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How to Stay Motivated to Exercise

Before you put the word “exercise” in your calendar, there’s a question I want you to ask yourself: do you like exercising?


If the answer is yes, go ahead and enjoy your workout! But if exercise is more like a means to an end, you might need a different approach to your workout than an exercise enthusiast does.


2 types of motivations

When you want to motivate yourself to do something, you should know what type of motivation you are going for. There are 2 types of motivation: internal and external motivation.


Internal motivation comes from your feelings. You enjoy doing the action itself. Exercise enthusiasts are a typical example. They do exercise for the sake of doing exercise because it makes them happy. They go to the gym or go for a run even when they are exhausted, or probably “especially” when they are exhausted. They exercise during their holidays. They would probably keep exercising even if they were injured. Nothing stops them because exercise is pure joy for them. (You could probably think of some friends who are like that).


External motivation is result-oriented motivation. The action is a tool that takes you where you want, and gets you what you want. For instance, you have external motivation when you work to keep paying your weekly bills, or when you read books to find an answer for questions, or when you exercise to lose weight.


When you exercise for internal motivation, you receive rewards during and after your exercise sessions. Maybe you feel the joy even beforehand when you are getting ready for it. Hence, it would not be a problem to keep motivating yourself. It would be more of a problem that you can’t stop exercising when you are supposed to.


However, if exercise is something that is a path to getting the results you want, the journey will be harder because you won’t receive the rewards until you actually see the results: for example, weight loss.

You might keep looking for reasons why you can’t go to the gym, have to keep telling yourself that you are doing something good during the workout, and only feel a little better afterwards because you’ve done something you were supposed to do. Most people struggle to motivate themselves because they have external motivation towards fitness.


You might not always have a clear line to separate these motivations; for example, you have to push yourself to put your running shoes on, but you like how you feel after you run. No matter what fitness goals you have, it is essential to figure out if your motivation comes from the inside or the outside to find the best routine that works for you.


“Do you exercise because you like doing it?”


How to stay motivated to exercise

Internal motivation is strong, but not everyone has it. So, if you are externally motivated like most people, it is important to focus on removing psychological roadblocks so you can get your routine going.


Here are some ideas to stay motivated to exercise:


1. Change your exercise routine

Forget about the latest science or the most efficient exercise. There is no point in doing the world’s most effective methods if you are not consistent. Instead, focus on doing something you enjoy. If you don’t like gym exercise, you could try walking and discovering new things in your neighbourhood. If you don’t like high intensity training, choose low intensity exercise.

Start with something you don’t mind doing, or actually enjoy doing. Anything counts. A 10 minute walk is better than sitting on a couch. Anything is better than nothing.


2. Combine exercise with something you love

This is an effective way to shift your external motivation to internal motivation. Use your walking session to catch up with your friends. You could also enjoy a coffee from your favourite café while walking. Or maybe you could go shopping after walking as a reward. Make a combo that means you get something you love when you exercise.


I often use this method too. I signed up for a gym that has a spa pool (I LOVE SPAS). Every time I go there to bathe, there is a gym upstairs, so I drop by because I’m in the same building anyway!


3. Exercise with people

If you are a people person, exercise with people. It is another way to make the session itself more feeling-based. You can ask your friends to lock in weekly sessions to exercise together. When you go to studio classes, go to the same ones and make friends with other regulars. Sign up for social exercise groups, such as Nike Running Club or Meetups. Make friends, have a laugh, and enjoy the time that you are active with others.

4. Give yourself an instant reward

Dangle a carrot in front of the donkey! This is a method to assist your external motivation with other external motivation. Combine your exercise session with a reward.

It is best to avoid food or sweets as a reward, because you could build a bad relationship with food; this is a common way to develop eating disorders. Instead, choose simple things that you enjoy: for example, watching a Netflix episode at the night you exercised.


5. Book a professional appointment

Although it usually costs more than other options, this is the strongest method to keep you motivated to continue your new routine. When you make an appointment, you show up. It can be booking a personal training or an exercise class. Their job is to keep your motivation up and to make exercising more enjoyable, as well as leading you to the results you seek. Leave it to professionals, and you are in safe hands.


6. Focus on the good feelings

When you do, it enhances your hidden internal motivation. Most people don’t regret exercising after the fact. It usually makes you feel better. So, find more good things that exercise brings to you and focus on the benefits that it gives you. Then, you will actually start wanting to exercise. You feel refreshed. Your body feels lighter. Showering feels good afterwards. Food tastes better. Sleeping quality improves. There are many feelings that you wouldn’t feel if you didn’t exercise. Pay attention to those good changes, so you can actually start embracing exercise.