Droop-Dead Gorgeous

I lost a bunch of weight after a horrible breakup. I’m eating healthful food now — yay. But I’m very aware that I’m one of those flabby skinny people. I used to go to the gym regularly, but I stopped, and now it’s been two years. How can I motivate myself?
— Stick Figure

There is an unorthodox but excuse-proof way to get yourself back to the gym: Hire a psychopath to chase you there with an ax.

If, however, the psychopaths in your area are busy servicing their regular clients, you might try rethinking the power you give your feelings over your behavior. The fact that you have a feeling — “Waah…I don’t wanna go to the gym” — is not reason to listen to it and obey it as if you were its feudal serf.

Consider that unless there’s a national disaster or a wizard turns you into a decorative porch owl, you are physically capable of getting to the gym. Make a pledge to yourself that no matter how unmotivated you are to go there, you will just go. This “just do it” method, giving yourself no choice in the matter, is important, because according to studies by psychologist Phillippa Lally and others, repetition leads to habit acquisition. To unpack what this means, behaviors you repeat become automatic — meaning you eventually just do them mindlessly; deciding whether to do them is no longer part of the process.

To kick off the campaign for the new gym-going you, do this robo-gymgoing thing every day for two weeks, and then you can pull back to whatever your normal gym schedule would be. Give yourself a sense of accomplishment by monitoring your behavior. Check off days you go work out on a goal attainment app, or just color them in on a calendar. Giving yourself visual evidence of your progress should help you stay motivated during that time period before the physical results start to show. Kind of a bummer when you tell people you’ve been going to the gym and their response is, “And doing 20 sets of I’m not getting out of this car?