day”, “I can’t miss going out with the squad”, “I totally deserve an off to celebrate my hard work”.

The list of excuses that your brain will generate to persuade you to skip or stop is endless.

Again, the brain works to maximize pleasure and avoid pain at any cost. When starting a new habit, consistency is of the utmost importance. Giving in to the urge to skip will only embolden your brain’s resistance.

It’s all about setting and then respecting boundaries.

Another important bit of awareness.

When you are tired or exhausted, your brain and body are running low on energy.

Your brain doesn’t want to do anything mentally or physically taxing. It is during this time, you are more likely to resort to old behaviors and habits.

Even giving in to an urge once is enough to shake your willpower. It’s a strong signal for the brain because if it can happen once, it can happen again.

Therefore, you must resist urges at all costs.

Use Memory Aids

Key point: Using memory aids like apps, journals, or notes to yourself can keep you mindful of your journey and goal. 

Humans are inherently forgetful. With so much happening around us, it’s only natural that we lose track of what’s important.

For this entire process of change to be effective, it’s necessary to stay mindful of your realizations, game plan, and logic to overcome urges.

There are numerous ways you can stay mindful of your journey.

Install a fitness app on your phone that sends you notifications, watch transformation stories on YouTube, follow fitness influencers on social media, journal your progress, even setting a wallpaper on your phone can serve as a reminder.

Make It Easier To Workout

Key point: In the initial stages, you have to make working out as easy as possible.

We’ve talked a lot about how the brain loves ease and pleasure.

In this initial stage, make working out as easy as possible for yourself. Again, make sure your goal isn’t overwhelming in the first place. Start with home workouts before transitioning to a gym.

Swap free time that you’re already thinking of utilizing for workouts. Put together your favorite songs that you imagine yourself exercising too. Get creative with how you can make this entire process more enjoyable.

Stay Consistent

Key point: Repetition of a behavior reinforces it to the point where it becomes automatic. 

How long do you have to keep at it before it comes naturally? Ignore the 21 days till you make-a-habit myths because science really doesn’t have an answer for this.

Think of it like this, every time you follow through with a workout, you positively reinforce this habit. Every time you beat an urge, you get bonus points. The same goes for skipping workouts, every skip is a negative point.

But these negative points are much greater than the positive ones because your brain is just looking for a reason to relapse to its old comfortable setting.

With enough positive points, you’ll automate the habit of working out, then it will be just like doing everything else you currently enjoy.

Control Your Environment

Key point: Identify and control triggers around you that distract and demotivate you from working out. 

Identify your triggers. What variables around you distract you or motivate you?

For example, relaxing on your bed or couch after work may trigger comfort making it harder to get up and go to the gym.

Whereas, seeing a workout video on your timeline may serve as a reminder and motivation to exercise.

We each have our own triggers. The best way to identify them is by becoming aware. Paying attention to shifts in your emotions and motivation is the best way to identify your triggers.

Wear The Right Gear

Key points: Science shows that wearing gym clothes encourages you to work out and boosts your performance. 

You know how wearing a suit or a stunning dress just somehow boosts your confidence?

Experts call this enclothed cognition, basically wearing certain clothes changes your mental state.

Dr. Jonathan Fader, a sports psychologist, said “When you put on new fitness gear, you begin to get into character. As a result, you expect to have a better performance, making you mentally prepared for the task”.

So, use this psychological phenomenon to encourage yourself to work out. Plus, gym wear with functional features like 4-way stretch, moisture-wicking properties, and mesh panels aim to amplify your workouts while reducing irritation.

Lastly, once you start progressing, the fit of gym clothes accentuates your gains. Seeing your transformation with your own eyes will only motivate you to stay consistent.

 

 

Shop Functional Gym Wear

 

 

 

 

Focus On Small Wins

Key point: Appreciating your small wins builds your pool of self-esteem. 

If you’ve ever played video games, when you start the game, you don’t face off with the main boss right away.

Instead, you have to do smaller missions to level up before you get the bigger and more exciting tasks.

The same applies to life. If from the get-go you plan to compete with gym buffs who have been lifting for the past couple of years, the disappointment of not being able to keep up will only discourage you.

