With all that daily modern life throws at us, and all the temptations to do something else “more important,” how do we build and maintain our motivation to exercise? Read on for five tips on how to build your “motivation muscles.”
First, let’s talk about this magical thing we all crave, motivation. Common thought says that if you want to accomplish anything, you have two ways of getting yourself to do it. The first is to try to “motivate” yourself, and the other is to cultivate self-discipline.
Motivation tends to operate under the mistaken assumption that you need to be in a particular mental or emotional state to complete a task (being “in the mood.”) . Discipline, on the other hand, separates the activity from moods and feelings – but interestingly, improves the very feelings that hold us back in the first place!
When you successfully complete a task, your mind goes into the mood state that you believed you needed to be in before starting the task (in other words, “motivated.”) When our actions are conditional on feelings, waiting for the right mood becomes procrastination.
When it comes to exercise, here are some ways to build motivation muscle through steadily strengthening discipline.
1. Set mini-goals
Mini-goals work well in building discipline, because they’re less overwhelming. As an example, a mini-goal may be to simply do 10 pushups and 10 crunches every day for the next 5 days. That would take less than 10 minutes to accomplish (and can even be done in your PJs). Mini-goals help make exercise a habit, and habits are natural forms of discipline. Your success in achieving the mini-goal promotes feel-good chemicals in your brain, and you’re more likely to want to continue and set an even bigger mini-goal the next time.
Mini-goals are great when life gets crazy busy, and you’re unable to complete the full exercise routine you’d planned. By staying on track with your exercise habit, you’ll still feel that sense of satisfaction and maintain those motivation muscles.
When setting mini-goals, keep them realistic (more on this below). In other words, don’t set a goal that you are going to run an hour a day for the next year. Instead, set your intention to run, say, three times this week. At the end of the week, look ahead, see what you can do, and set your new mini-goal.
2. Get yourself some accountability
Most of us feel more accountable to someone else than to ourselves. So find someone to help keep you accountable. A coach/trainer is a great choice, because he/she knows what’s best for you, and how to keep you progressing with your fitness without getting burned out or injured. Having a workout partner or joining a social workout group are also great options.
3. Set realistic goals
We’re bombarded with images and content that make the unrealistic seem easy (lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks with these two simple exercises!!) So when we don’t get the promised results, frustration and discouragement often follow.
Real change and permanent results TAKE TIME – no matter what Cosmo magazine says. So instead of giving yourself 8 weeks to reach your goal weight, give yourself a year. A year seems like a long time, but if you don’t do anything differently, you won’t be any better in a year (and you could be even worse!)
Set process goals rather than outcome goals. Setting a goal to lose a certain number of pounds in a certain number of weeks may not match up with your body’s own timeline – and the scale is a poor measure of fitness to boot. Instead, focus on what you can control – like your water intake, your daily meal planning, and your exercise routine. See my articles about SMART goal setting and process-based goals for more.
4. Celebrate every success
When you tie your success to only a particular outcome, you miss out on everything you’re accomplishing along the way. So notice and celebrate every achievement – no matter how small, things like these add up to a big difference in your life:
You have more energy
You sleep better at night
You feel happier
Your clothes fit better
You’ve been consistent with your exercise
You made healthy food choices – at lunch, for the day, for the week
5. Remember to put your own mask on first
Very little in life is more important than your own wellness. You can’t be there for others if you’re not in shape to do so effectively. Like the airlines tell us, put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others. You’ll be happier, healthier, stronger, and better able to do all the things you want to do for others when your body and mind are at their best. So keep this in mind when you’re struggling with weak exercise motivation muscles: you have to be your best in order to do your best.