Playing up the Positives: 4 Simple Ways to Stay Motivated to Exercise

September 13, 2009 Leave a comment

ExerciseFocusing on each small triumph in your diet and exercise motivates you to keep going and sends your confidence skyward. Here’s how to keep track of your achievements.

Motivational quicksand: We’ve all been there. No matter how much you try to stick with your carefully constructed fitness plan, you instead find yourself rearranging your sock drawer for the umpteenth time or get sucked toward the freezer for an ice cream fix. Double scoop.

How do you recapture enthusiasm for the eat-right and exercise goals that were so passion-driven when you first started? A simple, self-styled manual known as a “Success Journal” can prop you up on those off days and keep your passion afire over the long haul. “In fitness, it’s the small, measurable steps that matter,” says Susan Kleiner, R.D., Ph.D., a sports nutritionist at High Performance Nutrition in Mercer Island, Wash., and co-author of Power Eating & Fitness Log (Get Pumped, 1999). “Making progress in our exercise and diet—and tracking that on paper—motivates and inspires us with confidence.” Critical caveat: you must write down the right things. Here, our experts show you how, while the worksheet at the conclusion of this article will put your positive spin into action.

TIP: Assess yourself

“Establishing a baseline of fitness allows you to gauge how you’re performing and feeling as you go, and over time that increases your exercise motivation,” says sports psychologist Linda Bunker, Ph.D., of Charlottesville, VA. “If you don’t know where you started, you’ll never get to where you’re going,” she says. So, begin your diet and exercise plan with an assessment of where you are right now.
EXERCISE: Record your starting numbers on the worksheet on page TK or in a success journal you create for yourself. Note details such as the weight, sets and reps in your strength training, the duration and intensity of your cardio sessions and your measurements/how your clothes fit. Write down what you’re eating and how much water you’re drinking as well – all of the specifics of your starting point.

TIP: Know your “rights”

Your Success Journal is a forum for constructive fitness lessons and positive workout experiences only; it’s not a place to beat yourself up. “Focusing on the positives, rather than the negatives, is more motivating and productive in the long run,” says Kleiner. “That will make you feel successful and you can build on those successes.” Remember: Each accomplishment moves you closer to your goal.
EXERCISE: On the worksheet, keep a daily record of everything you’re doing to bring yourself closer to your fitness goals, whether it’s drinking eight glasses of water a day, taking your vitamins, walking instead of driving (yes it can be done!) to your local market or completing a 40-minute run.

TIP: Make it personal

Pursue your fitness goals from the inside out, rather than the outside in. As you journal, tune into how you feel and what’s making the experience so special for you. “Research shows that writing down things that deeply motivate you on a personal level keeps you on track,” says Bunker. Find ways to make your exercise and diet your own, perhaps creating a workout tape of your favorite songs or cooking the healthy foods you truly love. Note how these things are specifically about you and how they make you feel.
EXERCISE: Write down how you feel about your accomplishments on the worksheet below.

Also, customize your Success Journal so that it completely reflects your fitness life—and you as a person. Build it into a thick, rich, inspiring scrapbook including a “before photo” of yourself (with an “after” placeholder), 5k run ribbons, anything that motivates you.

TIP: Keep it simple and stress-free

“Writing in your journal should be a seamless part of your day,” says Bunker. And you needn’t log minute details – only your fitness and nutrition triumphs need be included. You may simply decide to note how each workout is a victory for your body, or how certain foods are improving your health. You should look forward to tracking, and celebrating, everything that’s going well in your fitness life, so get fired up!  Just like exercise and eating, this should be fun, cathartic and passion-driven, never guilt-induced.
EXERCISE: Keep your journal in your gym bag and spend a few minutes after every workout writing down your successes – or do it at the end of the day before bed, just after doing a mental review of all your “rights.” Pick a time when you’ll be most relaxed and excited about recording your victories.


Make copies of this worksheet and fill out a page as often as you can for the next 4 to 8 weeks. Or, pick up a nutrition and workout logbook, such as Susan Kleiner’s Power Eating & Fitness Log (Get Pumped, 1999) or Suzanne Schlosberg’s The Ultimate Workout Log: An Exercise Diary and Fitness Guide (Mariner Books, 2001). Review each Success Journal entry whenever your motivation wanes to get right back on track.

DATE ____________________________


Current Activity Level:




Current Workout Schedule ________________________________________________________

Current Eating Habits ________________________________________________________


Activity ____________________________

Location ____________________________

Duration ____________________________

Intensity ____


Healthy Food Log ____________________________

Water ____________________________

Vitamins taken ____________________________


What positive feelings did you experience during and after your exercise (less stressed/more energized/more confident)?________________________________________________________

What foods/nutritional triumphs made you feel good?________________________________________________________

What lessons have you learned about yourself from today’s successes? ________________________________________________________

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