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Make Your Move: 8 Foolproof Motivation Tricks

Ah, the sofa. It's soft and cozy, and its cushions have conformed perfectly to the shape of your butt. On any given day the decision to get up off it and exercise can be a tough one to make. To help you kick any workout rut, we culled the best motivational tricks from scientists as well as from fit women whose flab-to-fierce successes will inspire you.

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Rule 1: Consider exercise as more ta-da, less to-do.

"We always think we need to find willpower to do things we don't want to do, but what we really need to find is 'want power,'" says psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a lecturer at Stanford University and the author of The Willpower Instinct. In other words, to make exercise click, slap a mental sugarcoating on it. For Melissa Steinman, 28, of Findlay, Ohio, the incentive is her mission to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation, which has kept her running long after she lost about 70 pounds. Steinman, who has had rheumatoid arthritis since she was an infant, used the disease as an excuse to sit out exercise, until having knee surgery sparked a workout habit that has lasted four years and counting. "I learned that every pound I lost was like taking five pounds off my joints," Steinman says. That was all she needed to hear to get in gear, and she's putting her new lease on litheness to good use by training for a 5K charity race to support the foundation.

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Rule 2: Think "It...is...on!" as you get set to sweat.

First, find a more inspiring shape-up opponent than your scale. A study from Brown University suggested that weight loss can be contagious and that being part of a team that is slimming down can help you drop pounds, too; the combo of accountability, competition, and encouragement appears to shore up motivation. And you don't need to audition for The Biggest Loser to benefit. In the summer of 2010, twin sisters Nicole and Sam Tracey of Pittsburgh, who were each pushing 300 pounds, made a decision: "We had no reason to be overweight, so we found all the reasons not to be," Nicole, now 22, says. What followed was a "secret, friendly competition" that spurred each of them to lose more than 70 pounds. "If Sam works out 45 minutes one day, I have to match her 45 minutes," Nicole explains. Such a simple tug-of-war trigger has scientific cred. "There's good evidence that when you raise the stakes, it helps ignite your spirit so that you can actually attain a goal," McGonigal says.

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Rule 3: Swim for a buoy; ignore the shore.

If your long-range target makes you concede defeat before you even lace up, reframe your aim. "People think they have to get from A to Z with the strength they have now, but you really need to take only one step," McGonigal says. "That new person you become, who is already closer to her goal, can do the next step." Kate Corey, 25, psyched herself out of exercising for years. "I was one of the chubby kids who was bullied by classmates," she says. That led to self-consciousness that literally stopped her in her tracks. "Any time I tried to run, I had an anxiety attack." Nonetheless, Corey joined a YMCA after college. "Initially I was too nervous to sprint with the rest of my boot camp class, so I jumped rope," she says. A year and a half later she ran her first race. "I realized that if I truly want to succeed, I need to stop being so judgmental about myself and just do what I can in the moment," she says.

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Rule 4: Make spandex the link to a social network.

Getting double the payoff from each workout boosts your desire to lace up, says Michelle Segar, PhD, associate director of the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan. "When people can make a single activity fulfill many goals, they're more likely to stick with it," she says. One of the best ways to do that is to build your BFFs into the bargain, as buds Jaime Maser and Pam Henzi, both 33, have found over years of exercise dates in New York City. "We meet up at least once a week for a workout," Maser says. "If I hear about something to try, Pam is the first call I make, and vice versa." This tactic works even with virtual workout pals, McGonigal says. "When we view an action as an opportunity to confirm membership in a social tribe, the behavior becomes much more attractive," she explains. That's part of the principle behind Black Girls Run, a nationwide network of 25,000 women who get together to run races and train. When pals Toni Carey, 28, of Norfolk, Virginia, and Ashley Hicks, 28, of New York City, founded the network, "one of the things we really wanted to do was dispel the myth that black women don't exercise," says Carey, who began running to boost her health and wanted other black women to feel encouraged to get fit as well. "For me, the realization that you can create your own destiny was extremely powerful," she says.

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Rule 5: View exercise as a way to perfect your swagger.

