Photo: ThinkstockBy Alissa Nutting
Set Minimal Goals
Good intentions often lead to unrealistic plans. Instead, for a week or month, choose a doable number of days to work out and stick to it. "Exercising 15 or 16 days a month will do you a ton of good, and it's really just every other day," says Baumeister. "If you aim for 15 but actually manage 20, you can feel great about how you're surpassing your goals."
Keep a Record
Baumeister suggests writing down each day whether or not you exercised, or keeping an online log of your workouts. If you struggle with accountability, engage social pressure: Enlist friends or online workout buddies to share your goal with and report to.
Beware of Willpower Drains
Sedentary tasks like making decisions or focusing on listening to a speaker can drain the same willpower reserves that exercise taps, Baumeister reports. This is why forcing yourself to go for a jog will likely be more difficult after sitting through a boring presentation, even if you aren't physically tired. Try to schedule workouts for times when your willpower hasn't already been tested.
Value Initiation Instead of Endurance
"As you exercise day after day," Baumeister says, "it gradually gets easier to sustain the practice." Making yourself work out even a few minutes one day means you're more likely to do it again the next day, and the next. "Starting a habit is the most difficult part," says Segerstrom, but the initial frustrations are temporary. "Once established, habits are near-automatic."
Segerstrom advises an optimistic outlook. This will help you see your inevitable mistakes not as deal breakers but as expected rites of passage on the way to reaching your goal.
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Leverage Your LifestyleSegerstrom suggests tailoring your workout to an established aspect of your life. If you pride yourself on being an involved parent, forms of exercise like family bike rides or coaching your child's sports team may be easier to stick with. If you're an animal lover, try going for a run with your dog. Baumeister can vouch for pet-induced motivation: "I'd get home at the end of the day and feel tired, but the run was the highlight of the dog's day, so he would be indignant at the prospect of skipping it!"
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