How to find the motivation to exercise regularly?

by Rakib Sarwar, RPh
Published on June 12, 2019

Exercising, despite being essential for our vitality and good condition, is often something we do involuntarily or even frown upon. The desire to exercise is the strongest at the beginning of the year or summer, when we are all keen on making the “New Year resolutions” or preparing ourselves for the summer holidays. Unfortunately, such “promises to oneself” usually end up as a failure.

Did you recognize yourself in the above? If so, you probably have the desire to practice solely to look better and this is not enough to adhere to the training routine you actually need.

Exercising should not be a short-term goal. It is just one of the most common mistakes that many people do when they want to look better. You must understand that exercising and healthy nutrition are there to make you feel better as well and to be healthier. Therefore, these two cannot be your short-term goals but should become your lifestyle.

Although even the mere thought of it is very attractive, the knowledge that we would be healthier and look better does not always have to motivate us. However, it does not have to motivate us at all. In that case, motivation must be found somewhere else.

Here’s the highlight of what we want to tell you in this article: just as exercise affects our psyche, our psyche also impacts our exercising routine, and we can learn how to use our brain for motivation (1)! How? Let’s first learn more about motivation itself.

What is motivation?

Motivation is one of the key factors for success in achieving your training goals. If the motivation is low at the very beginning of your training program, you will definitely not succeed.

Motivation focuses on our behavior towards a goal. Motivation is defined as a set of processes that are responsible for intensity, direction, and persistence in efforts to achieve some goal (2).

Thanks to motivation, we repeat certain behaviors and processes day by day to achieve our own desires and overcome challenges. Although it’s sometimes easy to find, motivation is very difficult to maintain.

Types of motivation

We all know what the concept of motivation is about, but if we look a little deeper, motivation is a rather complex term. As we have already explained, motivation is a psychological complex that enhances and directs our behavior. It is an internal initiator or a neurological process that cannot be directly observed but is reflected in external behavior. Why are we repeating this? It is important for understanding the difference between the types of motivation.

There are two main types of motivation that we can also apply to sports and exercising.
Extrinsic motivation is a kind of motivation that is maintained by external awards we can see clearly (2), e.g. a slim body or losing a few pounds as a result of training.

Intrinsic motivation is a kind of motivation that is maintained by the general pleasure of carrying out the activities (2), e.g. exercising for the sake of pleasure and love for physical activity.

These two forms of motivated behavior are not contradicted (as they may seem at first glance), but are mutually interwoven and complemented in the so-called “concept of internalization”. A common link between both cases is that a person deals with one’s own satisfaction and fulfillment rather than fulfilling someone else’s expectations.

Individuals who initially show intrinsic motivation have more chances to keep on training (they keep the continuity!) than those who do not have it. Intrinsic motivation is the most retentive factor in our head which gives the Perpetuum mobile effect as a resultant. In other words, such people are training addicts. Of course, the result is important, but intrinsically motivated individuals are already getting the prize in its form, simply –they enjoy the training!

Finding the intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the best form of motivation that can exist for some activity. Namely, intrinsically motivated individuals train because they love it and because it represents a pleasure for them. Their goal is not only to get a slim body, but they cannot imagine their day without training. Let’s say we all strive to achieve such motivation, but where should we look for it?

Those of you who feel that the intrinsic motivation immediately emerges at the very beginning of making their training goals will probably be faster and more successful than others. However, the rest of you should combine extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to achieve the ultimate goal (3).

Namely, a slim body can be a kind of reward for hard work and devoted exercising, but choosing fun and dynamic exercises can be a way of stimulating intrinsic motivation. Physical activity is essential for everyone, and there is no person who does not feel well after spending at least a little bit of time in exercising, but the biggest problem is to get started and to love such a lifestyle.

If you choose the training that suits your desires and helps you achieve your goal, you will have a combination of both types of motivation. The good thing is that after reaching the goal you will continue to practice because you will love this way of life, and you can always reward yourself with some extra awards when you feel that you are becoming lazy.

The best motivation for good training is that special feeling you have after your training is over. The feeling that you are doing something cool for yourself, investing in yourself, being more comfortable, healthier, happier is the best intrinsic motivation. If you like that feeling, the result will come effortlessly, the motivation will grow each day.

You will feel already rewarded because exercising improves your general health condition, your cardiovascular system, and muscle system, preventing diabetes, and even cancer development (4).

Tips for finding the motivation to exercise regularly

Here are some tips from exercising specialists, trainers, and psychologists, as well as experienced common people like you, who had been struggling with finding motivation and have finally accomplished their goals – exercising regularly as a part of their lifestyle.

1. Select the activity that suits you

Do you know that running will improve your general health condition, endurance, and burn lots of calories? However, do you hate running? If so, don’t force yourself to do the things that don’t suit you. Your body type could be more responsive to swimming. Or, you can opt for yoga, Pilates, Zumba, aerobics, or even boxing. Choose the type of activity that you love and enjoy. This will immediately boost your motivation.

2. Fight against your weaknesses

Many of us don’t like to show their weaknesses, and sometimes we don’t like to admit we even have them! This is where great motivation can come from. You should fight your urge to stay in bed, watch TV and be lazy, and do some quality exercise instead.

Winning over your temper and weakness will give you the best feeling ever and you will feel the surge of motivation that will propel you forward.

Not only will you exercise your body, but your character will surely become stronger over time. Also, after the training, you will feel the sweet taste of victory. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to win?

3. Set specific goals

Theories of motivation clearly emphasize that motivation cannot be maintained unless there is a clear goal. However, the goal should not only be sufficiently clear but precisely specified and moderate. If you set goals that are impossible, for example, to lose 15 pounds a week, you’ll probably give up after the first few minutes of training.

