Why do I lack motivation to exercise?
By definition, motivation is the reason you do something. If the reason you exercise is linked with a positive feeling you are more likely to do it. “People find it difficult to get motivated to exercise when they have a big dissociation between their goal and the reason they exercise.” For example, if you decide that the number on the scale is your reason to exercise, when the scale doesn’t move quickly enough you’ll quit,” explains Carol Espel, Fitness Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, in Miami, Florida. “Exercising a few times a week isn’t a guarantee that you will start losing weight – your water intake can have a greater impact on what the scale reads over a week than your exercise,” explains Carol. Carol has been working with adults for over 30 years, coaching them towards a more active, healthy lifestyle. She finds a tape measure is a far better tool than a scale.
Finding the right reason to exercise is powerfully motivating. “The avid gym goers and runners out there, have a positive connection with the exercise they are doing – they love the way it makes them feel,” explains Carol. Being active makes them feel good, which is the reason they exercise. Research evidence shows exercise makes people feel happy. (Exercising may also make you smarter, according to scientists.)
Why do you want to exercise? Does it make you feel happy? Do you enjoy that powerful sense of pride and accomplishment when you’ve finished a workout? Find a positive connection with exercise that resonates with you. For example, if you enjoy being social, research shows hanging out with people who are active can help propel us to exercise. You are more inclined to go walking at lunch if your colleagues are doing it too. Spending time with fit people helped a group of overweight people lose more weight, according to a study. And, remember it doesn’t have to be a competition. “Some people have bad connections with exercise… it comes from feelings as a kid that being active was always a competition,” says Carol. Stay connected with the positives you get from being active.
Take a moment to shed some light on the reason you exercise. Focus on it so strongly that being physically active becomes so appealing, fun and rewarding that you can’t ignore it. “It’s hard to get someone to not do something they like,” Carol points out.
How to get motivated to exercise
1. Connect to a positive feeling.
“Focus on the moment of how great exercise makes you feel – that feeling of energy and wellness, or that “I did it” feeling you get when you’re done,” explains Carol. “Make that positive feeling the reward you are seeking when you think about exercise. Connect to that moment.”
You already do this in other areas of your day. Many of your daily habits exist because you have connected them to a positive feeling. Take flossing or brushing your teeth as example. When you’re done, you think about how good your teeth feel. You may not love doing the action of brushing or flossing, but you have connected with that great end feeling, and you’ve made these actions into a daily habit. Exercising is like flossing or brushing your teeth.
2. Think fun!
Connect your daily physical activity with something you find fun. The crisp air on your face as you bike down the street in the morning. Talking with your friend about their day as you walk or run after work. The peaceful calm that comes with deep breathing in a yoga class. Giggling at your favorite show while you march on the treadmill or pedal the stationary bike. The magical sounds and weightlessness of swimming laps. Catching a glimpse of wildlife as you hike in the woods. That inner-child joy of chasing a ball in a soccer game. Whatever you find fun, attach it to physical activity and you’ll always find it easy to be motivated to exercise.
3. Set realistic goals.
When you set goals that are unrealistic you are more likely to become so frustrated that you quit exercising. After you quit, you’re left with negative feelings connected with exercise. This vicious cycle continues and you are left feeling unmotivated to exercise. “It can also happen if you exercise at the wrong intensity,” warns Carol. Too little intensity leads to no results, while too much leads to pain or injury. “The problem lies in our desire for quick, measurable results,” notes Carol. People out there will try to sell you a quick fix – it doesn’t exist. It is important to accept that lifestyle change is a journey.
4. Start slowly – and be consistent.
Eliminate the, “I have to get 10 lbs off the scale,” advises Carol. Focus on how you feel, not on the scale. Set shorter benchmarks that you can successfully achieve. For starters, commit to doing a 30-minute workout routine, 3 to 4 times a week. A great place to start is with a simple cardio routine (walking, jogging, biking, hiking) with some stretching. “Be realistic – you probably won’t work out every day, and that’s okay,” rationalises Carol. Make a commitment to be consistent. Set goals you can be successful at achieving. Feeling successful will help you stay motivated to exercise.
5. Schedule it in.
But, I don’t have time to exercise! “Many people are surprised when they realize there is more time in their day,” explains Carol. Consider what you do in a day. You spend time in many ways, including following social media, watching television, surfing the web or visiting with a friend. “Attach a behavior that is part of your life with exercise,” suggests Carol. Love chatting with a friend? Put on a headset or earphones, and talk while you’re walking. Connect the things you love to do with the exercise. Once you get into the habit of finding a spot for exercise in your day, you’ll start to find more time for it.
Create positive connections with being physically active. Find exercise that is fun. If you love it, it will be easy to find time to do it. Once you get into a habit of regular exercise, you’ll love how it makes you feel better, move better and sleep better.
- A systematic review of the relationship between physical activity and happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies 2018.
- Can exercise make you smarter, happier and have more neurons? A hormetic perspective. Front Neurosci 2016;10: 93.
- Desire for weight loss, weight-related social contact and body mass outcomes. Obesity 2016 May, 24:7.
- Effects of perceived fitness level of exercise partner on intensity of exertion. Journal of Social Sciences 2010; 6(1): 50-54.