When working toward health or fitness goals, it can be difficult to stay motivated, especially when it feels like you’re not making any progress. Erin Mahoney, vice president of education for International Sports Sciences Association, has some advice for getting into shape and holding yourself accountable to your fitness and health goals.

Mahoney said the reason most people don’t follow through on their fitness and health goals is the inability to receive immediate gratification. “You can put on ten pounds over the course of a couple weeks, but getting rid of that ten pounds requires more than double, triple, almost quadruple the amount of time it took you to put it on,” Mahoney said. “And so people don’t see results that they want fast enough and when you don’t get those results fast enough, it’s a lot easier to go back and do what you were doing before.”

Erin Mahoney

This is the reason our New Year’s resolutions don’t pan out the way we want them to. “Getting into shape is not as much of an internal motivator as we would like it to be for the long term. With New Year’s resolutions, everyone just decides the holidays are over, it’s time to get in shape. I should get in shape. I want to look better — those reasons definitely fizzle out pretty quickly versus it’s the right time in your life to make those types of changes,” Mahoney said.

She said that finding another motivator will help you keep yourself accountable to the goals you’ve set in front of you. “A great way to start holding yourself accountable to achieving your weight loss goals is a goal in addition to, or other than that specific weight loss goal,” she said.

The first example she gave was signing up for a race. “You could sign up for a race a month or two out whether that’s a short fun run or maybe it’s a half-marathon or even a full marathon. You just want to make sure that whatever race you’re signing up for is going to require you to put the effort in along the way in order to be able to compete in the event.”

So instead of working out to lose weight, you are working out to complete this race. You are training. There’s also another motivator: races aren’t free. There’s now a financial incentive to do well. “People tend to hold themselves a little bit more accountable when there is money attached to it. If you know you’re paying $100 for a race, $50 for a race, it’s definitely not as much (money) as hiring a personal trainer, but it’s something that you’re invested in and you know you’re going to work toward to help you get there,” Mahoney said.

Another way to hold yourself accountable and track your progress toward your goals is activity trackers, such as Apple Watch and FitBit. “You can start participating in competitions with different friends. You can try to achieve various badges. Again, the goal isn’t just about weighing in on a scale. It’s about competing with a group of your friends,” Mahoney said. She suggests even creating a pool of money for everyone to try to win because that creates a financial incentive.

Mahoney said her favorite tip to help keep people accountable is signing up for personal trainer courses “not because you necessarily want to do that as a career but if you think about the cost of a personal trainer, they’re going to vary from $50 an hour to even $150 an hour and then you think about the cost of what it takes to complete the personal training course to learn about the same information, you’re really only paying for about five sessions to work with a personal trainer…you completely bypass the barrier of education.”

Knowing the information about exercise brings a level of self-awareness, Mahoney said. “When you look at it from a psychological perspective, your brain is saying “well, I know what it takes in order to get to this outcome but I’m not doing it.” That’s cognitive dissonance, and the brain hates that, so it tries to alleviate that gap. So it’ll say, “I do know what it takes for me to get to that goal, so because I know that, I’m going to start adjusting and modifying my behaviors to be more in line with what I logically know is true.’”

Mahoney said all of these ways to hold yourself accountable can be interconnected. If you’re training for a race, it would be beneficial to track your activity on a wearable device and the food you eat. And if you became a personal trainer while training for a race, you would know exactly what your body is going through, so you are less prone to injuries. “Each of those positively impacts the others,” Mahoney said.

However, Mahoney said you have to be careful with food tracking. If you do calorie counting without the exercise, “it creates a pretty unhealthy relationship with food and with the idea of accomplishing your goal. It’s not realistic to count your calories for the rest of your life, especially if you’re just trying to do it to get to a certain goal.” It will take longer for you to get to your goal, and food tracking should be used as a way to accomplish better workouts, Mahoney said.

People should workout to reduce the risk of chronic disease; however, people should also workout because it makes them feel better: “When you’re staying in shape, you have more energy throughout the day. You enjoy what life has to offer you a lot more. And then psychologically, you feel better about how you’re portraying yourself. You’re a lot more confident. You’re a lot more positive. You’re happier. And all of those things add to an overall improvement in quality of life,” Mahoney said.