By this point, I think we all know that a regular exercise routine is incredibly important for overall health and longevity (special circumstances aside). Exercise makes us feel great inside and out, and the benefits impact all aspects of our lives. The key when it comes to exercise, though, is consistency, and many people come to me struggling to find the motivation to work out. Trust me – I’ve been there. I used to dread exercise with every fiber of my being. I knew that I should exercise and stop being such a couch potato all the time, but I could not find any motivation to fit it into my schedule. I didn’t prioritize it because it wasn’t important to me. We all have the same number of hours in a day, but the way we choose to spend those hours really is up to us. I’ve always been the type to have a lot of things on my plate, so I used that as part of the excuse… time. I chose to spend my time doing other things, because my to-do list was long, but also because I just didn’t like exercising, or so I thought. Why would I prioritize something that I didn’t look forward to? And that didn’t “fit” into my life?
Flash forward a few years, and my relationship with fitness has completely changed. I turned my lack of motivation around so much that it went a bit too far in the opposite direction, but eventually I found my way back. I never really struggle with finding the motivation to exercise anymore because I enjoy it so much and love the way it makes me feel mentally and physically. Because of that, I’ll always find a way to fit it into my schedule, whether I’m in my normal routine, traveling, or with other people. I prioritize my health. It’s similar to finding the motivation to eat healthy. Once you’re in the routine, it just becomes part of your lifestyle, and you enjoy the lifestyle because you feel so much better than before. That’s the thing, though – at first you just have to find the motivation to make it a part of your lifestyle, and eventually it becomes second nature. You don’t have to “find” the motivation to workout anymore.
Newton’s first law of motion, the law of inertia, is very relevant here: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” You’re going to stay “at rest” until you make a change. Once you make that change and put yourself “in motion,” it’s easier to stay that way unless you force yourself in the “opposite direction” again.
I wanted to write a roundup of my best tips for helping people find the motivation to exercise, because I completely understand what it’s like to be in the position where you know you should do something for your health, but you just don’t know how to get started, how to keep going, or how make it a part of your lifestyle.
- Form the habit. If you can make it a habit, then you won’t even really “think” about it anymore, because it becomes a part of your routine. This goes back to Newton’s first law. It takes us at least 21 days to really form any solid habit, so give yourself some time to adjust. That doesn’t mean you need to exercise 21 days in a row to form an exercise habit, but it means setting yourself up with an exercise schedule to follow for a few weeks and sticking to it. There are a lot of fitness influencers who don’t have a set exercise schedule and promote that type of flexibility with their routine, but it usually works for them because they already have the motivation to workout, so they know they’ll make the time. If you’re struggling to find the motivation to workout, then that’s probably not the strategy for you right now (it might be later, though!). Pencil it in like an appointment. You wouldn’t just skip a doctor’s appointment because you weren’t motivated to go (I hope not!). If you had a class every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at a certain time, you would make it work and make it to class (usually). Pick days and times, and be consistent.
I find that picking a consistent time of day works best. Maybe that’s every morning first thing, maybe it’s every afternoon at 4 PM, or maybe it’s in the evening after work. Figure out what works best with your schedule, and pencil it in. If you feel like nothing works with your schedule, then that’s an excuse. Sorry, but I’m not here to baby you! Have a friend pick times for you, and stick to those like an appointment. It can also help simply to form the habit of getting ready for exercise every day, just so it becomes ingrained into your daily schedule. For instance, even on days when I’m not working out, I’ll still get in my workout clothes and stretch for a few minutes or meditate to fill that time slot. Even if I’m not actually going to get a formal workout in, I keep that time slot open and “get ready to workout” just to reduce decision fatigue and keep up the habit.
- Know your “why.” This is probably the most important thing to stay motivated to work out consistently, but sometimes it’s harder to figure out your “why” until you’ve already formed the habit and started to feel the positive effects of exercise. Your “why” can be anything – no right or wrong, just whatever motivates you. Why are you exercising? Maybe it gives you energy for the rest of the day. Maybe it improves your mood and helps with your mental health. It might be a great stress-reliever for you. Maybe you nerd out on the scientific aspects of the numerous positive benefits it has on your body. Maybe you really notice exercise helps regulate your appetite and balance out your blood sugar. Perhaps you’re trying to address your insulin resistance. Maybe you notice your brain works clearer when you exercise regularly. Maybe you like that it’s easier for you to do other things in your life – carrying bags around, lifting things, staying active with friends or family, and so on. Perhaps you notice it’s something that really helps you regulate your digestion, or it helps with the detoxification process. Maybe you’re looking to the future and want to make sure your body doesn’t fall apart when you’re 80 years old. Maybe you just want to live a long life.
