Finding Your Fitness Mojo and Sticking To It

Beth RisdonAs a running coach and fitness enthusiast, people frequently ask, “How do you stay motivated to exercise?” The mere existence of this question assumes that there is an answer, a magical panacea that has been hiding out under a rock, waiting to be exposed. I have to be the bearer of bad news and answer that there is no easy answer, there is only doing.

In so many areas of our lives, we hope that if we just find the right book, therapist, coach, or training plan, our inaction will give way to bursts of energy and inspiration!  The ironic truth is that the answers, inspiration and motivation are already within us at any given moment. We simply need to access and implement them.

The physical action of getting out the door to train for a half marathon, go to a yoga class, ride a bike for an hour or swim five laps in the pool is easy. Yes, easy.  It is our thinking that poses a problem. Our mind is an unruly child who needs to be put in a time-out. We self sabotage and negotiate – it’s too cold outside, I’m too tired, I don’t have time – when really what we should be doing is moving and not thinking at all.

I am convinced that “exercise over-thinking,” as I call it, is why many people don’t start or maintain their fitness programs. We talk ourselves out of things. We make excuses. Then we beat ourselves up for talking ourselves out of things and making excuses. By that time, we feel so cruddy and worthless, that why bother working out at all? It is a nasty cycle.

Confession: I used to be an “exercise over-thinker.” I would put off my workouts, giving myself every reason to not get out the door. This is before I learned the value of writing a plan and sticking to it. Of laying out my clothes the night before and visualizing my workout the next day in detail. Of never giving myself an out unless I was sick or injured. Of keeping my mind out of it.

We are human. We will find reasons to not challenge ourselves, to not do tough things. Ask yourself why you don’t follow through. Are you afraid of failing? Does the fear of change paralyze you? Digging deep for answers might produce unexpected results.

What is needed is a jump start just like that car with the dead battery that’s been sitting in the driveway for weeks. Long hours spent on the couch, neglecting our bodies or simply being removed from them makes it challenging to take that first step and to get moving. Some of us don’t really want to work hard. Others have goals, but don’t know how to reach them, so they give up. The mind is a powerful thing. Give it an out and it will take it. Challenge it to persevere and it follows suit.

There are stories of inspiration everywhere. Unfortunately, those are often overshadowed by the tales of laziness, poor eating habits, or lengthy time in front of the television or computer. Most are not walking the walk. Talk is typically about what people are planning to do (diet, start a new exercise plan). It is less common to hear people talk about eating clean everyday, getting enough sleep and sunlight, and actively and routinely exercising. These people are just doing it, not talking about it. It is how they live every single day. There are no resolutions or gimmicks, no Hollywood Cookie Diets. It is a way of life. One that provides self-satisfaction and accomplishment.

Tips to get started and stay motivated:

  • Get rid of the excuses. No one is too old, too tired, too unfit or too busy to start an exercise program. You just have to make it a priority.
  • Start small. Make your exercise goals achievable and reasonable. You will be more likely to follow through.
  • Keep it simple. No need to spend $100 month to join a gym or to buy expensive gear. Get out for a walk or short run. Invest in a yoga DVD and do it in your living room.
  • Have a plan for the week and write it down. Post it in a visible spot like the refrigerator, not in the bottom of your sock drawer.
  • Make it easy to get out the door. Lay out clothing, set out water bottles, pre-program the coffee maker, whatever it takes.
  • Pick a goal. Sign up for a 5K race or join a 30-day yoga challenge. Making a solid commitment increases your chances that you will stick to your plan.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people. You’ll be more likely to follow your fitness routine if your friends are committed to theirs. If your friends are all couch potatoes, they may influence you to be one too.
  • Don’t lose your momentum. Stick to your plan. The more days that you have under your belt, the more motivation you will feel to continue.

Remember: It’s not about running a marathon today. It’s about taking a single step in the right direction. Walk a mile. Swim two laps. Go to a boot camp class. Follow through. Make it public. Be accountable. Reward yourself. No one finishes a workout and regrets having done it.  Stop “exercise over-thinking,” get some fitness success under your belt, and watch your life unfold for the better.


October 27, 2011 at 9:00 am

Yep… sounds so familiar ! … that voice telling me to do other ‘stuff’ and not get out and move……and then complain as I put on weight 🙁 Easy to get into this rut as I’ve just moved to new city and trying to find a job in a tough economy…….

Now I’m going out for a run and then enter the local bike ride in 10 days…… been meaning to do it and have silenced that ‘voice’ for today 🙂


October 27, 2011 at 9:19 am

Spot on Beth! Signing up for something is always one of the first steps for me!


October 27, 2011 at 9:32 am

And sometimes, accept that the act of working out is its own win. Not all days will be PB days or give you a new, exciting challenge. Sometimes, the win is having stuck to the plan.


October 27, 2011 at 9:40 am

Thanks Beth! This post resonates with me so much! It’s what I tend to do often. Talk myself out of almost everything. I love to plan. I plan to get a nice board to plan things neatly. I spend so much time getting the write color board, pens or whatever is needed. When it comes down to writing the entries, let alone actually doing it, I’m stumped and a heavy procrastinator. I’ll keep this post handy when the voice creeps back up.


