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What's the Best Way to Motivate Yourself to Exercise?

Why You Need to Focus on the Short-Term to Hit Long-Term Health Goals

People work out for a lot of different reasons. Maybe it's to lose 10 pounds or to fit into those college jeans, or perhaps the motivating factor is to to be healthy for their children as they grow into adulthood. All of these are valid motivating factors, but goals like this can feel lofty and far away. As anyone who has lost weight can tell you, dropping 10 pounds is not an easy journey and it's certainly not a short one. This is perhaps why so many of us fail.

Instead of framing our health and wellness journeys in the context of our future selves, what if we focused on our present selves instead? This was a notion I learned from Emily Falk, associate professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, whose research focuses on health communication and the type of messaging our brains will respond to in a more receptive way. I met Professor Falk after her Adidas Future/Fit panel at SXSW, where she discussed what might make individuals more open to change when it comes to health.

Research has shown that thinking of the immediate benefits of an action can be hugely beneficial, said Falk. Very often our goals — health or otherwise — fail because of a concept called "delay discounting," she said. The further out the reward is, the more we discount it, and in some cases, the reward seems so far out that it loses its value. If we can frame our goals to be more immediate, it may be easier to make choices that we initially resisted.

As an example, let's take workouts, which can be so easy to skip. Remind yourself why a workout might make you feel good today. Maybe it's having "me time," or it's the joy that comes from socializing with friends after the class is over. Perhaps it's the invincible feeling you get from crushing a set of burpees. Instead of thinking about how many dress sizes you want to drop or the vacation that is six months out, frame the activity to have value to you now — not later, not five years from now, not five pounds from now.

"Bringing motivation to the here and now can help people become more successful," Falk said.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kathryna Hancock
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