And, guess what? At the beginning of this journey, I think it’s totally fine if part of your motivation is because you like the way it makes you look. It’s somewhat taboo to say that in parts of the wellness space right now, but obviously that is a huge part of people’s initial motivation to exercise. You should love the way you look! The problem with that being your only motivation, though, is that it isn’t a sustainable reason to continue working out. If your only “why” is for aesthetic purposes, you’re most likely not going to stick with it long term. If it helps you out at the beginning, though, then start with that, and then notice what else is happening that makes it worth it. Exercise is very much worth it even if it doesn’t make any aesthetic changes for your body.
Really nail down your “why”, though, and be specific. I usually tell people to write it down so they have to look at it. Whenever you’re feeling unmotivated, look at that “why” to remind you. A post-it note on the wall right in front of your face is a good place to start.
- Going off of that, research the health benefits of exercise. Knowledge is power.
- Redefine what it means to exercise, and do something you actually enjoy. This was a big reason why I was never motivated to workout for so many years. I thought exercise meant running on the track or going on the elliptical, which I hated. If that’s what you love to do, then that works, but personally I just hadn’t found the type of exercise that I loved yet. Try out different types of exercise to see what you actually like and look forward to doing! For me, it was resistance training. A lot of people find that trying different classes helps them test out different forms of exercise – barre, pilates, yoga, kickboxing, Orange Theory, etc. It’s all worth a shot if you really have no idea where to begin. There are also a ton of free YouTube videos online that you can use to basically have your own at-home fitness class.
That’s another thing – maybe classes aren’t for you but you like working out alone. Personally, I much prefer exercising by myself and love the alone time – that’s a big motivating factor for me. Just figure out what works for you! What I really want to get across, though, is that exercise can be a wide variety of things. It can be going to the gym and lifting weights, it can be going on hikes outside, it can be signing up for a rec league and playing your favorite sport. Once you get it out of your head that you have to do a certain type of exercise, it becomes a lot easier to find something you enjoy. Now that I’ve found a way to exercise that I love, I am genuinely excited every time I go to work out.
- Start small and simple – don’t hop into something ridiculously extensive. People try to go from zero to 175 overnight, and that is unrealistic. You don’t have to go from 0 workouts a week to 5 a week. In fact, I would definitely not recommend that. It’s much easier to mentally get yourself motivated if you just have one thing to focus on than if you’re telling yourself you have to do four more workouts that week – your brain and body are not ready for that yet. Also, remember that exercise is not all-or-nothing!
Ease into it. Start with once or twice. Start with bodyweight exercises before adding weight. You want to do the minimum amount of work you can for maximum results, anyways – the point of exercise is not to slave away working out. You don’t have to come up with some complicated exercise routine with a ton of different components – stick with the basics and you can add on from there if needed. I see this over and over again with clients – I get them to switch from some complicated training routine or workout program to basic strength training moves, and they feel a million times better mentally and physically. If you want an easy-to-follow, well-programmed strength training routine, I really recommend getting MAPS Anabolic if you go to the gym or MAPS Anywhere if you work out from home. These programs work, and it takes the guessing out of it for you.
- Make it easy on your schedule. Like I mentioned before, pick a time of day when you usually have the least amount of things going on. Some people tend to have more free time in the morning, and others have more time in the afternoon or at night. Along with this, do everything you can to eliminate any excuses. Have your gym bag packed the night before if you’re going to work out in the morning or after work, and have it sitting by the back door so it’s ready to go. Have equipment set up if you’re working out at home. Have your clothes laid out and your water bottle filled. All of those little things make it easier. My friend Les sleeps in her workout clothes sometimes so all she has to do is get up, brush her teeth, and go in the morning. I love that trick.
- Pay for something so you’ll exercise to get your money’s worth. This could be a gym membership, workout equipment for home, sessions with a personal trainer, a health or fitness coach, or a fitness program. It could also be a pair of new shoes or workout clothes. Dropping hard-earned cash on something is highly motivating.