It is always better to set smaller goals, but strive for the ultimate, bigger goal. Accomplishing smaller goals that match your abilities often acts as a reward, which means you will be encouraged not to give up. This will serve as the mid-term motivation for you. Also, several smaller goals result in moving the boundaries and achieving much greater progress.

Keep in mind that goals must be clearly defined and you must comply with them. If you fail to achieve a certain goal within a certain time frame, modify the next goal so that you can make up for it. By doing so, you will provide flexibility, enjoy activities, maintain motivation, and prevent giving up.

4. Find another name for failure

We all tend to start exercising and after some time we start feeling that we can accept exercise as our daily routine. There are not many people who can succeed in the first attempt. If you “fail” once or several times, do not be disappointed. However, this is easier said than done. Such a condition is by no means motivating.

If you look at failures as your huge flaws, you’re likely to give up exercising and you will not want to try again. If you see a decline as an event from which you can and should learn a lesson, you are likely to return to the right path and try again. You will be motivated only if you manage to get back to the right path.

5. Keep track of your own progress

An excellent way to keep yourself motivated is to track progress regularly. If you set short-term goals for yourself, it would be good to check them regularly and record your achievements.

Thanks to technological advancement, there are many exercise apps today that can easily track the number of steps, mileage, heart rate, etc. Most of the exercise apps also allow you to share results with your friends, especially if you are competing with each other.

6. Compete with others

Competitiveness and challenges are some of the best methods to achieve the desired result, and any exercise app will allow you to do so.

If you do not have any rivals, you can compete with yourself. If you walk, you can set a new goal each day. You can walk longer, or you can make more squats than yesterday. In this way, you will be building a better version of yourself.

7. Do not eat too much before training

Did you ever experience the following situation: You have been eager to start the training, but you suddenly lost your will to exercise exactly at the moment when you should start your training? We all know that the causes can be different, but maybe you’re just – eating too much!

You should not exercise with an empty stomach, but you should also not eat too much before the training itself. Have some balanced portions throughout the day. Before the training, eat something that will keep your energy level high and balanced, without making you feel full and heavy.

How to stay motivated during the training program and how not to give up too soon

Let’s make one thing clear. Finding motivation is one thing, keeping yourself motivated can be a completely different, more demanding and trickier task.

Regardless of how much someone wants to exercise, your motivation will sooner or later decrease. Loss of motivation for training, and consequently frustration and anger occur. If you feel that you have never encountered it, consider yourself lucky, but also be ready for it. Loss of motivation is perhaps the only link between the beginner and the other extreme – the professional sportsmen.

Here are some suggestions for overcoming (or even better, for the prevention of) the loss of motivation.

1. Set realistic goals within a realistic timeframe

Goals are nothing but dreams with a date. If we want to achieve something, and we don’t define when this will happen, everything will remain in the sphere of desires, i.e. dreams. Of course, your exercising goals must be realistic and you should put them into realistic timeframes. This means that your goals must be achievable within the specified period of time.

This is one of the most important things when it comes to preventing loss of motivation. Vice versa, if you set unrealistic goals, be ready for a severe motivation level decrease.

2. Track your progress

Tracking your progress and measurements can be very powerful motivational tools. For those whose primary goal is to lose excess fat, measuring the specific places and noticeably reducing the waist circumference, for example, can be extremely motivating. For those who want to increase the muscle mass, following the increase of the volume of individual muscles will certainly be a good way to stay motivated.

3. Take some photos of yourself

Let somebody take some quality photos of your body before you start exercising. Then, under the same conditions (the same lighting and the same place, even the same clothes), repeat the photo session. You will see these sessions as short-term goals, i.e. dates for which certain clearly defined changes are to be made.

This is an excellent way to boost your self-confidence and to stay motivated throughout the exercising and/or diet regime.

4. Training Log

Keep the training log. This is simply a table with relevant training data (muscle group, exercises, number of series and repetitions, data on the breaks between the series, etc.).

Keeping a training log will help you feel that you’ve accomplished your goals or at least approaching them, which will additionally boost your motivation level.

Also, analyzing such a table for a longer period of time will provide a clear insight into your overall goals and progress, which is in itself a motivating experience. On the other hand, if there is no progress at all, you can easily conclude what needs to be changed in order to move from that dead point, which is also very useful.

5. Hire a personal trainer

Last but not least, think of hiring a personal trainer. Working with a good personal trainer is always an excellent idea and it is one of the best ways for keeping your motivation high. There is no wandering, you can focus directly on your training sessions, and you are professionally guided to your goal.

In particular, this form of external motivation is good for people without intrinsic motivation, who are aware of the need to change something with their body.

People often give up on training because it becomes dull. Of course, it is understandable that if something is boring, it cannot motivate us and we don’t want to continue doing it. This is why a personal trainer is an irreplaceable role in designing a program that will be interesting to you and that will lead you to the desired results.

Final Words

In the end, we have to talk about exercising in a group as a good way of triggering and maintaining one’s motivation. There are many supporters of group programs, as it reinforces the “crowd psychology”, as well as the urge and wishes to succeed. Besides, there is always a group that “pushes” you forward, even when you feel less motivated.

Therefore, you should understand that exercising should be your long-term, healthy lifestyle goal, that you should pick the right type of exercises, and that you should look for a partner, a group or a personal trainer to exercise with.

References

(1) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230676833_Understanding_Motivation_for_Exercise_A_Self-Determination_Theory_Perspective

(2) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232155796_Motivation_for_exercise_Applying_theory_to_make_a_difference_in_adoption_and_adherence

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3836521/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835648/

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