When it comes to personal development and goal setting, there are very few undertakings that are more challenging than maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle throughout the years, especially after the initial motivation of New Year's resolutions wears off.
With the new year upon us, my inbox floods with messages from friends and colleagues telling me they are committed to a new diet, running, yoga, or just daily walks around the neighborhood. I encourage them with an offering of tips and support and hope their plan of keeping a healthy and active lifestyle survives longer than the first few months of the year.
Fast forward a few months ahead. Most likely, the daily walks consist of the daily walk to the mailbox, and the gym membership card has not seen the light of day. Usually, there is some seemingly valid or practical excuse as to why they couldn't keep up with their healthy-lifestyle resolution. The most common excuses are the lack of time or work or family commitments. As an Ironman and an endurance athlete with a full-time job, a wife, two kids, and a house to maintain, people always wonder how I do it.
My answer to that is: "It is not easy, but it IS doable!" It's a given that there is a limited amount of time in a day, with too many responsibilities and distractions competing for my attention. Prioritizing is key! I had to streamline my life by giving up things that are time wasters, so that I may prioritize my training and time spent with family and friends.
So how do I do it? Here are some tactics that I use to keep me motivated and inspired to work out:
1- Set goals: Nothing will motivate you more than trying to achieve a goal. Don't just say, “I want to lose 20 pounds this year.” One thing I can tell you for sure is that 99% of people who set a weight goal never achieve it. Add more fun to it! Make yourself accountable. My wife has been trying to get active since we had our second child. Finally, I convinced her to sign up for a half-marathon. Once she did, she never missed a run on her schedule, and most importantly, she now enjoys running.
So find a local 5k, a half or full marathon, or any active event, and sign up for it. If you like rock climbing, set a goal to summit a mountain! Start with a small goal or one that's difficult to even imagine as reachable, but do make a goal. As Nike so succinctly says: "Just do it!" I like to set a goal of a minimum of two big races during my season: one in the spring, and one in the fall. That way I am motivated and have something to look forward to throughout the year.
2- Make it a priority: Ask yourself: "How do I want to feel when I wake up in the morning? Would I rather be caught up on my favorite late-night TV show but wake up tired? Or, would I rather go to bed earlier so that I may rise refreshed and energized to get a workout in?” I really struggled initially when training for my first triathlon. I had no idea how to fit in my workouts into my already busy schedule, while simultaneously living up to my family, career, and home-owner expectations.
However, it was very important to me, and I was highly motivated to find a doable solution. I was never a morning person but realized it was the only time I could get my workouts in. It wasn't easy at first, but slowly I got used to a new routine. Now, even on vacation days, by the time my wife and kids are awake, I am usually close, or already done with a long workout. You can always DVR the shows you like or watch them online.
3- Schedule a regular workout time. Some of the most committed athletes work out very early in the morning. No one will schedule a meeting at 4 or 5am. It will be just you and the road, and no one will bother you. If mornings are hectic for you, then see what time of the day will work better for you and commit to it! Many athletes I know have early job commitments, so mornings are not an ideal time for workouts, yet they find time in the evening after their kids' bed time.
4- Don't let the weather stop you. I don't like cold and can't stand snow (anything below 70˚F is considered cold for me). However, I live in the Northeast, where ice and snow go with the territory. I never let the weather be a barrier to my training plans. Some of my most memorable runs happened during big snow storms or summer rain. If I am not up to dealing with the weather, then I take my workouts indoors and enjoy listening to music or watching a movie on Netflix.
5- Don't waste time. Make your workouts count. If you are out of the door, then get a good workout in. Don't stand around chatting with friends if your time is limited. Get there with a plan, and do it!
6- Keep it simple. The more you complicate things, the higher the chance you will lose interest. You want to run? Get properly fitted running shoes and go out and run. No need to worry about ideal running gear, compression garnet, heart rate monitor, finding the latest and greatest gadget advertised in fitness magazines, or reading about and searching online for the ultimate training program. Just start running, and you'll figure out the rest later. You want to eat healthy? Then ditch all the diet books and follow the “common sense” diet. There is no magic diet formula out there, no 30-day miraculous transformation. Eat healthy and get most of your daily calories from fruit, vegetables, raw nuts, and good protein. Avoid processed food, processed sugar, or any type of sweeteners. Read labels, and if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it.
7- Surround yourself with active people. Get to know active people at your local gym. Join a masters swim group or ask your local bike shop or running store about group rides or weekly group runs. You will make a lot of friends that will keep you motivated and from whom you will learn. You can also find and join an active group on many of the social networking sites
8- Use social media. Many like to use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or more fitness specific ones such as Runkeeper, Strava, DailyMile to post their workouts. Telling your followers about your workouts makes you feel accountable. Also, many find motivation from reading others' workouts.
9- Mix it up. By nature, we need change to keep motivated. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you will get burned out. Start running trails or different routes, or try to challenge yourself differently in a workout. Try different sports. If you belong to a gym, look at the group workouts they offer and try something different. It's a great way to challenge yourself and stay motivated at the same time.
10- Reward yourself—buy new gear. When training for long hours, one of the methods that have been proven to keep athletes motivated is new gear. The smell of new running shoes or that coveted GPS watch can get you going. Even loading new music into the iPod can spark your workouts.
So start thinking of yourself as an athlete and not a spectator. Set a goal, mark it on your calendar, and have fun with it. You'll quickly realize the benefits of better health, more energy, and more happiness.
Have a healthy New Year!
About the Author
Tariq Ali is an Ironman athlete and an avid follower of technology. He discovered triathlons in 2009 and he since competed in many Ironman 70.3 and completed his first full Ironman in 2012. He founded 3Dealz and blogs at TriNut.com. You can follow his training and racing on Twitter @tariqhali.