How to Get (and Stay) Motivated

Cara Birnbaum



So you were born lazy. So what? Psychologists, diet experts, and trainers have tricks that reliably turn couch potatoes into hot tamales.

It doesn't take a graduate degree to know that the gym is better for you than the couch, or that given a vote, your body would take kale over fries any day of the week. Then why is it that despite being well versed in the basic facts of nutrition and exercise, so many of us still struggle to walk the walk of the healthy and fit? Diet and workout gurus say that what separates their most driven clients from the rest is this: Rather than waiting around for motivation to swoop in, they rely on painless, little-known tricks that make grilled fish seem more appealing than spaghetti carbonara and a morning run more alluring than hitting the snooze button. "These external motivators won't sustain you forever," says Los Angeles trainer Valerie Waters, who's worked with Jennifer Garner and Cindy Crawford. "But they're easy for anyone to grab on to. Pretty soon you start seeing and feeling results, which makes you want to keep going." To borrow a concept from physics: Follow these tips, and your body will get in motion-and stay in motion.

Turn it up at the gym: A bass-thumping song can supercharge your workout. "Just about anything by Beyoncé," says Waters. "I put her songs on, and people wonder why I have this big smile on my face." Research from Brunel University in England shows that the more closely a song's beats per minute matches your own heart rate, the more motivating it is.

Think in fortnights:
Los Angeles trainer Ashley Borden asks clients to switch workouts every two weeks. For example, increase the treadmill incline for 14 days, then switch to yoga for the next 14. It's a period short enough to be feasible but long enough to yield improvements.

Establish rules:
To buy a morning scone or not? Just imagining the inner dialogue is exhausting-and makes us hungry. Which is why setting specific boundaries is one of the easiest ways to propel a weight-loss plan forward, says Susan Bowerman, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. A few sustainable rules to consider: no weeknight desserts, no eating when the TV is on, no Starbucks extras.

Program the coffee machine:
The smell of Las Flores beans brewing will coax you out of bed and into your sneakers better than an alarm clock. Caffeine also improves performance, which in turn encourages you to stay on the elliptical long after the herbal-tea sippers have moved to the smoothie bar

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Book a trip: Waters doesn't take all the credit for whipping A-listers into shape. "My clients have deadlines," she says. "They call and say, 'Help-I have to be naked onscreen in a month.' " She advises those without multimillion-dollar movie deals to plan at least one motivating event every couple of months, whether it's a tropical vacation or a 5K.

Carry almonds: When blood-sugar levels dip too low, willpower dips along with it. (Which is why that cookie is so irresistible a few hours after your chopped salad.) When your energy starts to flag, Joy Bauer, author of The Joy Fit Club: Cookbook, Diet Plan, and Inspiration (Wiley), suggests refueling with an apple and a handful of almonds; yogurt and a banana; or roasted edamame, "a perfect combination of high-quality carbohydrates, fiber, and protein that doesn't need to be refrigerated.

Debloat: You actually can feel noticeably slimmer overnight. Eliminate dairy, sodium, and artificial sweeteners, like sorbitol; have a broth-based soup for dinner; and drink only water and herbal tea (aim for half your body weight in ounces per day). This will make your clothes feel looser by morning and your diet and exercise goals more feasible, says Borden.

Show off produce:
"Healthy foods belong in clear bowls," says Lisa Young, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and the author of The Portion Teller Plan (Crown), who says that those who keep a bowl of clean, fresh fruit on the kitchen counter tend to reach there before rooting for chips in the cabinet.

Invite peer pressure:
Stickk.com can broadcast your intention to lose ten pounds to friends and family, or allow you to pledge money to a company, a cause, or a person you can't stand if you fail. Eighty percent of those who put money on the line end up meeting their goal, according to a survey by the website.

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Downsize your dishes:
Serve your greens on dinner plates and save salad plates for your main course, Young advises. Smaller dishes trick the brain into being satisfied with less, according to research from the Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University. On the flip side, those who use very large dishes wind up eating a quarter more food than they ordinarily would.

Follow the rule of one:
This week, master a healthy recipe; walk with a friend rather than getting a drink; eat an apple instead of ice cream: Do one of these things, but not all three at the same time. "You're better off attempting a single goal that is small, attainable, and measurable," says Bauer. Build on your success with a new goal the next week.

Make a new playlist:
Turning on background music instead of the TV before a meal lets you enjoy your food-and keeps you aware of how much you're eating. Just keep the set list mellow, advises Young. The louder and faster the tunes, the more voraciously you'll eat.

Aim higher-but not too high:
It's far more inspiring-and effective-to take your workout up a notch each week than to stay home nursing your sore hamstrings. "You're more likely to keep going to the gym if you underdo it in the beginning," says Geralyn Coopersmith, national director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute.

Hit the ground Spinning:
In case you haven't heard, indoor cycling is booming, in part because the movements are so simple that a child-or a relatively klutzy, out-of-shape adult-could do them, says Stacey Griffith, an instructor at New York City's SoulCycle. "I have 12-year-olds and 70-year-olds in my classes, pre-and postnatal women. Unlike running, there's something immediately doable about it."

Crunch the right numbers:
Rather than obsessing over inches or pounds lost (results can take weeks), track measurements that will generate more satisfying results: the number of push-ups you can complete or the minutes it takes to run two miles. Says Waters, "The more honest you are about where you're starting from, the more impressed you'll be later when you see how far you've come."

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