As a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with a degree in Exercise Physiology and twenty years’ experience in the fitness industry, I have learned one very important lesson; consistency and motivation are what make a personal wellness program effective. A well-rounded fitness program will have these basic components: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and a focus on body composition. Creating the proper plan for yourself is like putting together a puzzle; you create a plan that’s tailored to your personal needs and fitness level. The journey is exciting and hopeful. However, keeping the puzzle together and constantly assessing your plan can prove to be even more challenging.
As an LPC I have found the same to be true when it comes to our mental health. Maintaining the progress we have made can feel like a full time job; should we just throw our hands up in defeat? Fortunately, there are many things we can do to maintain our motivation and improve both our physical and mental well-being.
Ask Gently: Contrary to popular belief, it has been proven that people asked to perform a task typically do better than those who are told to perform. People are more likely to build their own motivation when asked rather than being told. Showing ourselves the same kindness we would show a friend is more inspiring than strict censure and demoralizing lectures.
Think Inside: Avoid extrinsic rewards such as cash – they only work in the short term. Long-term success comes from intrinsic motivation which is striving inwardly to be competent at something. Feeling in control of what you do, who you do it with, and how you do it, is an important element of intrinsic motivation. When we are more concerned about the inherent satisfaction of an activity rather than the external reward, we are more successful and fulfilled.
Small Steps: Integrating one new behavior at a time is more manageable than trying to sustain large sweeping changes. If that one behavior is enjoyable we are even more likely to maintain the behavior.
Awareness: Being aware of our actions helps to increase long-term motivation. It helps people make better decisions to regulate behavior, and reduces problematic behavior and faulty thinking. Awareness has been shown to be a powerful motivational tool to promote physical exercise. People who lack awareness of their activity levels overestimate the amount of exercise they are engaging in.
This year as you put together your “get-in-shape” plan, think about the future and what will help you maintain your motivation. Finding intrinsic motivation, integrating one new behavior at a time, treating yourself with kindness and total awareness of what you are doing will help you on your road to success.
-Christine Stephenson, LPC