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Maintaining the motivation to exercise can be hard as we fight a mental battle between comfort and our commitments. If it’s nice out, we lament the lost opportunity to bask in the sunshine while working out in the gym. And it’s tough to enjoy a vibrant Greek salad when there are plenty of cupcakes available. We face these tiny challenges every day once we’ve decided to get healthier – sometimes we win, while other times we struggle.

However, nothing tests our resolve to stay the fitness course more than leaving the warmth and comfort of our beds on a winter morning. Those lunges and planks often don’t stand a chance of materialising in the face of those cold, dark mornings.

So what can we do once our motivation to exercise has jumped out the window and taken our resolve to eat well with it? We know we can’t rely on motivational memes or empty Instagram platitudes to get us going – we need something stronger. Here are three tips that have some solid research behind them to help sustain your motivation to move through the winter months.

Just go for it 

Given the opportunity, our brains will almost always choose the path of least resistance by default, opting for the comfortable and immediately gratifying behaviour over the activity that pays off later. If we stop to think about it too long, we tell ourselves we’ll “train tomorrow” or we “deserve a sleep-in”.

The recommendation to get your feet on the floor before your brain can figure out what’s going on is a good strategy. Deciding to shut off the contemplation and simply engage in the mechanical actions of putting your runners on or doing the push-ups will get you started. And we all know that once you get going, momentum is a powerful vehicle for progress.

Behavioural psychology has long said that for things like motivation and exercise, you can’t always think your way into the right action. A better long-term approach is to act your way into the right way of thinking.

Write it down

Whatever your goal is, write it down and leave it next to you so that it’s immediately visible upon waking up. Outline only your most important goal so your focus is on what matters most to you. Also add some small points underneath as to why that particular goal is important to bolster the effect.

For example, you may write “lose 5kg”. Your “why” might include something like: “so that I can throw out my Spanx and feel comfortable in my clothes again”. Reading a deeply personal and emotionally driven benefit first thing in the morning can do more to get you up and moving than a reminder that “you’ve got this”.

The act of writing down your goal with a pen and paper inscribes what you’ve written far deeper into your subconscious. Typing is merely an automatic, almost thoughtless action, whereas crafting the individual letters on a handwritten note engages more of your mental circuitry and floats the goal closer to the surface of your mind for easier recall. With this extra anchor to keep you on course, you’ll be more likely to stack up more attendances than absences.

Reframe your thoughts

The things we say to ourselves matter, so it’s important to state our intentions and describe our actions in a way that draws strength from intrinsic motivators, rather than being influenced by external motivations beyond our control.

Behaviour change expert Michelle Segar from the University of Michigan says we should stop thinking about exercise as something that we have to do and instead reframe it as something that we get to do. When we view it as something that must be done, we’re effectively relinquishing autonomy – if we feel like we have no choice in the matter, we’re less likely to carry on with an activity that feels forced or burdensome.

Remind yourself that there are people who stay inside and hibernate in the winter months, and there are those who make the most of it and go skiing. Which one you are will largely depend on what you say to yourself, so talk yourself up, think highly of yourself, write down your goals and act them out like you mean it. Follow these strategies and you’ll ensure that your motivation to train isn’t as fleeting as the changing seasons.

Want to get moving? Here are three steps to get you running.

Danny James is the head of strength and conditioning and personal training at Central Performance in Surry Hills.

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