Do You Need Variety to Stay Interested?


Are you the type that needs variety to stick with exercise or healthier food choices? You might be.

Ellen couldn’t get herself to exercise even though she knew how good it always felt, and she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t stay motivated. Yet when she talked about her experience exercising at the gym, it became clear what was holding her back. She was excited and enthused when she was trying something new or mixing up her exercise activities.  While her routine at the gym, which she did over and over was anything but exciting.  It was boring, and she dreaded it.

She realized, as she talked about it, that she has always known that variety was important to her, but she had discounted it as being a flaw in her personality as she tried to be good and do the routine she had been shown to do. Ellen felt she needed to be more serious and dedicated to specific exercise workouts and had to stick with them to reach her goals. Yet each time she tried that, she would get de-motivated and quit just weeks after starting a new program.

The answer was in the very thing she was fighting: variety. If variety made her excited and enthused, then this was the perfect thing to leverage as a motivator. Instead of seeing it as a flaw, she could instead see it as an advantage. To accept this, she also had to change her belief that the only worthwhile exercising was structured, specific and needed to be done at least 3 times a week. That was easy; she was delighted to give up this belief. The idea of doing the same routine again and again was unappealing and de-motivating.

Ellen is like many other people who have the misconception that worthwhile exercise is a specific and fairly rigid work-out routine. While most fitness professionals encourage variety and mixing up exercises to make them more effective and interesting when working one-on-one with a client. It is more challenging to offer guidelines with lots of variety to those not working with a trainer or fitness instructor. Instructors know how to safely modify exercises or mix them up for greatest results for their own clients. When they can’t be there to guide you, all they can do is provide a structured set of exercises. This is why in magazines or online sites, the routines are very specific and you are given a recommended number of days a week to do them.

Yet, it’s ideal to mix up your aerobic and strengthening activities. Our bodies adapt fairly quickly to doing the same exercise in the same way routinely, which means you get less return for your effort the longer you do the same thing. So, to the amazement of Ellen and many of my clients, variety works to their advantage.

The same is true with food. Most people who like variety in their fitness activities, also like variety in their meals and snacks. Again, this can be used to your advantage. Plan for more variety and let the desire to try new things help you to expand your healthy choices.

3 ways to tell if you need variety to stay motivated:

  • You get bored doing the same activities, whether it is exercise-related or elsewhere in your life. 
  • You feel energized when you aren’t stuck in a routine and get to have lots of variety. 
  • You have more fun and interest when you are mixing up your activities and foods or trying new things.

3 ways to mix up exercising to be motivated and more effective:

  • Give yourself permission to get aerobic exercise by being active for x minutes or x days a week. Allow yourself the freedom to decide which activity you will choose based on your mood or what works best on a given day. For example, Karen likes to bike, walk, kayak, swim and do Zumba, and she can pick from any of these to reach her weekly minutes goal. She doesn’t have to commit to doing any one of them regularly. Instead she will go with what feels good that day, without the burden of worrying about what she should do in the future. 
  • Pick a few types of aerobic activities you want to be good at and do each of them at least once a week. Debbie does Taekwondo, racquetball and walks her dog. Each week she learns new things and pushes her body in new ways that feels really good by mixing it up. 
  • You can also train for a short sprint triathlon, which requires mixing up swimming, running and biking throughout the week and adds in greater intensity levels as the training progresses. Mike never considered himself competitive and he was struggling to fit exercise into his daily life, yet he really enjoys going for bike rides and needed a way to get motivated to do it more often. He signed up for a sprint triathlon, giving himself six months to get ready, and in the process he discovered a passion for the sport.

You can use your preferences, such as a need for variety, to create your own guidelines for achieving greater success. If what you think you should do isn’t keeping you motivated, don’t assume that makes you a failure. Instead assume this lack of being motivated is good information about what would work better for you.  Then you can make different choices that will keep you more motivated to stick with healthier choices and an active lifestyle that feels great.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.