10 Ways to get and sustain motivation to exercise
Updated: Jul 6
Having the knowledge, equipment and time to exercise is clealy useful but without motivation it’s all futile. Many, many people pay gym memberships for the privillege of NOT going to the gym and so many pieces of home exercise equipment are bought with the best of intentions but only collect dust. So how do you get and sustain motivation to exercise? Read some of the things I’ve come to learn over the years of training myself and others.
Obvious and necessary but stay with me. Ultra-marathoner Pat Farmer literally ran around Australia and as you’d imagine he struggled for motivation regularly! He’d often wake up to do a torturous training run and simply not feel like it. Instead of focusing on the entire task he’d simply tell himself he was going to simply put on his clothes and start. It’s inevitable you’ll have days when you just don’t feel like, but sometimes just getting started on a workout is all you need to do- it can be suprising how an effective session can follow.
2. Break it into small chunks.
Similar to the previous point, Pat Farmer when faced with low motivation and a long day of running, would say to himself “I’m just going to run to the end of the street and re-asses then.” I employed a similar tactic with stretching, when I first entered the fitness industry my flexibility was deplorable and because of that when I stretched it was uncomfortable and discouraging. I would just do 12 minute sessions and if that was too much to bear- a mere 6 minutes. Nowadays I’ve taken to sometimes just doing 8 min cardio workouts and they are so much easier to get motivated for.
3. Small progressions
There is no better motivator than progress and in order to feel like you are almost always moving forward you need to have constant very small progressions i.e. an extra 30 sec of an activity or an extra repetition of a weights exercise. Manly little improvements workout to workout add up to a big improvement over months, which of course is very encouraging. 4. Try and focus on how exercise makes you feel rather than just on how it makes you look.
Everyone wants to look good and that isn’t necessarily a bad motivator but it is only partially controllable in the short term, instead focus on how you feel immediately after exercise i.e. the endorphin hit, the clarity of thought, all that good stuff. Exercise is a lot easier to enjoy when that becomes your focus and you get a greater sense of a more immediate reward for your effort.
5. Use extrinsic motivation, it's not bad
This may seem to be contradicting the last point but in reality the nature of motivation is that it can be fickle and wane. There is nothing wrong with using external motivation to get you up for a workout, this could be in the form of music, an inspiring article or an exciting Youtube clip. You need to use what you can and not be idealistic about the source of your motivation. Once a habit has formed the nature of the motivation can change too.
6. Stick to your own game & don't compare yourself to others
Sure some people may be driven by being super competitive but it isn’t the healthiest way. There is always someone who is going to be physically more gifted than you in some way. Comparing yourself to others is almost always discouraging rather than encouraging. If you improve and feel better then essentially you win!
7. Make it enjoyable.
You don’t have to associate exercise with pain. It can be uncomfortable at times but it can be enjoyable as well. It’s stating the obvious that you are more likely to stick with something you enjoy. Doing group classes or exercising with friends are just 2 ways of making it enjoyable. Observe the science and experts but don’t be a slave to that.
8. Keep it interesting & fresh by ensuring there's variety.
I love trying new exercises or workout plans. Alternatively training at a different venue or with different people or at a different time are other ways of keeping it interesting. Be aware If you feel yourself getting into a rut and do something different just for the sake of it. Get out of your comfort zone- use your imagination. Personally, I've found Obstacle Course Racing has provided new challenge and stimulation for my 25+ year exercise habit.
9. Know thyself
What has worked for you in the past? What are you most likely to enjoy enough to still be doing in 5 years? What motivates you in other areas of life? Do you like groups of people? Loud music? Variety? Are you cerebral and structured or spontaneous and creative? Are you driven more by moving away from pain or toward pleasure? How well do you actually know yourself & your preferences?
10. Go for habit building not performance.
People who don’t have a problem exercising are habitual; they barely have to think about it. We are definitely primarily driven by our unconscious and repeat most of behaviours ad nauseam. Many experts says it takes 6 weeks to establish a habit, how to do that- don't focus so much on how well you are going or how intensely you're training, instead prioritise simply turning up and engraining the routine and habit. If you do 12-18 sessions in 6 weeks recognise that as an achievement. *Miscellaneous point 11- Experts say that the ideal recipe for effective coaching or training is to give 4 parts praise to 1 part constructive criticism. Does that reflect your experience with your trainer/ training partner or just as importantly your own self-talk? GET IN TOUCH if you'd like to find out about ersonal training or putting together a program for you.
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