- Buy yourself comfortable, cute workout clothes. If you actually want to wear your workout clothes, then you’re more likely to want to work out. I’m not sure why, but activewear just makes you want to be more active in general. If it’s cute and comfortable, you’ll want to make use of it. Before I invested in some activewear I actually loved, half the reason I didn’t like working out was because I hated my workout clothes! They weren’t comfortable and they weren’t cute. Now that I have workout clothes I love, I never want to change out of them.
- Find an accountability partner. This could be a friend or family member you actually work out with, or a friend you just ask to hold you accountable. This is why working out with friends is a great option to get started – you know they’re depending on you, and you also get some social interaction at the same time so you kill two birds with one stone. Your “accountability partner” could also just be the act of going to the gym itself, or signing up for a class that you know you have to attend. It could be the forum of a fitness program, or finding a friend to do the program with. It could be a personal trainer you sign up with, or your health coach. Maybe it’s an alarm notification on your phone that goes off when you’re supposed to workout. Maybe it’s some kind of check system where you get to mark off days on a calendar every time you exercise, and then you get some kind of reward every week or every month. I know people who do this with money – they put money into a jar for every workout they complete and then get to spend it at the end of the month.
- Hang out with people who also value staying active. It’s hard to be motivated if everyone around you wants to lay on the couch all day. When you have friends who also like to exercise and live active lifestyles, it also motivates you to do the same. If you don’t have real life friends who stay active, then listen to podcasts or follow POSITIVE health and wellness influencers that inspire you. Be careful with this one, though. If someone is making you feel bad about yourself in any way, or encouraging you to overtrain, do not follow them.
- Multitask with things you enjoy while you work out. For example, part of why I love to exercise is because I watch TV or YouTube videos at the same time. Maybe you like watching a show, listening to music, or listening to podcasts. Maybe you like exercising with a friend so you get some social interaction at the same time and have the chance to catch up. Having another part of your workout that you enjoy can help motivate you to start because it’s like another reward just for going!
- Just get there, and start with 5 minutes. Tell yourself you just have to get there, and then you just have to exercise for 5 minutes. If you’re not feeling it, you can stop, but you’ll most likely want to keep going once you start. Even if you get to the gym and turn around and go home, or even if you get dressed, get out your mat, and then decide to stop, at least you made the effort and kept up your habit.
- Longterm, switch it up. If you’re starting to feel bored or trapped in the same routine, then you might not stay motivated. This means phasing your workout routine, or maybe integrating different types of movement into your routine. For example, I’ll rotate through different types of schedules, or even different programming. It keeps me excited and interested. I tend to program my own workouts, but then sometimes I want to switch it up so I’ll try out a different program. I recently started MAPS Anywhere to do while I’m traveling, and I became obsessed with it. I’ll probably do it again once I finish the whole program because I like it so much, and and I can already feel the difference. It gives me something to look forward to because I enjoy the workouts so much, I’m not stressed about deciding what to do because it’s all laid out for me, and I love the way it makes me feel.
In conclusion, it basically comes down to getting into a habit at first, and then finding that intrinsic motivation once you can actually feel the benefits of regular exercise. I love exercising because it gives me energy, reduces my stress, helps with my digestion, helps me manage my insulin resistance, and keeps me strong. Plus, I just genuinely think it’s fun. What works for me is getting in my shorts and a sports bra, rolling out a mat, putting on a TV show or some YouTube videos, and doing some resistance training to clear my head. It’s my “me” time, and I love it! That might look totally different for you, and that’s the beauty of it. Once you find what’s right for you, you’ll naturally WANT to keep doing it, and it’s smooth sailing from there.
I want to wrap up with a challenge for anyone reading this REAL TIME (May, 2018). Since accountability helps so much when it comes to motivation, I thought I’d put together a fun giveaway / movement challenge. Throughout the month of May, I want to see YOUR movement! Every time you get in some movement, whether that be a gym session, a walk outside, a yoga flow, playing a sport, or anything in between, use the hashtag #MayMoves and tag me (@christinaricewellness) in the post (or email it to me if you don’t have Instagram) to be entered to win a pair of Rubberbanditz Resistance Bands from the Mind Pump Media site! These are really high quality bands that are great for travel or at-home workout sessions – I use them for the MAPS Anywhere program!
Now I want to hear from you – what keeps you motivated to work out?