February. The month of shattered dreams and ambitions. The trainers are gathering dust and chocolate bars have replaced protein bars. The gusto with which we attacked our new year resolutions is a vague memory.
If your motivation to stick to your resolution to exercise more this year is waning, you’re not alone. It’s suggested around 80% of people will have given up on their new year resolutions by February.
But the reason your motivation wanes might actually be because you chose the wrong motives and goals to begin with. And research shows us that choosing the right type of goal is the key to keeping us motivated over the long term.
Lower the effort
Many of us believe that we need to grimace, contort, sweat and pant our way to a healthier life. So at the beginning of January, we put in a load of effort to help us reach our goals.
Unfortunately, our brain encourages us to avoid physical effort. This is why the excessive effort we use when exercising will work against us in the long run – leading us to feel less motivated to exercise by the end of January. Our brain is constantly monitoring our body for any changes from our resting state, which could mean danger to our health.
The more physical effort we use, the more a signal is activated and our brain tells us that the activity just isn’t worth the effort and potential risk.
This is why minimising the effort we need to put into exercise may actually better help us stick to our resolutions in the long-term. For example, if you’re dreading even a fifteen minute jog, do five minutes instead. Or if you hate running but enjoy zumba, do that instead. The golden rule is that the activity you’re trying to motivate yourself to do needs to be pleasurable. And research shows we’re much more likely to do something if it requires less effort – especially when we’re starting new exercise regimes.
The same principle applies to reducing the psychological effort required to exercise, as our brains also encourage us to avoid it – to such an extent that, when given the choice, we often prefer physical pain instead. It does this because it wants to save psychological effort for times of emergency.
When it comes to starting a new exercise regime in the new year, things like fitting workouts into our schedule or getting out of bed an hour earlier all require psychological effort. To reduce psychological effort, it may help to minimise needless decision-making. When it’s time to exercise, remove decisions like whether to walk or drive to exercise class, or put your trainers in the same place so you don’t have to look for them.
To read the full article by Dr Ian Taylor, please visit the Conversation webpage.