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HEALTH Tips for staying motivated

Staying the course for a new you

Paul O'Brien

This time of year brings with it a renewed sense of purpose about our health. The promise of a fresh start invigorates us. We speak in silent mantras about how this year will be different to last, and the year before that, and so on. This motivation is a good thing. It gives us courage and conviction, and it provides momentum for the weeks and months ahead.
Why, then, do these good intentions go out the window after three to four weeks of exercise? What can we do to stop ourselves falling off the exercise wagon?

Fade factors
In my experience, there are four main reasons people drop out of exercise or fitness regimes:

  • Lack of direction
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Boredom
  • Doing too much too soon

The first of these can be avoided by setting a powerful goal (see ‘Setting goals for the new year’, January 11, available at The second can be easily avoided by hiring a personal trainer, joining a fitness class run by a qualified and experienced trainer who educates his/her clients. Boredom can be avoided by added plenty of variety to your routine – mixing cycling, walking and swimming, for example, into your aerobic training, taking a weekly class or committing to trying something new each month.
The last of these reasons is slightly trickier, but in my experience it the cause of a significant percentage of the drop-out rate. Bolting out of the blocks, full of enthusiasm is great but can lead to overdoing it. There are a couple of problems with this. The enthusiasm is unlikely to last, and training will tail off accordingly, which in itself becomes a demotivator; burnout – physical and psychological – is much more likely; the injuries of injuries increases; the perception that ‘this is all too hard’ (coupled with the equally debilitating thought, ‘What? Another three months of this?!’) can set in all too easily.

Resolution Solutions
The solution is simple. I call it the Rule of 10 per cent.
Firstly, if you are new to exercise or starting back after a long lay-off, start with a realistic and achievable base line, perhaps two to three days a week. This could be a 30-minute walk/jog one day, a fitness class for your second session and a swim. Achievable, enjoyable and you are moving towards your goal.
Then, week-on-week, employ the Rule of 10 per cent. Perform an extra 10 per cent in each of your sessions in week two, perhaps another three or four minutes walking, 10 per cent heavier weights in your class or 10 per cent more repetitions and a few extra lengths during your swim. In week three, add another 10 per cent. After about six weeks of exercise, add another day to your schedule and repeat the 10 per cent rule.
This method of progression in small increments moves you toward your goal without the worry of over-training, becoming de-motivated or becoming bored. You can even extend it to other areas of your life – eat 10 per cent less junk this week, spend 10 per cent more time with someone who you feel out of touch with.
Over the course of the year, you’ll be amazed how it all adds up. Then, come December 2011, you can look back on the year that was with a real sense of achievement. You can also commit those dusty bags of excuses to a new home – the bin!

Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and a qualified life coach. He runs his own business in Westport and is the creator of Bootcamp West, an exciting and challenging exercise programme in Westport. For details of upcoming classes, visit or e-mail or telephone 086 1674515.