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We can all relate to unmet goals and resolutions. The new year comes-and-goes and we find ourselves no closer to achieving the ambitions we’ve set our minds too. Fitness related goals are common, and perhaps some of the most difficult to keep. With an overwhelming amount of data pointing towards the benefits of physical fitness – improved physique, confidence, brain function, and overall health – it is no wonder we jump to spend money on new gym memberships, athletic merchandise, and possibly even workout equipment in attempting to stay motivated.
However, achieving physical fitness originates with the optimization of our psychology. To maintain a solid workout regimen, conquer detrimental eating habits, create a life changing lifestyle, execute it day-by-day in a disciplined supernatural fashion can only suggest your mind is in the right place. But how do we get there? We want to create healthy habits, but there is significant distance between point “A” (the start of your fitness journey) and point “B” (the place where living a healthy lifestyle becomes a habit). The road seems long and exhausting, but there are ways to make it easier.Achieving physical fitness originates with the optimization of our psychology Click To Tweet
Below are 9 psychologically proven strategies that will help leverage your natural human behavior to increase the chances of reaching your fitness goals. I have applied them to my fitness journey, and believe me, it has been much easier to deliver on my personal goals. Enjoy!
Workout with A Partner or Group
The principle of social proof. As social psychologist Robert Cialdini puts it, “this principle asserts that people think it is appropriate for them to believe, feel, or do something to the extent that others, especially comparable others, are believing, feeling, or doing it.” Basically, the more people you surround yourself with performing a specific behavior (in this case, living a healthy lifestyle), the more convinced you become to do the same (live a healthy lifestyle yourself). In fact, some studies suggest that if your three best friends are obese, there is a 55 percent chance that you will be overweight. The good news is; this applies to the opposite as well. Research has frequently shown that we mimic the behaviors of those we spend the most time with. This emphasizes the importance of surrounding ourselves with good examples of healthy living.
- Pick a few of your closest friends and form a fitness group. Together, create an exercise regimen, workouts, and discuss healthful tips – including dietary changes. If forming a group is not feasible, pick a work out partner and do the same.
- In addition, join fitness clubs and socialize with people who have similar goals. Speak with those who you look up too, and that have been involved in the fitness world for some time. Not only is it an excellent way to get practical advice for what works – from those who have been doing it for years – but it helps you stay in the loop. There is always new research revealing new information that can help you meet your goals quicker.
Sign A Contract
The principle at work here is consistency, or the commitment principle. Normally, we want to be or be seen as consistent with our existing commitments. Public statements we have made, stands we have taken, and actions we have performed persuade us to behave in line with what we have said or done in the past. Generally, no one likes to be seen as inconsistent, or unable to maintain commitments – hence, why you should assign someone to witness your contract. Furthermore, the active process of writing down your goals increase the likelihood you will follow through with said goals, or commitments.
The evidence is clear, says psychologist Robert Cialdini, “the more effort that goes into a commitment, the greater its ability to influence the attitudes of the person who made it.” One research study found that within a group that participated in an AIDS education project, 49 percent of them were asked to actively fill out a form stating they were willing to participate. While 17 percent were volunteers who passively stated they were willing to participate (i.e. did not fill out a form) – demonstrating the power of making active commitments.
- Grab a piece of paper and take time to outline your game plan in detail. Write down the lifestyle changes you are committing too. For example, commit to participating in cardiovascular exercise at least four times per week, engage in strength training activities three times per week, or limit cheat meals/eating out to once or twice a week.
- Once you have manually written your contract (yes, paper and pen, no computer), have someone you like, trust, and look up too read and sign it as a witness. You will than go ahead and sign it as well, committing to the plan you developed.
Create Meaningful Goals
Creating goals can sound simple enough – “I will work out every day until I either see some resemblance of a six-pack or pass out –” but it is actually a bit more complex than most think.
- Make your goals realistic. Do not set goals that you know will be extremely hard to meet. You would essentially be setting yourself up for failure – quickest way to get discouraged. Do not make it harder than it needs to be. Expecting to run a mile in under 10 minutes, or squat 200 pounds after just one week coming off a sedentary lifestyle is not realistic. Be honest with yourself. Start slow, the objective is to meet as many goals as you can within the first few months in order to gain traction, and stay motivated.
- Place deadlines on your goals. In line with the scarcity principle, we want more of what we can have less. We are afraid of restrictions, or in this case, deadlines. However, it is that fear of not meeting the deadline that shifts us into gear. Time runs out, and as it runs out, the scarcity of time drives our desire to work harder. Our aversion to losing something of value (ie time) facilitates efficient and intelligent use of what (time) we have left.
- Break your goals down. Begin by making a yearly goal, break that down into monthly goals, then weekly, and then daily goals. This will allow you to take a huge feat – let’s say running a marathon – and separate it into smaller steps that can methodically culminate is achieving your big goal.
