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Consistency & Persistence Ensures Fitness Success Better Than Motivation Alone

What are your fitness goals? Some of us want to be able to run 5 miles, some want bigger biceps, while others may want to reach a certain weight. We have goals, but the truth is that fitness goals like these aren’t achieved overnight.

It takes a lot of time and effort to reach a goal, but how do we keep going for the long haul? In the beginning, when our goal is fresh, motivation can play a big role in being successful at keeping up with regular workouts.

But what about those days when we’re tired due to a lack of sleep, or a long day at work? Or maybe there’s a birthday party and a wedding to attend, all in the same week.

Then there are the days (sometimes weeks!) when we just don’t feel like working out. We know we should exercise, but we don’t feel motivated to do it. That initial excitement of thinking about our goal starts to wear off. What then?

Let’s discuss why consistency and persistence are more reliable than motivation alone to keep us going in our fitness lifestyle.

How are persistence, consistency & motivation different?

Let’s take a look at what these words actually mean:

Motivation (a feeling)

The Cambridge Dictionary defines motivation as:

  1. “the need or reason for doing something”
  2. “willingness to do something, or something that causes such willingness”
  3. “enthusiasm for doing something”

Consistency (an action)

From the Collins Dictionary:

  1. “someone who is consistent always behaves in the same way”
  2. “achieves the same level of success in something”

Persistence (an action)

The APA Dictionary of Psychology says persistence is:

  1. “continuance or repetition of a particular behavior, process, or activity despite cessation of the initiating stimulus”
  2. “the quality or state of maintaining a course of action or keeping at a task and finishing it despite the obstacles (such as opposition or discouragement) or the effort involved”

Building exercise habits

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Motivation, consistency, and persistence are all good things to have when we’re working toward our fitness goals. We know that accomplishing what we want to do will require considerable effort over a period of time.

The thing is, while we might be very motivated to start a new training strategy, how long will it last? Since motivation is a “reason, willingness, or enthusiasm for doing something”, it’s really more of a feeling than an action. You might have your reason constantly in mind for why you want to continue, but it’s guaranteed that the feeling of being motivated won’t always be there when you need it.

Consistency and persistence are actions, however, and don’t rely on feeling a certain way. They are similar, but slightly different qualities. To be consistent with exercise means keeping up a similar workout schedule and effort over time. Persistence means that regardless of how we might feel, or what obstacles arise, we stick with that consistency in our workouts.

Since working toward a goal requires sticking to a workout plan, it’s important to build daily habits. Being in the habit of doing something makes it a regular part of our routine, like brushing our teeth or taking a shower.

Once that habit is built by being consistent and persistent, it doesn’t matter if the motivation is there or not, we just do it!

Lifelong fitness

Back view of woman athlete in a park, stretching muscles of arms and back

It is fun to have a short-term goal to work toward, and it’s satisfying to accomplish that goal. Short-term goals can be used to get started working out initially, or to bring a little excitement into a workout plan. This is when the feeling of motivation is usually at its highest.

For maintaining good health though, the real goal should be to keep exercising over the long term, throughout our lifetime.

If motivation is an unreliable feeling that may be there one day but not the next, what can we do to ensure we keep up with our regular fitness activities?

How to be consistent & persistent

Feet and legs of woman wearing black leggings and athletic hoes walking on dirt path through a meadow
Staying on the path

The best way to be consistent with our workouts is to be persistent in following our fitness path, whatever that may be. On days when motivation is in short supply, having fitness habits in place will ensure those workouts get done, no matter what!

The secret to instilling regular workout habits is different for everyone. We all have unique lifestyles, families, and work schedules to take into consideration. My habits will be different than yours, but the most important thing is coming up with an exercise schedule and plan that works for your life.

How to make an exercise schedule

Coming up with a fitness schedule is a great way to build exercise habits. This is where consistency comes in. The more you repeat a behavior on a regular basis, the more it becomes second nature, which creates a habit.

Two words to keep in mind are flexible and realistic.

A workout schedule is a framework, but it needs to be flexible. If your schedule is too rigid, you will in time come to resent it, and then that schedule is no longer your friend. You will start finding reasons to miss workouts, because a too-rigid schedule doesn’t allow for anything unexpected.

In order for your workout schedule to be flexible, it also has to be realistic. If I create a schedule that says I will exercise for 1 hour, 7 days a week, how realistic is this? I might be able to keep up with it for a week, maybe even a month. It’s unrealistic, however, to think that I would never miss a day of working out for the rest of my life!

A more flexible and realistic schedule would possibly be to plan on working out 4 to 5 days per week. This would allow for a few days to rest and also have time to take care of other things. It makes it a lot easier to stick to a workout plan when it feels doable, rather than impossible to keep up with.

For more on creating a weekly fitness plan, see my post called “How Much Exercise Do You Need?”.

The old saying “less is more” is applicable here. While it might seem like working out 7 days a week is better than 4 or 5 days, it actually isn’t if we can’t keep it up long-term. When we dial it back a bit, though, we end up being more consistent over time, because we have the flexibility we need.

Make exercise fun

The truth is that we’re more apt to be consistent and persistent with activities that we enjoy. It’s just human nature, we like to do things that are fun, and we procrastinate and set aside those things that are boring.

Enjoying our workouts is just as important as having a flexible and realistic schedule for maintaining consistency. No matter how great the schedule fits into our life, if we don’t like the workouts we’re doing, we simply won’t do them!

Because we’re unique individuals, we won’t all like doing the exact same type of workouts. The key is to consider what kinds of activities you like, and what you are naturally good at. Fitness doesn’t have to mean working out at a gym, if you don’t like gyms!

Besides finding the types of workouts you like to do, see this post for “11 Ways to Make Exercise More Enjoyable”.

In conclusion

We discussed why motivation can’t be relied on to keep us moving forward in our regular fitness routine, because it is a feeling that comes and goes. Consistency and persistence, however, are actions that we can take, regardless of how we might feel on any given day.

Being consistent and persistent with our workouts can help us to build exercise habits that last a lifetime. Creating a weekly schedule that is flexible and realistic enables us to keep going on our fitness path for the long term.

Please feel free to leave a comment or ask questions in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what strategies you have used to stay consistent and persistent in your regular fitness routine. ?

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