How to Stick to a Workout Routine: 13 Mental Strategies to Keep You on Track

“Ten minutes is better than five, and five minutes is better than zero,” he explains. With this mind-set, “it’s not about having a perfect workout every single time,” says Clancy. “It’s not a failure if you didn’t hit every target.” Rather, it’s about consistency over weeks, months, and even years. Just getting up at a certain time—even if you didn’t actually make it to the gym—can be considered a win, says Clancy, as it builds consistency in the good habits that ultimately support your goals.

4. Visualize your success.

Many of us begin new workout routines with the intention of reaching specific goals, which is great, as goals can be very motivating in and of themselves. When you’re setting your goals, make sure you understand exactly what it will look like when you reach your goal, suggests Mansour—whether that’s consistently waking up early to go to the gym several times a week, doing a push-up with perfect form, reducing your mile time by a minute, or however else you may define success. You can read more about how to set realistic fitness goals here.

Then, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and visualize the moment that you reach this goal. Use your senses—sight, sound, touch—to visualize what exactly that moment will be like. Then, open your eyes and write down everything that came to mind, says Mansour. Reference these notes on the reg—daily, even—to help you maintain your motivation.

5. Accept that fact that you won’t always want to work out. And that’s totally normal and OK.

Even the most motivated of exercisers will have days when they just really don’t want to hit the gym, Mark DiSalvo, NYC-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, tells SELF. On those days, avoid judging yourself and/or reading too much into your waning motivation. This aversion is completely normal, adds Scantlebury, and understanding that up front can help you embrace those difficult feelings and move past them, rather than internalizing them or viewing them as signs of weakness.

6. Avoid making judgments about your day first thing in the morning.

Say you wake up feeling stiff and lethargic. You remember you’ve signed up for a HIIT class that night and immediately begin dreading it. Yet instead of canceling it from your phone while still snuggled in bed, tell yourself that you’ll focus on simply getting through the work day and then reassess your workout plans when the time gets closer, says DiSalvo.

Maybe by the time 5:30 P.M. rolls around, you’ll be in the mood to release some of the day’s stress at HIIT. Or perhaps you’ll decide that HIIT isn’t for you today, but you’ll want to stretch it out in yoga instead. Or maybe, you’ll truly need a day off from the gym—and that’s totally fine, too. The bottom line is that you can’t make general assumptions about your day before it has even started, and by refraining from these types of snap judgments, you’ll end up attending more workouts than you miss. And you’ll be glad you did.

7. Tell yourself you will only go to the gym for five minutes.

Sometimes the thought of a workout can be much worse than the workout itself. On days when this mental malaise strikes, just commit to five minutes, or simply go to the gym with the intention of doing just one to two simple things. Once you get there, you’ll likely want to stay longer, says Mansour, though even if you don’t, you’ve still helped yourself get into the habit of going to the gym, which, by many counts is still a win, as it will ultimately help fitness become a more integrated part of your routine. Again, just showing up can be really powerful mentally.

8. Start with something easy.

Another trick that helps on days when you’re struggling with motivation is to lessen the intimidation factor by telling yourself that you’ll start easy. Do a longer warm-up, suggests DiSalvo, and then slowly build from there. If you want to run on the treadmill for 20 minutes, for example, tell yourself you’ll just do 1 minute to start, and then after completing that quick goal, reassess how you’re feeling. If you’re up for it, try another minute. From there, reassess again and try for another minute. Continue this pattern to build confidence in your abilities and ease yourself into a workout.

9. Break your workout into smaller chunks.

Instead of focusing on the total time of your workout or the intimidatingly high number of reps you’re hoping to accomplish (30 push-ups?! Eek!), redirect your attention to getting through the next 30 seconds, says Zadeh. “You can get strong 30 seconds at a time,” she says, and this division will reduce your workout into more mentally manageable chunks so that you can stay present, focused, and motivated.

10. Choose your vocabulary wisely.

When thinking about your workout—whether beforehand or during—use words with positive versus negative associations to describe how you might feel or are feeling. As an example, instead of considering the difficult moments of an exercise class as being “uncomfortable,” think of them as being “intense,” suggests Zadeh, which carries a more empowering, can-do mind-set while also acknowledging the difficulty involved. Shifting your vocab will help you adopt a more optimistic, I-can-do-it mentality that will power you through the tough parts.

11. Embrace the small wins.

Maybe your goal is to hold a plank for two minutes, and two weeks into your new workout routine, you’ve improved your ability from 20 seconds to 30 seconds. Even though you haven’t yet achieved your goal (and perhaps your goal still feels a long ways off), take pride in reaching this mini milestone along the way.

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