How to Harness Your Inner Motivation to Exercise

CoachMel Exercise 9 Comments

One of the biggest problems my clients have when seeking to improve their lifestyle, is their ability to adhere to a consistent exercise routine.

For some people it is simply an uphill struggle each and every day.

It’s not that they dislike exercising so much as they just can’t seem to make the time for it.

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It’s something I have pondered a lot, partly because I totally get where they’re coming from.

Last week I talked about raising healthy kids, and I mentioned the need to find active things to do as a family. As I said, when you make activity part of everyday life it helps develop a habit that will stick with your children for life.

Children naturally move and enjoy doing so. They don’t do it because they feel they should, it’s just what they do best.

This is what psychologists call the Self Determination Theory. Basically, we are more likely to do something we’re internally motivated to do.

This theory has served as a spring-board for today’s article — the idea that when we are ‘internally‘ motivated to do something, it is easier for us.

I want us to be able to tap into that, and apply it to all areas of our life, but particularly this problem area of establishing a consistent exercise pattern.

So, let’s delve a little deeper into the theory, and see how you can begin to harness your inner motivation to exercise.

Self Determination Theory

Self determination theory is all about what motivates an individuals’ goal-directed behavior.

Think of it this way;

  • Amotivation is on the far left
  • Extrinsic motivation in the middle
  • Intrinsic motivation on the far right

Intrinsic motivation is what we want to have, because that helps us engage in an activity because of internal factors, and that means we’re more likely to sustain the activity.

Extrinsic motivation is driven by external forces, so it is a less powerful. It is, however, better than amotivation, which is the complete absence of motivation to do something.

Perhaps you can place yourself somewhere within one of those, in terms of your motivation (or lack of) to exercise. Or, maybe you move between all of them, depending on your circumstances.

Now that we understand the theory a little better, let me give you 5 strategies to help tap into your inner motivation to exercise…

1. Make Exercise YOUR Choice

Few of us like to be told what to do.

So, the idea of taking part in exercise because we have chosen to do so, not because we feel pressure to do so by other people or circumstances, is the most powerful motivator.

The best case scenario is that you choose to exercise because you enjoy it. When that happens, it makes sense you’ll keep up the habit.

The problems is that when most people think of reasons to exercise they come up with things like, “I want to look better.”

While that is a very valid motive, if it’s your only reason to exercise, it simply isn’t strong enough to ‘stick,’ and you will probably find yourself struggling with consistency.

So, to promote this intrinsic motivational state, which is much more likely to keep you exercising, you need to…

  • Find exercises you really enjoy.
  • Focus on the positive feeling exercise gives.
  • And, focus on the health benefits of becoming stronger and fitter.

Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist at Stanford University and author of The Willpower Instinct or Maximum Willpower (in the UK)), suggests “finding your want power,” by asking yourself a series of questions;

1. How will you benefit from succeeding at this challenge? What is the payoff for you personally? Really notice, acknowledge and appreciate these payoffs as they unfold.

2. Imagine that this challenge will get easier for you over time, if you are willing to do what is difficult now. Can you imagine what your life will be like, and how you will feel about yourself, as you make progress on this challenge? Is some discomfort now worth it if you know it is only a temporary part of your progress?

These questions could give you a lot of insight into your inner exercise motivation.

How to make it happen…

2. Redefine What ‘Exercise’ Is

If you are to harness your inner motivation to exercise regularly you need to do something you want to do, because you like it, not because some fitness guru tells you to do it.

This will probably mean redefining what ‘exercise‘ means to you.

When I say the word exercise to people, I often get a roll of the eyes, or a wry smile, as if they mean to say, “Don’t mention that word to me!

This is because most people have a closed idea of what exercise means.

To many, exercise means slogging their guts out at the gym, doing exercises they hate, with lots of sweaty people far too close for comfort.

If that’s how you view working out, I need to tell you that your mindset is far too restrictive, and most likely is contributing to your dropout rate.

The truth is, that exercise can be different things to different people.

That makes sense, since we are all at varying levels of fitness, so why should you be expected to do the same workout as me, and vice versa?

Your workout might be slowly walking up and down the lane in front of your house every evening after dinner. And, that’s okay.

Don’t tell yourself that unless you can manage the latest fat burning workout, it’s a lost cause, so why bother.

I know how easy it is to do that.

A few months back I bought the Insanity DVD set, from the creators of P90X (also insane!!).

That was a big mistake, because I just don’t have 40+ minutes every day to exercise.

I have a hubby, two small children, and a home and business to look after, and 40 minutes is a time sacrifice I don’t seem to be able to fit in to my day, no matter how good my intentions were.

I made the mistake of thinking if I got the DVDs it would be easier for me to get my workout in each day. But, I think it made things more difficult for me, since I then felt bound to get those 40 minutes in, which I usually failed to do, and then felt guilty about it.

Instead of finding something else to do on those days when my time was short, I did nothing.

Perhaps you can relate?

Well, the solution is to find something you enjoy doing, and that will realistically fit into your lifestyle as well.

Yes, the Insanity workouts are kindof fun, but I need it to be over with quicker, so the DVDs didn’t really do the trick for me.

We’re all different, which is why you need to sit down and think about what an exercise program should be to meet your needs perfectly.

When you do that, and you find your ‘thing,’ you will be able to do it on a regular basis. In other words, you’ll have found your internal motivation, and that will keep you going.

So, be creative, and tap into what you enjoy doing. Then, translate that into activities that equal an exercise session.

