How many Monday mornings have you started a new workout routine, only to find yourself hitting the snooze button by Friday? If the answer is "too many," we're right there with you, along with millions of others. The truth is, the only thing tougher than starting an exercise program is sticking with it.
Fact: Most new exercisers quit within three to six months, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
Why: One reason so many people drop out is they're trying to do too much before they're psychologically prepared, says Shane Murphy, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University and author of "The Sports Psychology Handbook" (Human Kinetics, 2005).
What people don't realize is that getting into healthful habits involves more than going for a run tonight or popping in an exercise DVD before work in the morning. According to Murphy, deciding to make a change in your life starts a multistage psychological chain of events. "It's hard to jump from an early stage of change to a later stage before you're ready," Murphy says.
And even if you are ready, progressing is still a challenge. Expect to bounce back and forth between the stages, says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist and author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness" (Morgan- James, 2009). "A 'relapse' back to an earlier stage doesn't mean you failed," Lombardo says. "It's simply data to help you figure out what you can do to succeed."
Before making a change, here's how to overcome the most common mental roadblocks.
The idea of making a change to workout is just occurring to you. Maybe you've gained weight through the years but haven't yet decided to do something about it.
Mind-Set Hurdle: You find it hard to get started due to all-or-nothing thinking. You've tried exercising in the past but couldn't stick with it. You think, Why bother when I'm just going to fail again?
Mind-Set Makeover Strategy: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Gather information about ways to get started. Research local clubs, gyms, and sports of interest to you. Write out the pros and cons of altering your lifestyle to realize the importance of making a change.
Now you're considering a new fitness goal. You've gone from thinking I could never do that to Maybe I can.
Hurdle: You want to start but make excuses. Maybe you tell yourself you would exercise if only you had the time. The spirit is willing; it's the schedule that's weak!
Makeover Strategy: Start small by planning short, 10-minute exercise goals. Look for a motivated friend or join a local team with other players at your level. "Maybe exercising in the gym doesn't excite you, but walking with a friend or playing tennis outdoors sounds like fun," says Lombardo. Most people watch an average of five hours of TV a night. Think of short, achievable activities you can do for part of that time instead of sitting on the couch.
You've figured out what might work for you and are almost ready to start. This stage is all about preparation.
Hurdle: You want to start but keep procrastinating. Obstacles such as child care or a lack of workout clothes become excuses.
Makeover Strategy: Plan ways to overcome potential issues, says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist and author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness." Find a class that's nearby to lessen travel time. Join a gym that offers babysitting, or buy a jog stroller and involve your child. Buy new exercise shoes or an outfit for motivation. If your schedule is tight, get some videos that you can do at home.
You've been exercising steadily for three to six months. At this point, you're at the greatest risk of relapse because your routine hasn't become a permanent lifestyle change.
Hurdle: "Taking real action makes this the hardest stage," says Shane Murphy, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University and author of "The Sports Psychology Handbook." A change in your schedule, such as an illness or new business project can make it easy to backslide. You may think, What's the use? I just wasted all this money on joining a gym.
Makeover Strategy: Don't beat yourself up if you miss a day or two. Be proud of what you've already accomplished. Be prepared for relapses; accept them and move on. Realize you're making a lifelong commitment. Start a diary of your progress. "Make sure your environment makes it easy for you to stick with your plan," Murphy says. Surround yourself with supportive people. Reward yourself.
The novelty of the new program may have lost its bloom, but you continue to exercise on a regular basis and have been doing so for six months. You've successfully made a change, and now you're moving on to maintenance.
Hurdle: You could get bored with your routine. Results reach a plateau, making motivation difficult.
Makeover Strategy: Add variety and challenges to avoid relapses. Change an aspect of your program or try something different -- take a Zumba class or new yoga class. Remember that regular exercise exceeds the short-term benefits: Continue to prioritize exercise and keep in mind why you're doing it.
If you relapse: Ask yourself what happened and plan what you can do the next time the same situation occurs. Revisit your original list of pros and cons periodically to realize how far you've come.