Believe it or not, we all struggle with the motivation necessary to do most of the things in life that require actual focus and energy.
Almost nobody is naturally inspired to get up and run miles or lift heavy things every day, not even the most practiced athletes or bodybuilders in the world. So if you have trouble sticking to a workout plan, can’t seem to get to the gym every day, or struggle daily to muster the desire to exercise at all, please realize that you are not just lazy – and more importantly, you’re not alone!
Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough. – Og Mandino
Our brains are driven, for preservation’s sake, to do the littlest work in the least amount of time possible to get by every minute of every day. We are not naturally designed to want to wake up and put our bodies through even the mildest amounts of physical or mental strain.
But if you recognize this about yourself and still dream of looking and feeling more in shape, there are quite a few easy tricks you can start playing on your brain to retrain the way it thinks about exercise.
5 Simple Ways to Keep Yourself Motivated to Exercise when You Really Don’t Want to
#1. Enjoy the Ride!
If you dread the minutes leading up to your gym time (like me), and sometimes that dread means that you quietly excuse yourself from what you wish was your regular session, then we need to identify and cure that sensation. The simplest thing you can do to eliminate that feeling is to actually make the experience more fun for both your conscious and subconscious brain.
Many people carry digital music players with them to keep their minds busy, and therefore their motivation up as they exercise. Create a few playlists of your favorite songs and get used to only listening to them once you’re in the zone to do your work out. If there’s a book you’ve been itching to read but feel like you don’t have time because you know you should get your gym session in for the day, check to see if there is an audio-book version that you can listen to while you’re on the move. The same goes for your favorite Youtube channels, podcasts, and even Netflix episodes (if you’re really good at multitasking). I’ve even heard of apps that are designed to make you feel like you’re escaping from the zombie apocalypse as you run, and even keep track of your daily progress with fun little achievements.
When you’re first acclimating yourself to regularly exercising your body, anything you can do to keep your attention filled with something you normally enjoy will help those painful minutes you’re not used to slipping by faster.
#2. Commit to a Routine
Along the very same lines, if you take the time to mentally embrace the routine of a daily exercise session (or whatever workout plan you’re committing to), then over time, these sessions will become a lot less daunting.
Part of the science behind this is that our brains like the sensation of habit – again, they like to automate as much of our conscious action as possible to expend the least amount of energy. So a big part of the work you have to do in order to fully appreciate your fitness routine is to convince your brain that just showing up to the gym every day now is a normal part of your routine (and is going to be for a long while).
Even if you hit the gym every single day for a whole month, stretch while you’re there and then leave, you’ll still be doing more to build your brain’s acceptance of this routine than intermittently going hard and feeling successful, and then giving up and Netflixing from your couch for days afterward. This habit-building exercise is just as effective as making your exercise time fun – and even more fundamentally important if you ever expect to plan your gym time and actually be excited about it!
#3. Piecemeal It, Set Fewer Goals Rather than Many
If you are like me and know you should really get started today, but are also enormously overwhelmed with all the workout plans out there and just don’t know which one is best for you, then you need to set some personalized goals to motivate yourself.
I myself struggle with having way too many goals and wanting to stick to each of them perfectly, and my failure to meet any of them often overrides my brain with anxiety and leaves me quitting and starting over on them all, creating an endless cycle with little to no actual progress. But it is absolutely not true that your determination and motivation should be all or nothing. Setting small, attainable goals for yourself gives you more chances to reach that sweet sensation of achievement, and the more your brain experiences that rush, the more it will naturally drive you forward in your fitness endeavors to capture that sensation more often. (More strategy on this, read SMART Goals)
If that means you forgo planning actual workouts for an entire week so that your first goal can be making sure you just went to the gym five or six days in a row, then you at least have something simple to commit to and accomplish. From there you can obviously work up to bigger aspirations for yourself, but just getting yourself into that cycle of thought makes all the difference: This is what I’m going to do – and now I’ve done it! What next?
#4. Delay the Reward
With those goals that you have set and achieved should also come rewards. In today’s world of instant gratification, the little things that we enjoy spending time on often become a lot more satisfying if we are able to make ourselves wait for them. Holding off on your favorite snack, show, or phone app until after you have exercised for the day is a great way to entice you to get there, get done, and be on your way.
Challenge yourself to give up something little that you’re used to having every day, whenever you want it, and reserve it as your post-workout reward. On top of that primal sense of accomplishment, you’ll get from checking off one of your goals, your brain will also have the chemical reward from one of your regular indulgences to reinforce the positivity of sticking to your routine. Not only will you be much more motivated to hit the treadmill, you’ll probably also feel less stressed about spending time and focus on your fun habit afterward.
And last but not least, if it just feels absolutely impossible to motivate yourself to get going, then try letting someone else hold you accountable for your routine as well.
From a moral viewpoint, it’s much more difficult for us to be comfortable with stepping outside our own heads and letting someone else down than it is for you to change your mind about working out today ( for the third day in a row) and justify to yourself that that decision is acceptable. Try making plans with a friend, signing up for a regular fitness class, or checking in frequently with an online community. (My personal favorite is the weight loss community on Reddit, r/loseit – it’s very difficult not to be inspired when you’re reading the stories and comments on there.)
And make an effort not to make your fitness dates with that friend who always bails, too. Commit your time to a person or community that you know will be equally as committed to you, and then that relationship can act as a key factor in keeping you from falling off your workout wagon. Tell them your ups, tell them your downs, and listen to theirs – after all, we’re all in this together!
So to recap…
…if you have a really hard time with getting up and getting out, then start doing anything you can to alleviate the feeling itself that exercise is a struggle. Bring tools to your workouts to make them interesting and fun, give yourself credit for what you do accomplish, and invite friends along to make your routine even more interesting. Believe it or not, over time, you’ll actually being to appreciate your workouts themselves for the way they make your body and brain feel. But until then, keep it simple, keep it fun, and whatever you do, keep it regular.
Jordan is the beauty and brains behind Beautifully Alive! She loves eating healthy and trying new recipes.The self-proclaimed Zumba Queen has a passion for beauty products and loves reading new books. She’s always down for a DIY project!