Let fun motivate you to exercise, eat right

It's human nature to want to have fun. Fun is pleasurable and pleasure is motivating. When we have fun at something, we want to do it again. And we don't even need any other incentives like money or awards. Just plain fun is enough on its own. Adults like to see children enjoying themselves. We know that it's important for children to have play time. But we tend not to realize that you never outgrow the need for fun.

The Child in Us

There is a child in all of us that is always ready to be energized by play. No doubt, it would be a dull world without fun.

But for some reason, many adults think they should buckle down and be serious, even though the adult brain still resists things that seem like a chore and seeks things that feel good. The more fun, enjoyable or positive we imagine something to be, the more likely that we will do it.

Of course, sometimes we have to keep this inner child in check, but that doesn't mean the child in us can't be involved in the serious things in our lives, making them easier to do.

The Theory of Fun

The people at www.thefuntheory.com are "dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people's behavior for the better." The Web site showcases creative ideas that demonstrate how fun can motivate us. For example, when confronted with a staircase and an escalator, most people will take the path of least resistance — the escalator. However, when a staircase is made to look and function like a piano keyboard, most people will take the stairs, enjoying music as they ascend. Making going up the stairs more fun than taking the escalator can make people want to exert more effort.

The same can be true of behaviors needed to lose weight: eating well and exercising. One of the psychological reasons people quit weight-loss programs is because they perceive the behaviors to require more effort and to be less enjoyable than what they normally do. Losing weight is not usually equated with fun.

Fun losing Weight

When we can only view diet and exercise as things that we must, should or ought to do, why would we ever expect ourselves to succeed?

But if losing weight is fun, the story changes. Observing people who have lost weight and kept it off shows two things:

• They have continued the behaviors that effectively burn fat: eating well and exercising.

• They perceive these behaviors in a positive rather than burdensome way. They look at the process of finding ways to eat nutritiously and being active as fun and interesting.

Turn a burden to fun

Making weight loss and fitness more fun can be accomplished with these simple steps.

• Do what's fun for you. For example, if you want to exercise regularly and you like to dance, use dancing as your exercise and use it often. Forget about what others do for exercise. Dance to your heart's content and don't think about anything else. Just have fun with it.

• Make a list of things you enjoy. Use the list to reward yourself for your accomplishments with weight loss and fitness. Examples might include hobbies, recreational activities or watching a favorite show.

• Adopt an eating plan with foods you enjoy. If you love fruit and bread, why beat yourself up by following the Atkins Diet? You want a plan you can follow forever, so you may as well learn to enjoy what you like in moderation. Let yourself have an occasional "fun'' meal with anything you like, then resume your healthy habits, guilt-free.

• Adopt a "here and now" philosophy. Kids play in the present. They are not thinking about the past or future when they play. They focus only on enjoying what they are doing while they are doing it. Notice your surroundings (like the plants and birds while you're walking) and the activity at hand (like the vibrant colors in a nutritious meal you're cooking) will prevent what you're doing from becoming burdensome.

• Keep goals small. Even if the ultimate goal is a large one, such as running a marathon or losing 100 pounds, breaking the larger goal into many small ones makes your efforts simpler and more enjoyable. And it helps keep you focused on the present, rather than worrying about the future.

• Have more fun in general. Try to catch yourself when you're getting too serious about something and tell yourself, "Lighten up. Be playful. Have fun." The more fun you have, the more active you will be, and the more energy you will burn — adding to success with weight loss.

Losing weight and exercising don't have to be a chore. Long-term success is not about white-knuckled discipline; it's about making the behaviors that lead to weight loss enjoyable. What's more enjoyable and motivating than having fun?

Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or DrRod@FatMatters. com. Her book Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management is available at FatMatters.com.

Let fun motivate you to exercise, eat right 03/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 26, 2010 12:45am]

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