October 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

Wanna run my first marathon in May 2012, wanna move up from the 1/2’s. I want to finish it in 5 hours… I am a slow runner, but knowing the marathon is lurking, I am determined to include interval training (used to hate it… after 3 weeks I kinda start to like it…)
I also stop myself making excuses when I have a swim planned… I found that searching for excuses is much more exhausting than just stop thinking and do it!

Great post!

Dianna on Maui

October 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I get excited just having my training schedule on my Outlook calendar. I see it every day and can move things around if I need to, and can start thinking about the next workout ahead of time.

Thank you for the valuable advice. I’ve got a few friends who need a boost and this might just be it!

LauraLynn Jansen

October 28, 2011 at 5:30 am

Also a fellow coach I couldn’t have laid it out better. It is so true this inner voice with my clients we call it the Gremlin. I even have them draw them and name them so they become very familiar with the voices that try to keep them from what they truly do want. Nice pointing Beth.


October 28, 2011 at 5:51 am

You are right on with this article, thank you for putting into words the struggle we all have.
“Just do” is a good philosophy! I will save this and reread when those voices take over.

Michelle @ Running with Attitude

October 28, 2011 at 7:04 am

Great post Beth! There will always be excuses if you allow it – if you start small and build on your momentum you can silence those negative voices!


October 28, 2011 at 8:25 am

You are so right, you just have to do it. So tonight, after work, I’ll take my extra 8 vacation lbs and cold-recovering self and go back to the gym for the first time in 5 days. Thanks for the motivation 🙂

Jody - Fit at 53

October 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Great post & says it all! Put the excuses aside & just try.. better to have tried & maybe it is not for you than to never tired & then think you may have been able to do it…. there is no failure in trying!

Jess @ Blonde Ponytail

October 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Well written. I found myself nodding throughout. Digging deep and finding a new level makes the journey worth it (TWSS). take the first regardless how small!


October 29, 2011 at 12:00 am

So aptly put, Beth. For me, remembering that just getting out the door is better than not. That doing something even if it isn’t “the workout” is better than not. Just moving 🙂

Lisa Chase

October 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm


I was just beginning to wonder about this and I thought this morning…right before I read your article…Lisa, you’re just going to have to do it….just get up and do it.

Thanks so much again.

And the crazy thing is that I feel GREAT once I’m out the door. it’s just that one piece…of getting up.


October 29, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I am an over-thinker. I take so long to get out the door. When I start running, I am always telling myself that I “think too much” before I get out the door. My goal is to not think, just go and get it done!!

Andrea Ballard

November 01, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Beth, great post. All day yesterday I visualized dropping my daughter off at school and heading straight out for a run. This required wakign up a bit earlier today, wearing my running clothes on the walk to school, having my iPod with me, and being ready to hit the road. It happened! Even though it was foggy and gray, I had planned on doing it and set the wheels in motion, so it happened. You’re right, it’s not rocket science and I can use my brain to over-think other things 🙂

Tracie Bettenhausen

November 06, 2011 at 10:08 pm

“…when really what we should be doing is moving and not thinking at all.” Exactly. Thanks for this post! I will keep that line in mind every day when it’s time to exercise.

Krishna Longanecker

November 07, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Along a similar vein, how’s a girl to get in her workouts during a blackout? Improvisation! Day 1 – no run (no shower available) but spent 2 hours shovelling snow and tree debris. Day 2 – surely the power will be on by the next day, so walking the dogs was exercise for the day. Day 3 – Umm, guess we are in this for the long haul; found 1/2 route free of tree debris and downed power lines and ran repeats, then hauled downed tree branches from the yard for 2 hours (does that count as weight lifting?). Day 4 – More tree debris removal, and for sanity purposes, expanded the run beyond the original 1/2 route (and luckily found it fairly safe) to take in the sights beyond our backyard. Day 5 – walked dogs, no run. Day 6 – another dog walk and a run, followed by standing in the front yard waiting for the next power truck to pass so that I could flag it down to get our power re-stored. Day 7 – power back, and back to normal routine. Whew!!

Amanda - RunToTheFinish

November 08, 2011 at 5:19 pm

really a fantastic post!! i’ve never had issues with workout motivation because i love it, but not eating sweats that is a whole different game. But you hit it right on still..there is no book, no speech, just me making the choice


November 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I agree, with a caveat. Sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between listening to your body and over-thinking exercise. I’m someone who is quite prone to injury because of some bio-mechanical issues. It’s critical for me to listen to my body to make sure that I don’t overdo it. Sometimes, I have to make the hard decision to scale down, or even skip, a workout because I’m sensing some warning signals for injury. Those signals can be hard to interpret at times, and so figuring out what my body is telling me can easily take me down a path to “over-thinking”. For me, the challenge is distinguishing between listening and over-thinking.


November 16, 2011 at 1:45 am

consider this one bookmarked, honey. thanks.

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