If you hate winter, don’t take up outdour walking. Instead find your own perfect fitness motivation.

To keep elephants in place, trainers use a simple rope tied to their hind leg. No chains or shackles, just a rope staked to the ground. The elephant could easily break free, but years of conditioning from a very young age has taught them to accept this weak restraint.

Like the powerful elephant, we similarly become imprisoned by routine. As creatures of habit, we become mired in the path of least resistance, often to the detriment of heart, health and happiness.

Of course, everyone is searching for a quick and easy way of undoing years of sedentary living. How do I break the fatal attraction between the couch and the seat of my pants?

While there may not be an effort-free escape from your reclined incarceration, there is one ingredient that will make or break your best intentions. It liberates your invisible restraints and sets you free.

The key to exercise success, as with most endeavours, is motivation.

As you contemplate, reignite or maintain your New Year resolutions, here a couple of thoughts on motivation and exercise to help you along the way.

Milestones: Nothing motivates like an upcoming trip, wedding or anniversary. We want to look our best when reconnecting with friends or prepping for the beach (actually, nothing motivates like the stark reality of form-fitting Lycra).

Milestones are the perfect inspiration because they inherently have key indicators built into them. I want to lose 20 pounds by March so that I can wear my new bathing suit in Mexico. Specific and measurable, with time lines. Losing two pounds a week is definitely doable. You can make some great gains in a short period of time — unless your trip is next week. The more you have to lose, the easier it comes off.

If there are no special events on your horizon, create one. Set aside some reward dollars that can only be accessed if you meet your goals. This works best with colleagues, friends or family. Reward bucks can buy clothes, show tickets, a meal at your favourite restaurant — whatever spurs you on. If you fail to meet your goals, donate the money to charity.

Fear: Not a fan favourite. At some point, the pain of not doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it. Fear of death, disease and immobility are very convincing motivators. When you don’t have a choice, healthy living can become your new mantra — replacing processed food and inactivity.

Don’t wait for the doctor to give you an ultimatum. Listen to that little voice in your head telling you to get moving.

Rituals: Our rituals set us up for success or failure depending on whether they reinforce positive or negative outcomes. Drive to work, drive home, sit on couch, repeat.

One of the best motivators, in a sense, doesn’t rely on motivation — it focuses on making one tactical change: Drive to work, drive home, walk for 20, sit on couch, repeat.

One of the best ways to ensure that a new behaviour sticks is to make it easy, positive and rewarding. To do this, you must disrupt the “Don’t-feel-like-it” recording in your head by making exercise accessible and comfortable. A good trainer can guide you through a graduated process that promotes empowerment and success — a bad one makes you feel like a failure.

You can always turn up the heat once you’ve established a pattern. If your chosen activity is too challenging in the beginning, any excuse will derail your efforts. Note: Walking during the Canadian winter is a barrier in itself. Don’t start an outdoor walking program if you hate winter. Believe it or not, weight training can be easier for beginners than cardio.

Success: Nothing motivates like success. Feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, pain and exhaustion (emotions experienced by most beginners when joining a gym) are strong de-motivators that stick in your mind and prevent future attempts.

Locate a comfortable, supportive environment to exercise. Don’t expect large gyms to offer something they can’t. Again, for new habits to stick, you must orchestrate success.

To break free of inactivity, first ignite the fires of inspiration. When you realize that the bonds are all in your head, freedom is just around the corner. Discover your motivation and you will uncover your stronger self.

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