Smaller wins build your pool of self-esteem and belief. Whereas, a big failure can derail your mindset and motivation altogether.

If you did 5 push-ups in the first week, celebrate this achievement, boost your confidence in your abilities, and convince yourself that you can do more next week.

Affirmations

Key point: Positive affirmations help rewire your subconscious to change. 

Talking positively to yourself does work. Affirmations are repeated statements designed to penetrate deep into your subconscious to facilitate change.

After all, your thoughts determine your mindset and create reality. Affirmations help reprogram the way you think and this is crucial when it comes to forming a new habit.

You can apply this to your workouts as well. Here are a few rules for creating your own personalized affirmations:

  1. Use the first person to create identity statements that are powerful for self-change.
  2. Positively word your affirmations, avoid using negative words
  3. Instill an emotion in your affirmations
  4. Use present tense, not the future tense

Examples of positive affirmations for workouts:

  • “I enjoy working out”
  • “I feel stronger with every rep”
  • “Working out is one of my favorite hobbies”
  • “I can work out every day without giving up no matter what”

Once, you have your affirmations down. You can meditate on them throughout the day, recite them out loud, focus on them during your workouts, or even create a wallpaper for your phone.

The key is, the more you remember and reflect, the more effective your affirmations will be.

 

 

Monitoring Change

how-to-reinforce-your-new-workout-habits

Key point: Identify what works and reinforce it, and remove what is hindering your progress. 

This is the final phase of cementing your new workout routine. Again, the purpose is to create a long-term habit.

At this stage, your workouts should be in full swing. Now, you just have to maintain this habit until it becomes a part of you.

Identify & Adapt

Key point: Become aware to understand which part of the strategy is helping you change and isn’t. 

By paying close attention to your inner workings, you’ll become more self-aware. This will help you identify what works and what doesn’t.

Because the process of change is unique and fluid, having a static approach may not work for new obstacles that you initially didn’t anticipate.

Whatever works for you, reinforce it. Whatever doesn’t, get rid of it. If your starting goal is no longer challenging or appealing, then adjust it.

Remember, your brain loves easy. If overtime working out still seems unpleasant, then do some introspection to understand what the underlying reason is.

Accept Failure

Key point: Learn from failures, don’t make them a reason to stop. 

Understand that failing doesn’t mean game over. Failing is part of the process, and with behavioral changes, you’ll find that failure pops up every once in a while.

Every setback is an opportunity for you to learn where you went wrong. Maybe you gave in to the urge of watching an episode on Netflix before your workout session that turned into binge-watching 10 episodes causing you to miss your workout window.

Just like failing a mission in the game, you know where you went wrong and next time you’ll be more attentive to not make that mistake. You should apply this same logic to your process of change.

Request feedback

Key point: Positive feedback improves motivation and confidence. 

This in-depth strategy to make workouts a lasting habit comes to an end with one final piece of advice. Positive feedback works like a charm to boost your motivation, confidence, and self-efficacy.

But, you should be careful as to whom you empower to give you feedback.

Even a bit of negative feedback, if it’s not constructive or even worded properly, can start messing with your mindset.

After all, we care deeply about our self-image and what others think of us.

Therefore, request feedback from the right people who seek to empower you. A study showed that getting positive feedback increases performance and self-belief of one’s abilities.

 

 

Key Takeaway

If you just wing it like every other year, you’ll end up burning your motivation in the first couple of weeks and once you fail, your brain will further believe that you can’t change.

Since working out is a mentally and physically challenging habit, your brain is not attracted whatsoever towards the idea of adopting it as a part of your daily routine.

It will offer excuses, resist, give in to urges, and give up at the slightest of inconveniences.

So if you really want to make workouts a habit, you just can’t wing it. Instead, you have to follow the formula for lasting change.

It starts with understanding your own behavior, developing an effective mindset, and then working out consistently.

Remember to monitor your progress, reinforce what works and to change what doesn’t, and to learn from setbacks.

With dedication and persistence, your resolution to work out daily will manifest into a lifelong habit.

Comment down about your goals to change, and if you found this guide helpful!

 

 

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