"There's something about making your body stronger that generalizes into everything you feel overwhelmed by or ill-equipped to handle," McGonigal says. In other words, conquering a CrossFit class or a 10K race quiets your inner wimp and can make you feel that you can do anything. For Michelle Bouchor, a 39-year-old grad student and mom from just outside Seattle, doing a triathlon was the key to overcoming an anxiety disorder that kept her close to home. When Bouchor was accepted to graduate school, the required 20-mile commute was way out of her comfort zone. So she signed up for a nearby tri. "If I could push myself to do the triathlon, I could conquer the fear of having to drive to Seattle alone. I'm also not a strong swimmer, so the thought of jumping into a lake was a bit unnerving. In fact, I almost backed out of the whole thing as I was standing there in my wet suit," she recalls. But she didn't, and she's been using exercise ever since to help keep her anxiety in check. "Now I feel that even though it's tough driving to school, if I can manage to get a little bit of exercise in the mornings, both my emotional and physical well-being are set for the day," says Bouchor, who is completing her first year of a master's program in psychology.

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Rule 6: Picture your future self.

Are you going to be fit, or are you going to be heavy, unhealthy, and wheezing to get up a flight of stairs? "Imagine the cost of not exercising -- what you're going to look like and feel like," McGonigal suggests. "Then imagine the benefits 20 years from now; that vision can be very motivating." Sara Faith Alterman, 32, can attest to the power of this mental projection. In 2007, when she lived in Boston, Alterman found herself heckling marathoners from the sidelines with a group of drunken friends. "I was sucking on what was probably my 10th cigarette of the day, drinking what had to be beer number four," she recalls. "Then I noticed a skinny, gray-haired, sort of hunched-over runner. He was at mile 23 of the Boston Marathon, and around his neck was a sign that read, '75 years old. 25th marathon.' And I felt so ashamed of myself." Alterman began ditching her crummy habits and took up running. Taking care of herself became addictive: She has lost 45 pounds, finished a marathon, and greatly diminished the fibromyalgia pain that had plagued her for years. "Getting fit got me healthy, and I feel fantastic about myself," she says. "I still drink. I'm human. But my eating habits are much better, and I actually care about my body."

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Rule 7: Pick a workout for your head, not just your bod.

The routine that burns the most calories or gives you the tightest abs might not be your best choice. "Finding the right activity for your emotional place helps you get what you need out of exercise," Segar says. During some periods in your life, a hip-hop class or a full-tilt run may be just the right speed for that mental sweet spot; other times, something more contemplative is called for. What Vesna Rothschild, 44, of Southampton, New York, needed was a way to escape from her thoughts. After her husband died of brain cancer and she found herself alone with two children, she couldn't turn off her worries. What helped? Stand-up paddleboarding. "When I was first learning, if I thought about anything other than balancing on the board, I fell into the water. Because I didn't want to fall in, my concentration made me shut out the fears and chatter in my head," she recalls. "During those moments, I realized that everything would be okay. Now I look forward to paddleboarding because it kept me sane."

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Rule 8: Adapt, adapt, adapt.

Your favorite Spinning instructor moves to Tahiti. Do you hit the smoothie bar or pop into Pilates instead? If you get injured running, do you bail on the whole prospect of working out or suit up for a swim? Things aren't always going to go perfectly, so roll with it. Tossing out all-or-nothing thinking will be your fitness savior. "Setbacks really can be opportunities," Segar says. Sarah Doherty, 52, of Taunton, Massachusetts, learned this the hard way when she lost her leg at age 13 after being hit by a car while biking. "It forced me at an early age to make the decision either to step forward into a new life or to remain a victim of my circumstances. And what choice is that? Exercise was hard, especially on crutches. But I learned to ski fast with other disabled people and eventually to climb mountains with special equipment I designed," says the occupational therapist, whose company, SideStix, makes high-performance crutches that help people with disabilities or other physical limitations climb and trek. "And through it all, I was having fun -- a lot of fun -- and wasn't thinking of these activities as exercise."

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2012.

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ma29lu35 wrote:

Very good idea. All long trips begin with a short step.

1/1/2013 11:58:47 AM Report Abuse

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