What is it about exercise that so often gives rise to this on-again-off-again relationship?
The research work of Deci and Ryan (2000) explained our motivation as satisfying three basic human needs. These are autonomy (the power of choice), competence (the feeling of capability) and relatedness (a connection with others). Bearing these three components in mind when devising an exercise program can be a great influence on whether it is successful – whether we stick with it or give up.
Just ask yourself, how much of your choice is involved in drawing up the program, or are you trying to follow someone else’s standards of frequency, duration and effort? Do you really enjoy the program activity? Perhaps you’ll feel far more motivated by starting with something you do enjoy – perhaps dancing around the house to your favourite music for 10 minutes at a time.
Granted, the ideal participation in exercise is 150 minutes a week (or 20 minutes a day) and that might be a worthy long-term goal. However, 20 minutes each day might be a daunting task to begin with, leading to a short burst of engagement and then giving up. Boost your feelings of competence by successfully maintaining a smaller goal and gradually build on that.
Perhaps you could start by parking the car a short distance from work and walking the rest of the way; by using the stairs instead of the lift; by walking around during coffee breaks. Perhaps you can think of something that fits in easily with your usual pattern of the day and doesn’t need a major adjustment of the day’s routine.
Share the exercise with a friend or a group. Not necessarily the activity, but share the progress. Share with yourself by recording your activity and progress.
In essence, build an enjoyable relationship with exercise by choosing something you enjoy, set manageable standards and have some fun along the way.