Truth is, you could be thinking about exercise in all the wrong ways and that's because exercise should be a reward.
Truth is, you could be thinking about exercise in all the wrong ways and that's because exercise should be a reward and we've become conditioned to see it as a punishment, says Michelle Segar, Ph.D., a motivation scientist.
In fact, one of the best ways to build long-term motivation to stay fit is learning how to stop stressing out about all of the things typically associated with exercise, weight control, disease prevention, strength, and endurance.
Having fun with your workouts helps you stick with them or so research says and here's how.
Don't Confine Your Activity to the Gym
Your workout doesn't have to take place in a gym or with a bootcamp instructor looming over you. Physical activity can occur in the context of your everyday life, says Segar.
Look at your daily life and discover where hidden movement is, she suggests.
Treat Fitness as a Gift
Exercise shouldn't feel like something you "should" do. Switch your mindset to see exercise as a gift to your body, instead of a burden, and you'll condition yourself to want to do it, says Segar.
The fact that you feel energized and happy after a good workout says it all. That sense of renewal and revitalization is a present you give to yourself, she says. Thinking about exercise in this way, and doing activities that make you happy, will give you an immediate reward, which feels inspiring.
Set Learning Goals
There are two different types of goals: performance goals, like exercising five times a week to lose 15 pounds, and learning goals, discovering how to stay consistently fit for life.
Most of us set performance goals, especially when we think about exercise and weight loss. Research in the field of education has found that learning goals are more motivational, though, says Segar.
"When our goal is to learn, we are naturally curious and interested and want to pay attention when challenges arise." This keeps you invested over the long-term, while there is always something new to learn, willpower dips after you meet a performance goal, like finishing a 10K.
Focus on Post-Workout Bliss
Your day-to-day decision to exercise is probably an emotional one, not a logical one, explain Segar. Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that these emotional reactions are based on immediate feelings, whereas logical decision-making is focused on a future outcome.
So tune into your logical side by focusing on how great you'll feel right after you finish your workout. Thinking of that immediate benefit will get you out of bed because it appeals to your emotional side and your logical side. Over time, you'll be so used to thinking about exercise as something that makes you feel good, that you'll no longer think of it as a chore.