Got motivation? It’s that season when so many of us look at the flipping of the calendar as a time to start a diet or an exercise regimen. Michelle Segar’s book suggests that we may be getting it all wrong. She believes that our first mistake is defining our meaning for exercise, and that definition sets us up for failure. If exercise is a gift we give ourselves rather than a chore, that sets the stage for success. Why do we start to exercise? If it’s only to lose weight, that’s a goal so far in the future that it doesn’t keep us motivated. If we do it for fun, to improve our day-to-day feeling of well-being, that is an immediate reward and we all love immediate rewards.

The key to staying motivated is to pick physical activities we enjoy. People will stay physically active if they incorporate pleasurable opportunities for movement into their lives. Those are often not the types of exercise that make us sweat and ache. Walking, playing sports that we enjoy, and finding the types of exercise that make us happy immediately are the things that are sustainable, that motivate us to continue moving.

For many of us, it’s hard to give ourselves permission to make taking care of ourselves a priority. We lead busy lives. Many women in particular find themselves in the role of caregiver, whether for children, for a spouse, a friend, or a parent. We often set our own needs aside. But research has shown that “when we do not prioritize our own self care because we are busy serving others, our energy is not replenished. Instead, we are exhausted, and our ability to be there for anyone or anything else is compromised.” Once we take care of ourselves, we have positive emotions and experiences that allows us to fulfill our roles and reach our goals. Segar states, “Our lives are like whirling tornadoes. If we throw something small in there at the beginning, like a feather, it can be easily integrated. But if we throw in a cow? Disaster!” Setting realistic goals is strategic, a way to incorporate the daily movement that fuels the things that matter most to us. In other words, don’t start with two hours of cardio and weights; start with a walk.

This book is well-researched, drawing on some of the newest findings about positive emotions, their mental and physical health benefits, and how those accumulate to build happier lives. Movement that makes us happy is a catalyst for more happiness. Is 2018 your year to start moving more? Start small. Look at exercise as a gift, not a chore—one that helps you achieve what matters most.

Diane S. Adkins is a retired library director and sometime walker with renewed motivation.

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