Use a Vision board

Using a vision board is a great way to reframe how you think about something, and really challenge yourself to think outside the box about a subject you’ve become close-minded about.

It will help you to focus your mind on what you want to achieve through exercise, and it will give you the clarity you need to move forward.

Try cutting out pictures, motivational quotes, instructioins on how to perform your chosen exercises, etc. And then place your board somewhere noticeable, look at it often, and keep adding to it as you come across new ideas and images that inspire you.

3. Choose Your Exercises Wisely

Choosing what exercise routine you’re going to do can be really confusing because there is just so much choice.

Most of us have the tendency to try too many things at once, then get totally paralysed by choice. So, what you need to do is narrow your options.

You should begin by making a list of some of your favorite types of exercises, as a way of focusing on what you actually want to do.

We are trying to find activities that you love doing here, as a way of motivating you to keep working out consistently.

I suggest that in the beginning you don’t need to worry about covering all of the muscle groups, etc.

Just work on the whole consistency problem first, get that sorted, and then you can tackle those other issues later, perhaps with the help of a personal trainer.

Once you’ve got a list of things you enjoy doing, you can then begin to choose between them.

Perhaps you enjoy nature and being outdoors. Well, walking, hillwalking, or mountain climbing are perfect for you. Cycling is another option. If walking alone isn’t strenuous enough, add a few short bursts of sprinting to make it more challenging.

If you enjoy playing video games, Wii Fit now have lots of options available, so you can workout in your own home.

If you’ve got kids and can’t get out as easily, something that’s super quick is a bonus. Personally, I like kettlebells, because they’re pretty fun, you don’t need to master lots of different moves, and it’s fast, too.

If there are certain exercises you simply do not like, then don’t force yourself to do those. Instead, go for something similar that you do enjoy.

If appropriate, ask a friend to join you, buy an exercise DVD, or join a local fitness group.

Simply put, do whatever you need to do to make it happen, but still keep things enjoyable for yourself.

4. Change Your Mind Set

I’m not going to lie, it is a long, slow process to change how you think about some things. But, you need to begin somewhere.

If you’re always telling yourself that you’re no good at exercising, or you never have time to exercise, you will never be able to change for good.

It is imperative that you believe you can change, to actually see change.

So, start believing you can enjoy exercise.

Start believing you could fit it in to your schedule a few times each week.

Start believing you could even enjoy it.

There’s a saying that goes, fake it till you make it! Well, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about here;

  • Self belief in your ability to perform well in a particular activity.
  • Congratulating yourself for your efforts.
  • Reinforcing the fact that you are doing something really good for your body.

A positive attitude will hep you to feel more competent, so focus on what you do well, not what you aren’t so good at.

If there are areas you want to work on, do it, and move on.

There is no benefit to dwelling on your weaknesses. But, if you see a problem, work out a way to fix it, then practise fixing it, and you’ll soon overcome it.

5. Join a Group

For some people their motivation to do something improves when they feel there is a friendly, accepting atmosphere.

It’s one of the reasons I added the Forum section to my weight loss program. I suppose it’s the next best thing to attending a class, where you get to meet your coach and other teammates in person.

So, I suggest getting connected with others in your community, or joining an online community of like-minded people, as one way to help you stay focused and be accountable.

Readers Tips For a Consistent Workout Routine

I asked for tips from my readers on Facebook, becaue I knew they would have some really fantastic advice. And, I think the advice really sums up what I’ve said in the article, too.

Here’s what they told me their best tips for keeping up a consistent exercise routine are…

I guess to mix it up would be my tip.

Routine is key for me! Same exercise at same time each day

First, is doing something you love and that gives you some of that joy back – for me that’s dancing (Zumba). The other is doing it with friends, which is most of my activities, including a bootcamp style workout twice a week.

You have to enjoy it. If you currently don’t, learn to enjoy it. If you do something long enough it’ll become a habit, therefore it becomes easier and/or you’ll enjoy doing it.

I’m with Mike, if you have to do something and really don’t want to, if you find a way to like it you will get by… When I can’t do full on exercise, I mind my food and stress. When I can begin again, I do short bursts of something. It might only be 10 minutes of fast walking, but I always spend time putting on the correct gear, and stretching on return.

Do something you love!! Or, as others have said, learn to like it! We all need to move more, if you enjoy it, then it’s more likely to happen. Get creative. Moving more comes in lots of forms.

I would say to do something you enjoy whatever it may be – cycling zumba, aerobics – but also vary it, otherwise you may get bored.

I read a quote somewhere recently that said, “If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse!” I can’t really say it any better than that. Make exercise really important and you’ll find a way to make it happen regularly!

I wish you all the best in your endeavor for a healthier lifestyle, and ask that you share this article, if you’ve found it helpful… I’d really appreciate that! 🙂

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Comments 9

  1. Taleen

    Enjoyment, enjoyment, enjoyment! I HATE monotonous exercises. However, see when it comes to walking my puppy? I can’t WAIT to get out! I need to find the time to get everything else in around IT! Apart from the fact that I just love to see him out exploring and enjoying himself, I guess there is some intrinsic motivation in there, too! I know that it is necessary for his well-being and that it is building our bond!

  2. Jordan Rawlin

    Hey thanks for this I try to keep fit and have little routines I like to follow my problem is I always forget and by the time I remember whole weeks could have passed. I think you are right in the first part of your post finding the time (and remembering) is the hardest part. Thanks for all these ideas Melanie I will put them to use .

    Jordan Rawlin.

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