People in the fitness industry know that the beginning on January turns any gym into a Royal Rumble. The gym floods with those looking to trade laying on the couch to lifting a couch over their head. Inevitably, the crowd starts to die down. By February, things are almost back to normal - for the people in the gym and the people on the couch. I spoke with a few experts to try to get some insight on the million dollar question about get through the tough times when working on a long-term goal like getting in shape.

Nick Rickter of the KCC had this nugget to offer:

" Working out with a friend can be the best way to exercise.  Many of us struggle to motivate ourselves to put down the sweets and actually go on a run when we’re alone, but we always seem to make it to a class when we’re going with a friend.  Having an exercise buddy may just be the key to getting off the couch, and pushing ourselves harder during our workouts.  People with exercise partners tend to work out more than those who want do their own thing."

Having a training partner is very valuable. Having to show up because another person expects you to be there kills a lot of wimpy excuses that can sneak in to your brain. There's also the fact that many people do enjoy company. Even if your workout takes longer because of the socializing, if it's enjoyable, you'll stick with it to get those results. Classes and small group training emphasize that camaraderie, and also take the guesswork out, so you don't have to wander around the weights wondering what to do.

Marcus McCleary, from Move-15.com, shared his wisdom:

"...As for the continued intrinsic motivation, stamina is critical. It’s like cardio. We “Plateau” at different levels and think we can’t “break through”. With some “P.U.S.H.”  (Persist Until Something Happens) we can break through those blocks and continue to gain in cardio strides. Kind of like cross country driving. When I was a kid I would complain to my folks that I was “Done” in the car and couldn’t take another minute of driving( with many hours to go). My mom would create “games”(diversions) for me to play as we drove. Suddenly we were minutes from our destination and I want to stay traveling so I could complete the game! - Make sense?

Our brains are such fantastic things. We can endure pain, write poetry, solve complex problems, build things and a whole host of other capabilities! Let’s tap into that resource that we’ve got right upstairs!

We can be creative in our workouts, we can set small goals, big goals, build in our own incentives, etc… I used to own a business that sold merchandise. eBay was one of our selling sites. I would have our actual auctions end on Sunday nights. They would end late enough that most kids were in bed yet early enough to not have to stay up(had to consider the time zone). My theory was that people bought more on Sunday nights to help get through Mondays and Tuesdays. Knowing you have something “new” coming in the mail helps get through the doldrums that Mondays and Tuesdays can often carry. So, that’s a hidden type of incentive program. 

Weight loss is like college, you have to stay in for the long haul to reach the goal. “Stay the course, and focus on the Big Picture” is what I tell many of my clients. The little battles will come, let’s deal with them one at a time with our primary focus on the overall victory! 

Tell friends and family that you are losing weight, exercising, etc.. That can act as a bit of an accountability piece too. 

The most effective idea I had on myself and others is to Anchor our strengths into our weaknesses. Will Power is not just in dieting! It takes Will Power to go to church, stay in a committed relationship, save and invest money, play an instrument etc…

All our strong Will Powers can be anchored into our weak Will Powers. Bottom Line = Love ourselves and the rest will follow! We gotta love what we see in the mirror! Our minds, bodies, and sprits are SO incredibly BEAUTIFUL! This is such a tough question for so many people!! Our habits are life-long! Make them healthy and we’ll all live Stronger Longer!"

When people struggle to start a goal, they are often hung up on some type of perceived pain. They might not know what to do, are afraid of looking stupid or failing, or can't find time. Humans are wired for homeostasis, your brain is going to fight you every step of the way when you try to make a change. Most common resolutions (weight loss, save money, spend more time with family) are not things that can be accomplished in one grand epic action. What I tell clients is that they need to find a system that works for them. Find a way to exercise that you'll enjoy and supports your health. Find a way to eat without obsessing about food that still gets you results. There's a phrase that goes "Most people quit because of how far they see they have to go, and don't realize how far they've come."

Accomplishing goals is not a linear process. You may not always see immediate progress. But trust the process, think about metrics to track your steps forward. It's likely that you won't realize you hit your goal until you look back. What Marcus is saying is that we can distract ourselves from the pain and still make progress towards our goals. Imagine how easy getting in shape would be if you had the habit of automatically going to the gym. The best use of will power is to set up habits, which are automatic, unlike willpower, which is finite. Find a way to make daily progress, and that will become a part of you eventually.

That's the power of habit. It's something that you do on auto-pilot. Think about getting a little kid to brush his teeth. It's a struggle, but as an adult, it's something you (presumably) just do. Believe it or not working out is like that for some people. How do you get to that point? Make it a habit. Simple on paper. The biggest factor is consistency. Life and your brain will get in the way. You have to know yourself to be able to set up a system to get what you want. Do you need a friend to go with? Do you need the financial incentive of a personal trainer? Do you need to just find your "thing?" It takes trial and error, but the important thing is to keep trying.