- Tie your goal to something that is meaningful to you. Ask yourself why you are going on this journey. The answer does not matter, as long as it means something to you. As Charles Duhigg said in his book, “Smarter Better Faster,” link something hard to a choice you care about, and it will make the task easier – make a chore meaningful and self-motivation will emerge.
Use this formula: I will (insert activity) (insert realistic measure) by (realistic deadline) in order to (insert meaning or reason as to why you are doing this).
Example of a weekly goal: I will run (activity) 3 times this week for 45 minutes (measure) by the end of this week 2/24/17(deadline) in order to stay healthy for my family (meaning or reason).
Make If/When-Then Plans
In his book Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Robert Cialdini explains that “If/when- then plans were designed to help us achieve a goal by readying us (1) to register certain cues in settings where we can further our goal, and (2) to take an appropriate action spurred by the cues consistent with the goal.”
One clear example of if/when-then plans in action is demonstrated in a study performed on hospitalized opiate drug addicts undergoing withdrawal. They were urged to prepare an employment history by the end of the day to assist them in getting a job after release. One group was asked to form an if/when-then plan for compiling the history, and the another group (control group) were not asked to do so. At the end of the day, none of the individuals in the control group performed the task. In contrast, 80 percent of the if/when-then plan group completed their job resume – impressive.
- Identify the cue (e.g. finishing lunch, desert being offered, changing after work, etc).
- Take an action spurred by the cue consistent with you goal (e.g. go for a walk, make yourself a hot beverage, lift weights, etc).
A good example of an if/when-then plan when trying to lose weight might be: “If/when we have work potlucks and cake is offered, then I will make myself some ginger tea instead.”
List All the Pros of Reaching Your End Goal
On any journey there are ups, and then downs. One simple trick to get over the rough patches is too simply ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” Asking yourself this question triggers you to focus on the important reasons you chose to go on this journey in the first place. You wanted to get healthier for your family, you want to compete in a marathon, you want to feel more confident in your own skin – all good reasons that hold meaning. Latch on to that, and let it propel you forward.
- Break out a sheet of paper and quickly list all the pros to exercising you can think of.
Performing this exercise makes it more difficult to focus on the cons – allowing you to concentrate on the positive rather than temporary negatives of your fitness journey.
Look To Your Ideal Goal
Canadian researchers performed a study on a group of callers working at a call center raising money. One group received information on plain paper designed to help them communicate the value of contributing to the cause for which they were raising money. A second group received the same informational paper, but with a photo that had previously been shown to stir achievement-related thinking. Remarkably, the second group of callers had raised 60 percent more money compared to their counterparts. The conclusion was that initial exposure to simple images can have a pre-suasive impact on later actions.
- Pick photos of athletes, celebrities, or other role models that remind you of your goals and what it looks like to achieve them. The more similar in age and background you are to them, the stronger the link.
- Place these photos somewhere you will see them frequently – reminding you and motivating you toward achieving your goals.
This is a no brainer. Countless studies demonstrate the power of positive reinforcement. Basically, rewarding someone for a specific behavior reinforces the behavior.
- Pick what your reward will be. A meal splurge, dessert, shopping, or any other activity that you take pleasure in performing.
- At the end of each week, review your goals (I do this Friday afternoon, before my weekend begins). If you meet your weekly goal, indulge in whatever your set reward is. Personally, I like to keep my reward consistent, but occasionally I will mix it up a little – which brings me to the next strategy.
In his book, “Smarter Better Faster” Charles Duhigg explains that motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are still in control. The specific choices we make matters less than the assertion of control. It is the feeling of self-determination that gets us going.Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are still in control. Click To Tweet
- When you feel like you are losing motivation or feeling discouraged, mix things up a little. Routine is good, but occasionally we need to prove to ourselves that we are still in control.
- Some of my favorite things to play around with include:
– Changing my weekly reward
– Switching which day I workout
– Choosing a different workout than originally planned
– Playing a sport instead of lifting weights (my all-time favorite)
Do What You Enjoy
Lastly, it is difficult to meet goals that put you in a mind numbing “lift weights one day, and run the next day” routine. You might initially be enthusiastic, but if you are anything like me, you’ll eventually rather step in front of car than do another pull-up. Integrating what you already enjoy into your fitness journey will not only keep you motivated, but also allow you to enjoy the trip along the way. What is the point of becoming and maintaining physical fitness if you are not enjoying yourself?Integrating what you already enjoy into your fitness journey will... keep you motivated Click To Tweet
- Make a list of sports you like to play, or physically demanding activities you would like to learn. Some of my favorites include:
– Brazilian jiu-jitsu
– Rock Climbing
- Incorporate these activities into your fitness routine. Schedule it at least once a week.
- As you become more fit, challenge yourself to activities that you were unable to or scared to participate in prior to your fitness journey. Try new sports. Experiment and go outside your comfort zone – you’ll find it refreshing.