How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out When You Really Don’t Want To

How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out When You Really Don't Want To

Struggling to find the motivation to work out consistently? You probably already know that daily exercise is one of the keys to lifelong health and happiness, but with all of the pressures that life puts on us, it can be hard to find the motivation to do it consistently. You may think that this is a lack of willpower, but it’s more likely you haven’t been given the right set of tools that will reward you for your consistent effort. I’m going to give you these tools, which will empower you to activate motivation to workout consistently and finally see results. These tools combine a bit of brain science and psychology, but you will also need to put in effort and dedication. Are you ready to learn the secrets to gaining consistent motivation to workout? Let’s dive in!

Step 1: Ditch The Concept Of “Willpower”  

Willpower is temporary. Forget any advice that has some combination of the words “You just need more willpower.” It’s totally wrong and unhelpful. Willpower is really only useful in getting you through a short term crisis. For example, let’s imagine that you can’t drink because you’re on antibiotics that don’t react well with alcohol. You have to go to a friend’s birthday party this weekend where you will be surrounded by friends drinking, having fun and shoving delicious cocktails in your face. Willpower might stop you from giving in to the temptation that your friends are putting in front of you for that one party, but it won’t get you through five parties. Probably not even the next party if you enjoy drinking and your friends keep offering you alcohol.

Let’s imagine another scenario. Say you only have four weeks to train for a 10k race. For the next four weeks, willpower will get you out of bed earlier than normal. It will push you to train after work when all you want to do is crash on the couch. You have the motivation to train hard because your body will blow up at the race if you don’t. The hard training feels doable because it will only last for four weeks. It’s temporary and I bet you won’t be hauling ass out of bed at 6 am after the race is over.

It can help you lose 3kg in 3 weeks so you can fit into a knockout dress that you’re wearing to a wedding that your ex is also attending with his new girlfriend. That willpower will motivate you to eat clean and cut out junk for three weeks to achieve your goal, but you will likely go back to old habits as soon as there is no threat of your ex’s eyes on you.

Willpower will be gone the minute you cross the finish line of any short-term goal. Willpower needs urgency and a temporary timeframe to work. You cannot rely on willpower if you want to enjoy the huge benefits of consistent effort. So ditch it! Here is what you can rely on instead:   

Step 2: Reward Yourself

Give yourself a reward after a workout to give yourself consistent motivation

A reward is a powerful way to give yourself permanent motivation to workout. It needs to be something you truly consider a reward. It needs to activate your brain’s pleasure centres while still being productive and healthy. It might be something you really enjoy, but feel guilty about doing if you haven’t “earned it.” For example, maybe you love a certain salted caramel chocolate bar. You love to scarf this salty-caramel goodness while binge-watching Netflix at home, but this gives you all sorts of food shame, and you regret it later. But what if you gave yourself the chocolate bar + Netflix pleasure combo to yourself as a reward for doing three runs during the week? If you complete those three runs, you get to indulge. If you don’t, you can’t have it. Thems the rules.

This is the perfect motivator. It provides you with a reward that you really want, but you normally feel guilty about indulging in. If you do the runs, then you’ve done more than enough exercise to justify the indulgence, thus eliminating the guilt factor. If you don’t do the work, you don’t get the reward, which motivates you to push through any resistance you might have to running.

The reward for your workout doesn’t have to be food. It can be anything, like an extra glass of wine after work on Friday, a new pair of workout leggings that make your butt look great, a weekly manicure, an extra-long sleep in every Monday. Whatever! Be smart though. The reward should not be something harmful to you, like excessive drinking, drugs or anything dangerous.  

Step 3: Harness Healthy Habits

Reward yourself consistently for working out and fitness will become a healthy habit

Over a longer period of time, this workout-reward cycle will organically form into a healthy habit. When you reward yourself, your brain naturally releases endorphins, which are the happy chemicals that make you feel amazing. The same chemicals are released when you cuddle with someone you love, or someone that you’re crushing on is giving you attention. You will begin to associate those happy chemicals with working out, and you will literally train your brain to see the workout itself as the reward. Boom! You just hacked your own brain!

You may eventually get to a place where you’ve formed a true habit. You don’t need the reward anymore because you genuinely enjoy the workout and feel good doing it. If you hit this sweet spot, keep it up! All you have to do is be consistent and the healthy habit will remain without any need for your naughty reward. But don’t feel bad if you still need a reward of some kind to keep going. That’s perfectly natural, and any negative effects of your indulgence will be far outweighed by your ongoing commitment to fitness. 

Step 4: Practice Gratitude

Solidify consistent workouts by practicing gratitude every day

A great way to solidify anything that you want to do consistently is practice gratitude. It sounds a little cheesy, but conscious gratitude actually changes your brain chemistry. Gratitude works its magic on your brain when you turn it into a practice.

Here is how to do it:

Physically write down one thing that you are grateful for every day related to health, fitness and working out. Something like: “I’m grateful that I have a body that is healthy enough to exercise. Some people cannot even get out of bed every day due to illness,” or “I’m grateful that I don’t have any chronic illnesses like heart disease.” These gratitude notes will remind you that you are truly lucky to have a body that allows you to workout. Not everyone has that luxury.

You will need something to keep these gratitude notes in, like a journal or a note app on your phone. I tore up pieces of paper to write my gratitude notes on and saved them in a jar on my desk. This was great because it was a constant reminder of the things I was grateful for throughout the day.

It doesn’t take long to start noticing the effects of a gratitude practice like this on the brain. I noticed that I was thinking more positively within a few days. This needs to become a daily ritual in order to remain an effective way of motivating workouts. Set aside a specific time to write down your gratitude, like first thing in the morning when you wake up, or the last thing you do before you leave your desk at work. Whatever works to integrate this practice into your day.  

Step 5: Workout with buddies

Friends will keep you accountable to workout consistently

A fabulous way of motivating yourself to workout is to force yourself to be accountable to others. You could do this by joining a running group that meets twice a week and goes for coffee after. See what I did there? Accountability + reward = motivation combo! Hit the gym with your bestie and do your favourite group class together. Join a social netball or soccer team. You’ll meet lots of rad ladies who will motivate you even more to workout, and being on a team will keep you accountable so you can’t flake. There are also endless fitness-related groups and meetups that you can find in your area on Facebook for every sport you can imagine, from mountain biking to river kayaking to ultimate frisbee. Join one of these groups, and you won’t even feel like you’re working out. Plus you will get lots of social time and definitely make friends with like-minded people, which will boost your self-esteem and health. You’re really getting a double dose of healthy goodness with this one. Endorphins will be coursing through your veins and keep you coming back for more. 

Try these motivational tools to get yourself fired up to workout consistently. Forget willpower, reward yourself when your goals, practice gratitude that you have the ability to workout and add friends into the mix. Do a combination of these and workouts will quickly become the highlight of your week. Now get out there and enjoy life!

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