It can be hard to adhere to diet and exercise programs, especially if — like many of us — you’re coming off a year-long break. These five tips will help keep you motivated even (and especially) when the going gets tough.
Five Ways to Maximize Your Motivation
1. Track Your Progress
Motivation stems, in part, from believing you’ll get something in return for your efforts. The best way to make yourself believe that you are making progress is writing down and tracking each milestone, and small win, along the way.
Then again (and maybe if you're more old-fashioned), you could just as easily write your sessions down in a note app or a spreadsheet — or a good old pad of paper, for that matter. The important thing is that you have a log. And not just a record of your most recent workout, but of your overall progress over time. Seeing that progress will give you a sense of pride and accomplishment, and validate that exercise is producing results — which will motivate you to work out even more.
2. Allow Yourself Cheat Meals — They Won't Kill You
Eating cheat meals after long gym sessions is a common dietary strategy for building more muscle. After lifting weights, there’s an anabolic window — usually a day or so — during which your muscles are highly primed to take up energy, allowing you to eat more and know that those calories will be used to build muscle rather than going to fat.
Aside from the physiological justification for cheat meals, they’re also a great motivational strategy. If you have a cheat meal after your gym sessions, that can feel like a reward for working out, which will in turn motivate you to work out more often.
A few words of caution, however. First, your workout has to be long enough to warrant a cheat meal, say 20 to 40 sets. Second, it is absolutely still possible to out-eat the anabolic window and put on fat with a post-workout meal. Cheat meals should be bigger than other meals, but don’t eat past the point of satiation.
Finally, nutrition and food quality still matter. So a cheat meal needs to have protein, vitamins, and minerals. It can include some junk food, but shouldn’t be entirely junk food.
3. Have Someone Hold You Accountable
Another good strategy is to have an accountability partner. You’ll report to this person on a regular basis on how well you’ve been following your fitness program. That includes everything: whether you’ve been doing your workouts, following your diet, getting to bed on time, abstaining (mostly, anyway) from alcohol, and so on.
For an accountability partner to be helpful, they need to be willing to call you out when you slack off, to provide tough love when needed. They can’t just give you a pass whenever you fall off the wagon.
Personal trainers are great at this. If you don’t have a trainer, pick a close friend who you know is always willing to be honest with you, someone who will give you a quick kick in the butt when you need it.
4. Surround Yourself With Positive Influences
Research shows that most people's diet and physical activity habits tend to match those of their peers. As such, you can invisibly nudge yourself towards fitness by spending more time around people with healthy habits.
One way to do this is to start taking a group class. For many people, group classes are motivating in and of themselves, but they have the added benefit of surrounding you with people who work out. You may even strike up a friendship or two with your classmates.
Joining a CrossFit gym is another option. It’s essentially a gym where workouts are conducted in group classes, everyone is really motivated, and people tend to socialize a lot with each other.
Other options include joining a local running, hiking, or healthy cooking club — meetup.com is great for finding groups like that. And, of course, we all know that the camaraderie between Spartans is pretty legendary. Even if you've never done a race, consider joining one of our online Facebook communities, where you'll find thousands of like-minded athletes who not only want to succeed themselves, but want to see each other succeed as well.
5. Use Competition to Create Urgency
It can be easy to put fitness off endlessly if you don’t have a deadline. Signing up for a competition gives you a deadline, which forces you to work towards your fitness goals now, not later.
What kind of competition you sign up for will depend on your main goal. If that’s strength, sign up for an amateur powerlifting meet. If you’re working on running, sign up for a Spartan Trail race. And if you're a functional fitness junkie, try your hand in the DEKA Arena.
If you’re looking to get into obstacle course racing, of course, you’re probably already planning to compete in a Spartan race. But beyond that, OCR is a great choice for anyone with mixed strength/muscle and cardio/endurance goals, as it touches on multiple aspects of fitness. An obstacle race is an excellent all-around test of your physical fitness, and signing up for one will really hold your feet to the fire and motivate you to train.
As for how far out you should start applying the pressure, aim for three to six months. That’s enough time to actually train for your event, but a small enough window that you won’t have time to get comfortable putting off training.