It’s so nice and warm here in bed, snuggled under the down comforter with the cat curled up next to me. I don’t want to disturb the cat. I don’t want to wake up my husband. The furnace hasn’t kicked on yet and it’s still chilly in the house.

And yet I slip out of bed and put on my workout clothes, strap on my iWatch, grab my phone and turn on my wireless headphones.

What gets me out of bed on those cold, dark mornings? Why do I lift weights, run outside when it’s cold, and swim laps in the pool when I’d rather be doing something more fun?

At the heart of it, I exercise so that I can really enjoy the “more fun” stuff I’d rather be doing when I can do it, including exploring the world by foot, bike and boat. I want to be able to keep doing those things for many more years, and I know that staying fit through consistent exercise is part of that equation.

I’ll be honest though, on those cold winter mornings, it’s tempting to justify staying in bed and tell myself that skipping a day isn’t going to matter. And some days I do stay in bed longer and give myself a break.

To keep that from becoming a pattern, though, I turn to more immediate motivation to stay on track.

Everyone has a different “motivation match,” though I’ve found a few common themes for what keeps my clients consistently motivated as they pursue their goals.

Upcoming Event

This could be a big “life event” like a reunion or wedding, an annual event like a vacation or family visit, or a fitness-focused event like 5K run or a multi-day bike ride. The deadline is coming, so it’s time to get going!

Of course, starting in March 2020, this motivator evaporated for a lot of people. I had signed up to do a triathlon in July 2020, and was just about to figure out my training plan when it was cancelled. Darn, no laps in the pool!

As I write this in March 2021, though, the triathlon is back on, so I need to book my time at the pool. The percentage of people who have been vaccinated increases daily, and events are getting back on calendars.

Many people have a renewed appreciation for events, and are looking forward to making the most of FINALLY being able to participate in them!

One of my clients is gearing up for a summer trip to a “dude ranch” in Wyoming with his family, including his pre-teen grandson. Several years ago he was inspired to get into better shape for a trip to Glacier National Park, and ended up hiking 6 miles on the High Line Trail.

After a rough winter of staying inside due to COVID and weather, he’s gotten back into his strength training routine and started increasing his walking distance. He now exudes energy, excitement and confidence.

He acknowledges that getting into better shape will help him more fully enjoy his retirement in Colorado for years to come, which was why we worked to develop an exercise routine for him last fall. But it’s been his short-term motivator of hiking at the dude ranch in a few months that has really sparked him to get back on track.

Competitive Streak

As much as I enjoy participating in athletic events like triathlons and bike rides, I’m not a competitive person. But I know a LOT of people who are!

Some are competitive with themselves – they track their “personal best” for a specific route or type of event, aim to add distance, or set other specific goals to achieve.

Then there are those who push harder when they’re up against others head-to-head. They have the drive to win, and keep their eye on that prize.

Group Accountability

The power of accountability works motivation wonders for some people. The “group” be just one other person – a coach, a workout buddy, a family member – or even a dog, horse or other animal!

It’s a partner you’ve committed to exercising with or for, and you’re going to keep that commitment even on the tough days. One of my clients struggled to reach her daily step goal walking by herself. When she walked with a friend, though, she blew through it.

If you’re drawn to being part of a larger team working toward a common goal – at work, with your family, in your community – you can use the team approach for fitness too. Whether it’s a soccer team that plays games or a team of individuals training together for an event, the dynamic and energy can be similar.

The times that I rode the Bike MS through 100+ miles in Colorado’s brutal late June heat as part of Team Jude are some of my fondest memories. We trained together in the months leading up to the event, raised a ton of money, and our team’s “mascot” Judy was there at the end, smiling and cheering us on.

Social Accountability

This is similar to group accountability, though a bit broader and social media has definitely upped the ante.

How many posts have you seen on Facebook or Instagram about a friend or family member’s goal to run a marathon, complete a hike or some other athletic achievement?

Your proclamation doesn’t have to be that big and bold to provide motivation though. Even telling just a handful of supportive friends can be enough to get through those days when procrastination is rearing its tempting head.

Rewards and Incentives

Gold stars, medals, cash, t-shirts – it’s part of human nature to be motivated by rewards big or small. You can set a reward for yourself, such as buying something or doing something, or aim for an incentive from an external source, such as an employer’s wellness program that offers a gift card.

You can use small and frequent rewards – $1 for every workout completed goes into a jar, and soon you have enough to buy that sweet something you’ve been eyeing online.

You can also use a big reward for reaching a larger goal – a full day at the spa after completing a multi-day hike (my husband and I did this after our trek to Machu Picchu).

What’s Your Match?

Think about which of these resonate most, and how you might combine them to stay on track in case your “go to” falls through. Are you a “go for the gold” type of person? The dependable friend who won’t miss a group exercise class? Are you looking forward to a big vacation with family after a year of limited or no travel?

Once you figure out your motivation match, get specific about how to use it to fuel your fitness practice. And on those days when it’s a struggle to get out of the warm, cozy bed, you’ll have that extra push that keeps you moving forward.

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