04/05/2012 09:51 am ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

The Art of Creating Structure -- 5 Ways to Boost Your Fitness Motivation

A question we are asked time and again by people who are trying to change their health and their physical appearance is this: How can I stay motivated?

Mark offers a great answer for this: create a structure. To be a six-time world champion triathlete requires systematic training--persistent, day-after-day, scheduled workouts.

We believe that achieving an ambitious fitness goal, whether it's to complete a marathon or lose 30 pounds, is as much an art as it is a science. We say this because the human body isn't going to work out, change unhelpful behavior patterns, and persist at something that's inconvenient and sometimes difficult without our mind's artful self-persuasion and reaffirmation of purpose. To stay motivated, then, you need to learn the art of creating a structure for yourself. (No one else is going to do it for you!)

Just as young children often thrive in an environment that has structure and routine, adults also do well with structure; but in our case, it's intrinsic, or self-imposed. If motivation to stick with your fitness plan is challenging for you, you might respond well to more structure.

Here are five ways to power up your fitness regimen, get back on track, and move closer to achieving your goal using structure to help you.

Know and set the quest.
We Westerners call them "goals." The Huichol people call them "quests." Either way, the first step to strengthening your motivation is to create a vision of where you want to be, say, in six months or a year from now. Whether it's to have your cholesterol number decrease by 30 points, or your pant size go down two sizes, see it, believe it, and say it to yourself. Do this daily. Putting your quest front and center in your mind will help you view every stride in your run, repetition in your strength training, and lap in the pool as progress toward that ever-present goal.

Schedule your workouts.
Many people we work with report that they respond well to a structured schedule. Set a time and place for your workout and write it on your calendar. Hold yourself accountable to your fitness appointment. If you've scheduled a run but it's raining, then pull out the mat and do floor exercises and isometrics in your living room for 30 minutes instead. A written fitness schedule becomes a tool for tracking your consistency and commitment.

Create a written contract.
Write a three-month contract with yourself. "By my July 1 doctor's appointment, I aim to have lost 10 pounds. My ultimate goal is to lose 30 pounds by Christmas." Sign it and keep it in a place where you will see it, such as under your computer keyboard or in your wallet. At the three-month point, take it out and revise it three months forward. Be sure to set attainable short-term goals so that you receive a jolt of positive reinforcement and a renewed sense of accomplishment at regular intervals.

Break it down.
One of the reasons people get discouraged and lose motivation is because they try to do too much too soon, and it's unsustainable. If running 5K is a smaller goal on the way to completing a marathon, then work on achieving that 5K a little bit at a time. Commit to running or walking one mile every day for the first week. Plot it out, then increase the distance or rigor the second week. What's most important for motivation is accomplishing and completing a task on a consistent basis, not the size of the task itself.

Fall in love with repetition.
An Ironman athlete as well as a Huichol Indian has to fall in love with repetition. How else can a person keep going with physical tasks for a long time and not find a way to enjoy the same training regimen? But this does not mean taking the same bike or running path day after day. It means doing something every day -- before work, say, or right after work -- even if it's just a short walk outside. If you mix up your activities but do them consistently, your motivation will turn into a habit. That's the beauty of repetition.

For more by Brant Secunda and Mark Allen, click here.

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