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Already bailing on your new fitness goal? Try these motivation mind tricks

Changing your perspective, or the location of your workout, can open an untapped well of motivation.

Brett Gundlock/The Globe and Mail

The year is barely a month old and two of my newest clients are missing in action. Training sessions are being skipped, texts are going unanswered, and excuses are piling up. If I was the sort of drill sergeant trainer who screamed clients into complacency, my voice would be shot. But I'm an overly empathetic softie, especially when it comes to newbies who've yet to internalize the habit of training. It takes time to overcome our instinct toward avoiding hard work.

I have a theory that it's not exercise and a healthy lifestyle people are resistant to, it's the idea of gyms – and gym culture – that's being sold to them by our corporate overlords. Media messages surrounding fitness and health have softened over the years, but the narrative still likens exercise to a sadistic enterprise reserved for shallow freaks or an affectation for the bourgeois. If weight loss reality-TV shows are to be trusted (they're not), everything must take a back seat to the gym or else you're going to die a fat, lonely loser. Which is nonsense, of course. But with that sort of societal pressure weighing us down, it's no wonder a great many find gyms about as appealing as a visit to the proctologist.

This is why most "New Year, New Me" resolutions fall flat come February. If you're struggling to find the drive to keep up with your fitness goals, take heart. You have a say in how this journey unfolds.

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Change your perspective

The mental gymnastics required to trick yourself into spending 45 minutes lifting weights can leave you exhausted before even touching a dumbbell, but mastering the art of cognitive reframing pays off huge when you hit a slump. Whether you're an experienced lifter who's running on fumes, or a greenhorn disillusioned by gym culture, changing your perspective can open an untapped well of motivation. Take some time and ask yourself why you want to train. Once you figure out what it is you're really after, you'll be unstoppable.

I experienced this feeling firsthand last summer. Chalk it up to a combination of burnout and boredom, but after years of putting training first, the idea of stepping foot inside a gym suddenly made me queasy. Every day I'd come up with excuses not to lift. Of course being a trainer I can't afford to not, you know, train.

After some deep thinking I realized my original teenage goals (getting as jacked as possible) were incongruous with my current adult self. I'd fallen in love with bodyweight training, yet my programs still centred on barbell lifts. Plus, I couldn't stand the idea of being cooped up inside on a beautiful August afternoon. Thankfully there are amazing outdoor calisthenic parks all around Toronto, including a beautiful waterfront setup not too far from Sunnyside Beach. Problem solved.

Change your environment

Maybe it's not the whole "being in a gym" thing that's bringing you down, but what you find when you arrive. The standard big-box gym presents a strange and dystopian picture of modern life: dozens of people – hundreds, even – gathered under a single roof, all in pursuit of the same grail (eternal life!), mostly ignoring one another, ever-present earbuds shutting down the possibility of any social interaction beyond a smile or a scowl. Not exactly an inspirational environment.

It's no secret why mega-gyms spend big bucks on advertising and marketing – the product they're selling runs counter to every human instinct and desire. They can package things prettily with customized swag and free pizza nights, but it's all lipstick on a pig. There's a reason every town in North America has a CrossFit box. It's the same reason small-scale warehouse gyms still thrive in this age of bigger-is-better. There's a tribal camaraderie fostered in these facilities that's tough to replicate. People become addicted to the positive energy and group support. There are worse vices to get hooked on.

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Change your routine

This is one of those tactics that's so obvious it often gets overlooked. If you've been doing the same thing for an extended period of time, that thing is bound to get boring, and boredom is often the source for a lack of motivation. It can be something as simple as changing your workout time from evenings to mornings, or switching your focus from a low rep/heavy weight strength-building protocol to a higher volume muscle-building plan.

Hell, who says you even need to lift? The most fun and engaging forms of fitness have nothing to do with gyms. Rock climbing, obstacle course racing, martial arts, yoga, ultimate frisbee – when it comes to breaking a sweat, the options are endless. If you're a runner, start swimming. If you're a swimmer, start cycling.

I'd be lying if I said I loved working out. What I do love is the sense of accomplishment I get from finishing every last rep and set on my program card, and the structure training brings to my life. And, yeah, I love looking all right at the beach. The point is, motivation can come from all kinds of sources. The most lasting often lies in the least expected places.

Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator at the Toronto West End College Street YMCA. You can follow him on Twitter @mrpaullandini.

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