How do you convince yourself to run five miles in the morning?  It takes discipline, planning and a commitment to working out.  But how do you develop the right mindset to exercise and stay focused? Avril James, a personal trainer and mindfulness instructor for Piedmont Healthcare, shares four tips.

1. Have an accountability partner. “I think it’s helpful to find someone to be your workout partner,” James says. “There are times where traffic is bad, and you’re just tired.  But if you know someone’s going to meet you at the gym, you won’t make an excuse to not be there.”

Having a gym buddy is also a great way to really push yourself and feel less stressed. Researchers at Kansas State University found that people who exercised with a person who they thought was fitter than they were exercised 200 percent harder and longer than others. And a study in the International Journal of Stress Management showed that people who rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes with a friend felt calmer after their workout than people who cycled alone.

2. Set a realistic goal. “Before setting a goal, I always encourage people to consult a physician or an exercise physiologist, because they often think they need to lose a lot more weight than they need to,” James says. “And your goals shouldn’t only be weight loss, but also health-promoting behavior.”

Once you have consulted a professional, James suggests breaking your goal into little objectives that you can accomplish on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

“If you make a big long-term goal that’s six months out, it’s really easy to fall off the wagon,” James says. “You need something every week that you can accomplish. For example, going to go to the gym five times in one week or eating vegetables with every meal.”

3. Food logging. Besides focusing on the physical workout, it’s also important to track what you’re eating. A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that people who kept a food diary lost 50 percent more weight than those who didn’t.

“People think they’re eating much better than they are, but they are doing a lot of mindless eating,” James says. “When you track your food, you are more aware of how much you actually eat.”

James recommends using apps, like My Fitness Pal, or fitness trackers like Fitbit to log your food and exercise.

4. Keep a schedule. “If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t live in reality,” James says.

Don’t underestimate the importance of “penciling” your workout into your weekly calendar or planner. Creating a visual representation of your weekly goals allows you to track your progress and hold yourself accountable if you are not staying on schedule.

For more exercise and fitness tips, click here.

*copied with permission