Updated: Oct 27
Most people know that we need to be fit and healthy to have a long and fulfilling life. But after committing to be more active, some struggle to make it part of their routine for the long term. So after making the decision to "give fitness a go", here are some tips to “keep it up”.
Enjoyment is arguably the greatest predictor of sports commitment (Scanlan et al., 1993). So it’s a wonder that even if we do enjoy it and feel great afterward, it can still be difficult to be motivated next time.
"Enjoyment is arguably the greatest predictor of sport commitment." – Scanlan et al., 1993
It could be work, family priorities, or more often than not, it’s just not feeling in the right frame of mind. We put it off and then later regret that we didn't stick to what we said to ourselves we would do. So we commit again, only to go around the same cycle over and over.
"To stick to commitments, sometimes it’s needed to resort to "have to" and not only a "want to" attitude." – Boyst 2009
Pre-commitment introduces a feeling of obligation to do something over and above our desire to do it, and the result is that we can make plans that are more consistent with our long-term goals. Furthermore, as it’s our own choice, it doesn’t have negative connotations like being told what to do.
The higher the level of pre-commitment, the more compelled we will feel. Let's look at factors that influence the level of pre-commitment.
1. Alone or with others
If the activity is performed alone and without any other contact with others, pre-commitment is very low.
For example, after saying to yourself in the evening that you will get up early and go for a run alone, then there is no feeling of "must do". So the desire to get from under the sheets when it’s cold outside may not be easy.
A high level of pre-commitment is when it's difficult to get out of something, for example, if a squash game is booked with a close friend. Most people would struggle to get out of that at the last minute (or it would take a very good excuse).
So one option for pre-commitment is to participate in group activities and confirm with the group a few days in advance. Examples are team sports or sports clubs such as running or walking.
“Drop-in” fitness classes don’t give much pre-commitment, although advance confirmation with the other participants or planning to go with a friend does make it more compelling. Confirming on an app such as “Sporteasy” is also a great way to let the coach know you are committed.
If it’s a solo activity you have in mind, then putting a sports kit “in the way” is a little tip.
Doing this gives a strong reminder to do what was committed, and may give that little nudge in the right direction.
Goals and target setting are a form of pre-commitment and can be a good motivator. However, it’s important to use them in the right way by being realistic and ensuring that the goals are achievable.
It’s a good idea not to confuse goals with targets. Goals should be activity-based, whereas targets are the results thanks to the activity.
A goal is something like “I will go for a run once per week”, whereas a target is "I will run 10km in 50 minutes". We are much more in direct control of achieving goals than targets. The other good thing about short-term goals is that it is not a long time before the feeling of satisfaction when achieving them. This feeling of achievement is really helpful in staying committed.
The potential disadvantage of targets is that there are various factors that can determine if you achieve them or not. If the progress is not on track, it can lead to frustration even if we are doing the right things. Do the right things and let the results look after themselves.
3. Sharing your plans
This is not for everyone, as it can be considered as egocentric. However, sharing with others your ambitions, either directly or on social media, is a quite powerful motivator. The thought that we may meet up with somebody and ask "how are you getting on with your fitness plan" when we have given up, could be a bit worrying.
Goal sharing will boost motivation even further. Social media can help with that. Don’t be afraid to let people know what their aspirations are and take on that encouragement and recognition when they are achieved.
4. Ingrained habits
This is the holy grail of a healthy lifestyle. This means that there is a natural desire to keep it up even if not in the mood. This will usually come after many months of regular exercise and training.
Somehow, the mind and body will not feel like usual without doing regular physical activity.
However, if this is not the case yet, maybe some of the strategies mentioned in this article will help.