The new year is here and so are resolutions to exercise more. Google searches for gyms typically spike in January, and gym membership also increases.
“We’re built to want instant gratification over delayed reward,” said Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School and author of the book “How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.” “And most good habits are about delaying some gratification in order to do a thing that’s good for you.”
Motivation for exercise can come in many different forms. Here is some advice from experts on how to build sustainable change.
1. Set specific goals
Having a resolution to exercise is just the starting point. It’s helpful to have specific goals and then make an actionable plan.
“Be specific about when you will do it: Where will you do it? How will you get there?” Milkman said. “Research shows that when we make our goals really concrete and bite size, it’s more effective.”
New Year’s resolutions are often aspirational, but not specific enough to convince someone to change their behavior, said Charles Duhigg, author of the book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.”
2. Find your ‘why’
Michelle Segar, a researcher at the University of Michigan and health coach, believes the first thing that people need to do is think about their history with exercise and identify whether their approach has been working.
Segar tells her clients to “find your why.” While people often start exercising to lose weight or get healthier, that approach often is not enough to “motivate ongoing exercise,” Segar said.
Instead, try finding a more meaningful “why,” such as focusing on the positive feelings you experience from an activity, said Segar, author of the book, “The Joy Choice: How to Finally Achieve Lasting Changes in Eating and Exercise.”
Segar suggests would-be exercisers try reframing exercise and movement as something that can “instantly help them feel better and help them better tend to the people and projects they care most about.”