The hardest thing about exercising is sticking to it. For many people, the first couple of days are easy – you're excited about your new exercise plan, ready to get healthy and fit. But, after the novelty wears off, exercising can feel like just one more thing you have to squeeze into your busy day.
Setting goals can help keep you motivated. Here are some tips for successful goal setting:
- Decide what you want to accomplish and choose a specific, measurable goal. Do you want to be able to run six miles in two hours, climb to the top of a 5.10c rock wall or lift 50 pounds? Do you want to walk for three hours every week or go to two yoga classes? The goal is yours to choose, but pick something you can work toward. Simply saying, "I want to get stronger or work out more," is a good start, but it's hard to hold yourself accountable to such vague goals.
- Set mini-goals or check-points. In other words, break up your goal into smaller, more attainable pieces. For example, if running a half-marathon is your end goal, set multiple smaller goals that will help you get there. Deciding you are going to run three miles after one month of training is less scary and more manageable than telling yourself you are going to run 13 miles by the end of this year (even if that's the end goal). Consider increasing your goal in 10-percent amounts to reduce injury risk; for example, run for 30 minutes one day and 33 minutes the next time. It's easier to stay motivated by setting smaller goals that can be accomplished relatively quickly.
- Learn what you need to know to reach your goal. Before diving in, make sure you know the proper training techniques and have the right equipment. You don't want to injure yourself at the very start, especially when the injury could have been easily prevented. Seek out a certified athletic trainer to help you set goals, develop exercise plans and teach you how to exercise safely.
- Set a timeline. This will help you stay motivated. Try writing down your goals, both large and small, in your calendar or on a post-it stuck to your wall. Seeing your goal will help you remember to keep working towards it. Exercising with friends or a workout buddy can also help you stay on track.
- Know when to get professional help. If you have a lingering or bad injury, a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer can help you improve your movement and manage pain. Ask your primary care physician for a referral. Many colleges have certified athletic trainers you can consult.
- Reward yourself each time you reach a goal. Positive rewards are a great motivator and don't have to be costly or complicated. Watching your favorite movie, visiting your favorite spot, painting your nails or playing your favorite game are all good rewards.
- Be patient with yourself. Reaching new fitness goals will take time and won't happen overnight. If you make a mistake or miss a few days of exercise, don't be too hard on yourself. Just get back on track and keep at it!
Reviewed by: Matthew Ryan, MAed, ATC, PTA
Last reviewed: August 2019