How to Gain and Maintain Motivation to Exercise

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing at SunsetWhen it comes to exercise, psychology is immeasurably important. Motivation is the “it” factor in physical fitness. Your level of motivation will determine if, when, how, and why you exercise. Your source of motivation will also influence how hastily you quit, how doggedly you persist, and how you generally view physical activity. Lack of motivation will drag you down, cause inconsistency, and ultimately discourage your athletic pursuits.

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

Self-determination theory posits that motivation can be subdivided into two categories:  First, there’s intrinsic motivation, the impulse arising from pure enjoyment or pleasure.  Second, there’s extrinsic motivation, which is based on obtaining some specific result. A person can be influenced by both kinds of motivation simultaneously, or can be pulled more by one than the other. Those who are constantly focused on established goals such as getting a chiseled look, a smaller waist, an impressive time, and so on are more extrinsically motivated, and are thus more likely to abandon exercise when the outcome is achieved. Those who derive pleasure from physical activity itself are more intrinsically motivated, and stand a better chance at developing fitness habits that will last a lifetime.

Increasing Your Motivation

To stay motivated, do some introspection and bolster your motivation. Develop dissatisfaction with negative thinking and superficial goal setting. Brainstorm ideas that will further your commitment to and enjoyment of healthy living. Here are some ideas for strengthening your intrinsic desire to exercise!

  • Make Exercise Enjoyable. As was discussed above, much is made over the end result of exercise, but fitness is more than a result. It’s an experience. Exercise will ultimately bring physical change in the future, but it can also be internally therapeutic in the present. So, craft a routine around fitness activities you enjoy. If you despise a particular exercise, replace it with one you like. Don’t spend every morning on the exercise bike if you have an affinity for swimming. If you like free weights, don’t spend your gym session on machines. Overall, incorporate what you love into your daily routine.
  • Love Your Workout Exercise Environment. You will find exercise much more enjoyable in a pleasant environment. If you are stagnating in a dank garage or basement and the sun is shining outside, take your workout outside. If you detest a treadmill, find a local track and walk outside. If you love the indoors, don’t force yourself to stay outside. Consider joining a local gym. Ultimately, find a fresh, airy, cool place to exercise and be open to switching it up periodically.
  • Modify Your Routine. It’s basically axiomatic to say that “variety is the spice of life.” Applied to exercise, this adage can make your routine more interesting and beneficial. Deviate from customary routine, and try something new. If you love the outdoors, take a day hike, try trail-running, train for a 5k, or go mountain biking. If you like resistance training, experiment with supersets, burnouts, and other methods that lend variety to your routine. 

The forced and regimented nature of “staying in shape” causes many of us to cringe at words like “exercise” or “working-out.”  Regain the enjoyment that came from staying active when you were a kid by making exercise a form of play.  If you love it, you’ll keep doing it.   

Sources: Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-08-16 15:06:13.

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