Dr Chris Fullerton, an exercise scientist at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, shares his expertise on how to keep motivated to continue or begin new fitness goals in the new year. His top tips are:
Plan to exercise self-control
The impact of Covid-19 and the closure of gyms and cancellation of sports events during 2020 is likely to have had a significant impact on many people’s long-term fitness goals. With no confirmation of when tiered restrictions might end, it is important to be flexible and realistic with your goals. Now could be a good time to reflect on your current fitness goals and think about what they might look like moving forward.
Using self-regulatory strategies such as mental contrasting or ‘if-then’ planning can help you achieve goals by strengthening your self-control…
Where you are now vs. where you want to be
Mental contrasting is a technique whereby you imagine a positive future outcome (e.g. exercising more frequently) and then contrast it with the existing reality that stands in the way (e.g. lack of time). The process works by identifying the goal, such as ‘to go for a run three days per week’ and deciding whether it is feasible to commit to.
In the first step, you describe in-depth the most positive aspect of attaining this goal (e.g. increased fitness). Second, you think about the best thing that would happen if you went for a run three times per week (e.g. feel happier and healthier). Following this, you try to identify the biggest obstacle to reaching this goal. In doing so, you have raised awareness of the goals and what barriers you face. Cue ‘if-then’ plans…
Create an ‘If… then!’ plan
If-then planning can help you achieve your fitness goals by creating an automatic action plan in your mind should you encounter any obstacles or temptations. Better still, it can be highly effective when used with mental contrasting. Follow these three simple steps: 1) Identify the barriers to achieving your goal. 2) Identify possible solutions. 3) Develop these into if-then plans. For example, ‘If I do not have time to exercise today, then I will find time tomorrow!’