Trouble Staying Motivated to Move? Change Your Approach!
Updated: Mar 28
"Beware the person selling Suffering as Dedication, Exhaustion as Virtue and Obsession as Health." –Brad Pilon, Author of Eat Stop Eat
If you’re having difficulty finding motivation to exercise and/or to eat well, looking for the best possible diet or workout plan may not be the best approach. Looking for the 3 magic foods that burn belly fat, or that one weird trick that helps build crazy muscle won’t help either. What will be the gamechanger is the way you approach exercise.
Too many people approach exercise the wrong way and end up disappointed, frustrated, and end up quitting before achieving the benefits exercise has to offer (5).
Approaching exercise as a fat burning tool can lead you to reward yourself with more food afterwards (1), and if you think you can outrun a bad diet, you can’t (2). If you think that exercise has to be torturous or painful in order for you to reap the benefits, you’ll most likely stay home and watch Netlfix all day.
Approaching exercise with a sense of enjoyment has been shown to be a great predictor in adherence (3, 4,7). It’s all about your mindset. If you see exercise as a chore, then you’ll end up being active as often as you find yourself sweeping under the rugs and behind the sofa. The best exercise is the one you do on a regular basis.
So how do you approach exercise with a sense of enjoyment?
Find an activity that you enjoy. Be aware of the activities you like, when you like to do them, and with whom, so you can develop a routine that you like to follow. It could be anything from aerobic classes, to walking, to soccer, but find something that gives you pleasure. The enjoyment can come from having a great fitness instructor, sociable peers, or being competent and capable when performing the activity. Listen to music. Turn up your favorite tunes! Be careful not to become too dependant on music (9) because you won’t always be able to have your smartphone or iPod with you all the time, like at the pool, or god forbid your battery dies…
Stop doing exercises that you dread. Absolutely hate doing deadlifts?! Don’t do them! Sure, deadlifts can be a great exercise, but if the idea of doing them sounds like torture, you’re better off doing something else instead. Replacing a useful exercise you dislike with an exercise you enjoy can actually help you adhere to your exercise regime (8).
Mix it up. Exercising doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be stuck at the gym lifting weights and running on the treadmill all the time. Head outside once in awhile, or step outside of your comfort zone and try yoga, a weeknight outdoor soccer league, or join a spin club.or joinging a run club. Chances are that if you stick with the exact same exercises, your results won’t only plateau, but you will get bored and probably stop exercising altogether.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Nothing is fun about comparing yourself to Jacked Tony or Abs Anna. Try cognitive restructuring - replace your negative self-talk with positive self-talk. When you catch yourself saying useless things such as, “I wish I had quads like John”, change it to something more motivating and useful like, “Leg day today!”, or “I’m going to do an extra set of squats”. Prepare and get hyped up about it. Know what you want to do so you’re ready to take on the day. If you wake up and you have no idea what workout you will be doing at the gym, most often times than not, you will just end up not going. Get a program from a trainer or text your friend the night before and plan for a run after work.
Set realistic goals. Saying you’re going to run 4 times a week if you've never ran before is most likely not going to happen, or can lead to injury. Why don’t you try running once a week first and then try slowly building up to 4? The more you get discouraged about failing to meet a planned behavior, the more you are more likely to stop trying to change that behavior. Stack your wins. Recognizing your progress and achievements will help build your confidence and keep you motivated to continue exercising. If you're someone who reacts well to rewards, you can even consider rewarding yourself after achieving certain milestones. For example, buying a new pair of running shoes after your first 5km.
Remember, the goal is to get you moving! The best exercise program, or exercise for that matter, is the one you will actually do on a consistent basis. The next time you exercise, find something you like about it. Enjoy it, you might just stick around.
Fenzl, N., Bartsch, K., & Koenigstorfer, J. (2014). Labeling exercise fat-burning increases post-exercise food consumption in self-imposed exercisers. Appetite, 81, 1-7.
Malhotra, A., Noakes, T., & Phinney, S. (2015). It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2015.
Nielsen, G., Wikman, J. M., Jensen, C. J., Schmidt, J. F., Gliemann, L., & Andersen, T. R. (2014). Health promotion: the impact of beliefs of health benefits, social relations and enjoyment on exercise continuation. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(S1), 66-75.
Wininger, S. R., & Pargman, D. (2003). Assessment of factors associated with exercise enjoyment. Journal of Music Therapy, 40(1), 57-73.
Martin, K. A., & Sinden, A. R. (2001). Who will stay and who will go? A review of older adults' adherence to randomized controlled trials of exercise. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 9(2), 91-114.
Vina, J., Sanchis‐Gomar, F., Martinez‐Bello, V., & Gomez‐Cabrera, M. C. (2012). Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise. British journal of pharmacology, 167(1), 1-12.
Richard, M., Christina, M. F., DEBORAH, L. S., Rubio, N., & KENNON, M. S. (1997). Intrinsic motivation and exercise adherence. Int J Sport Psychol, 28(4), 335-354.
Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2016). For the Fun of It: Harnessing Immediate Rewards to Increase Persistence in Long-Term Goals. Journal of Consumer Research, ucv098.
http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/6312 (need to reference properly)