Even if you can find your way past most people's biggest barrier to regular exercise (too little time), you'll almost certainly struggle with motivation at some point. Everyone does. Which is why we wanted to ask some leading trainers for their best tips for maintaining motivation over time (after all, they see tons of people who deal with it just like you do).
Maybe it even helps to know that trainers struggle too: "I love working out, but even I don't want to work out until I'm at the gym and I'm warmed up," says Chris Chinn, co-founder of Sweat City Fitness in Los Angeles. If your motivation waxes and wanes, or is at an all-time low, see if any of these tips will help you get your motivation mojo back:
1. Realize that motivation naturally goes up and down. "Not every day is going to be a good day; that's the biggest thing that most people don't realize," says Chinn. "That's why having a schedule--for example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are my workout days—is so useful. You are not going to be 100% motivated every day."
2. Commit to 10 minutes. "We think this is one of the most important strategies when you just don’t feel like working out--to force yourself to do it for a little while," says Anne Talbot-Kleeman, R.N., co-founder of MD Fitness. "Who can't do some sort of physical activity for 10 minutes? Set out on a walk or hop on the elliptical machine or pick up your hand weights and do some bicep curls. Most of the time, you'll find that once you get started it isn’t as bad as you anticipated and you'll decide to keep going." And if you stop, that's fine too. But Anne says that you'll probably continue and "before you know it, 30 minutes will have passed and that feeling of accomplishment will be great. This is one of the first steps in making regular exercise part of your new routine." And if you just do 10 minutes you'll still have revved up your metabolism and burned approximately 100 calories, she says.
3. Set yourself up for success. "Be realistic in scheduling a consistent time to exercise," advises Jessica James, a yoga instructor and the founder of WeHeartYoga.com. "Decide if you can easily fit a workout in your mornings or if it's better in the evening. If you know you'll be tempted at the end of the day to go out for happy hour instead of working out, schedule your sessions for first thing in the morning." This will keep you on course most of the day; morning exercisers also get to start their day with a sense of accomplishment, she adds. "And if you barely make it to work because you're more of a night owl, make a firm commitment to hit the gym or yoga studio before you come home," or commit to at-home workouts.
4. Surround yourself with support. "Social media can distract us from our goals, but it can also be a source of inspiration," explains James, who is the creator of of the "We Heart Yoga, Prenatal Flow with Jessica James" DVD. She suggests finding five to 10 people on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter that inspire you to get moving: "You'll find throughout the day as you check in on your online social life that someone else has inspired you to get to the gym."
5. Break it down into steps. James advises against spending too much time thinking about working out: "It can be both exhausting and discouraging," she says. But do give a little thought to things like the shoes you'll wear and how you'll dress for your workout (just getting into the clothes can motivate you to make something happen, she says), and start to carve out what James calls "a new pattern." What streets will you take to a gym or park? Where will you park your car? Can you ride your bike there instead? When can you go when traffic is lighter? These may seem like mundane details, but trust us, they will all feed into a "shift towards fitness," says James, making your workouts either easier or harder to manage from week to week.
You can break your workout into steps, too. "Even if you do one set of lunges, you will probably find that one becomes two, then three, and before you know it you're enjoying a full workout," James says. "I read once about how to train for long-distance running: You begin by running to the end of the block and when you get there you decide if you can do one more, then one more, and before you know it, you have three miles behind you. It’s the same with any exercise program—just getting started and doing a little more each time."
6. Don't say mean things to yourself. "It's almost impossible to do something good for yourself if your inner dialogue is negative," says James. "If you're thinking, I'm so fat, I need to work out, the negative thoughts zap your energy instead of creating it. Instead, think, I am ready for change. I am going to enjoy working out today.”
7. Use the buddy system. "Working out with someone else is not only more fun but also more motivating; you’re less likely to skip the workout if you know you have to meet someone," says Cindy Whitmarsh, KUSI-TV fitness expert and creator of Ultrafit Nutrition Systems. "Working out with someone else also holds you accountable. "I've found that accountability is one of the most important things to keep people on track," adds Whitmarsh. "Even if it's a friend who will do your measurements weekly—it really works!"
8. Hire a personal trainer. "If you have the means, a trainer is the best way to go, especially if you’re new to the gym," recommends Whitmarsh. "When you’re starting out, it’s important to know what you’re doing to avoid injury and feel comfortable with a program. Working with a personal trainer will keep you motivated in the beginning, and will help boost your confidence when it’s time to go out on your own."
9. Take "before" and "after" photos. If you're just starting back into exercise take a picture of yourself and repeat the photo weekly to see progress, Whitmarsh suggests. "A scale can be quite deceiving, so try to avoid the urge to weigh yourself all the time--and remember that muscle weighs more than fat."
10. Keep an exercise log. "Write everything down and use your log to reflect on your week and see where you may or may not need improvement," says Whitmarsh. (We recommend the ih8exercise journal as a great place to track your progress.)
11. Pinpoint an inspiration. Motivation can come from anywhere—the music you listen to, an upcoming event, a really bad selfie. Ideally, though, you'll want to pick positive motivations that make you feel good about the healthier choices you're making now. But don't be afraid of more superficial motivations, too, says Whitmarsh. "Buy an outfit you want to fit into or find a picture of your ideal body type—whatever keeps you motivated."
Ultimately, what works to motivate you is very personal. So keep in mind that what gets someone else off the couch may not work for you at all. If these tips don't resonate with you, you may need to take a little time to think about what will work. Maybe you work out so you can eat what you want. Maybe you work out to reach a goal for an upcoming event, like a wedding or reunion. There are no "bad" motivators. Just try to find the ones that make you feel good about yourself and ones you can maintain over time. And sometimes you just have to follow Nike's tried-and-true advice and rely on your body, not your mind: "You have to get off your butt and go do it," says Chris Chinn. "Sometimes you have to get moving and your body will wake up."
What motivates you? What kills your motivation?