Motivation is a funny thing. You know what it is you want. You know what it is you need to do to get it. So, why can’t you just get out there and do it?
It sometimes seems as if we are our own worst enemies, sabotaging our attempts to get fit, lose weight, or whatever it is we want to achieve, by not sticking to what we planned to do.
Depending on what research you read, four to seven out of every ten people who embark on a new exercise regimen drop out within a few months. A British Heart Foundation survey conducted just before New Year in 2003 found that although nearly half of those questioned wanted to lose more than 6.3 kg (~13 lbs) in the coming year, 13 percent expected to have abandoned their weight-loss attempts within a week.
Why such low expectations?
Partly because many of us have experienced ‘failure’ every other time we have resolved to join a gym, run every morning before work, or stick to a diet. While on the outside we are all fired up about our new regime, deep down we are already anticipating failure.
Don’t Use Negative Motivators
One problem is that we tend to use negative things to motivate us, rather than positive things. We think about our clothes being too tight, how our partner might not like us any more if we gain weight, or how worried we are about feeling breathless simply from running for the bus. In effect, we frighten ourselves into getting active.
A more successful and enjoyable approach is to find positive reasons to exercise. Then you are striving toward something, rather than running away, which is a far more powerful source of motivation.
While you cannot expect to feel enthused and fired up about every single workout, it is important to have clear in your head some good reasons why exercise is important to you. Then, when your inner voice starts whispering negative thoughts, you have some ammunition to fight back with.
Here are a couple of examples:
Negative Voice: “I’m to tired to go to the gym now.”
Counter: “I know I’ll feel energized after a workout.”
Negative Voice: “I’m too stressed and busy to go swimming.”
Counter: “I know that a swim calms and focuses my mind so I can achieve more afterwards.’
Forewarned is forearmed.
If you embark on your exercise regime without expecting anything (morally or practically) to get in the way, you are heading for disappointment. Yes, you were going to do your weights workout on Saturday morning, but you’ve woken up with a terrible hangover. Or you were starting your cycling commute this Monday, but a flurry of snow landed overnight.
How do you cope with such obstacles to make progress?
First, be prepared.
Where are the obstacles likely to come from?
Are they ‘self-inflicted, like the hangover, or your over commitment at work, or are they out of your control, like the weather, illness, other people, etc?
Spend a few minutes thinking what kinds of things are likely to get in the way of your progress, and think how you could get a round each problem. Contingency plans help you to stay on track by giving you an alternative course of action.
You must also be flexible. It isn’t the end of the world if you can’t do exactly what you set out to do, find an alternative and do that instead.
Do It For Yourself
When you first start out on a new exercise program, your motivation is most likely external, or extrinsic. In other words, your reasons for doing it are outside yourself – you might be thinking of how much weight you can lose or how important it is to tone up before the summer holiday, or how pleased your boyfriend will be if you lose 7 pounds.
While this kind of motivation is a good starter, it tends to be associated with short-term commitment. Once you’ve reached your goal, the impetus to continue is gone.
In time, the kind of motivation you want to feel is intrinsic; motivation to carry on simply because you enjoy the feeling of being active, you get a sense of pleasure and accomplishment from your exercise regime and the health benefits you are reaping, and continue with it for these simple reasons.
People who are intrinsically motivated are the real stayers when it comes to exercise and therefore, the ones who get the greatest range of benefits.
How to Become an Intrinsic Exerciser
- Find Personal Meaning: Use exercise to find out who you are in that moment. Expel any negative thoughts from your mind and focus on the positive benefits of what you are doing. Explain to yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Remind yourself of the discipline you are displaying by working out. Visualize yourself having achieved your ultimate goal.
- Achieve Mastery: Set goals that are specific to the next exercise session. These may be related to the weight that you are lifting (today, I’m going to lift an extra 5 pounds on the shoulder press), the number of repetitions or the distance you travel on the rowing machine. Avoid the trap of comparing yourself to someone else. Get focused on you. When you walk into the gym you need to set your focus like a laser on achieving an awesome workout.
- Develop Inner Synergy: Integrate exercise as a special time of your day. Rather than viewing it as a chore that you’ve got to endure, see it as your personal time – the hour of the day that you are using to sculpt and perfect the package that you present to the world. This is the time where your mind and body are working together to make you better, faster, stronger. There’s no one encroaching on your time. This is your daily maintenance – cherish it.
- Go with the Flow: On the way to the gym (or wherever you choose to exercise) clear your mind of any distractions and start mentally rehearsing your work-out. See yourself performing the first exercise, tense the main muscle that is involved, see the weight on the bar. Focus on achieving your mastery goal for that day and then feel the great sense of accomplishment that will follow. Go through each movement, moving with energy, precision and focus. By the time you get to the workout location, you’ve already done it in your mind – all you need now is for your body to follow through. When you’re actually doing the movements, learn to develop your mind-muscle connection. Focus on the working muscle. Feel it. Tense it. Isolate it. You will be in tune with your body – and it will feel fantastic.
- Focus on the Non-Physical Benefits: The benefits of exercise start on the inside and radiate outwards. By focusing on the immediate, your intrinsic motivation will be enhanced immediately. Consider 8 non-physical benefits of working out:
- (1) It releases feel good chemicals: When you work out, your body releases endorphins – commonly referred to as ‘feel good’ chemicals. Endorphins give you a natural high – a sense of euphoria and mood enhancement that just makes you feel good about your life.
- (2) It reduces stress: When you work out, the body releases more of a chemical called norepinephrine. This chemical regulates the brain’s response to stress. That’s why exercise can help you deal with the stresses of your life – both mental and physical.
- (3) It improves self-confidence: After just one session, you start feeling more confident, more self-assured, more in control of your destiny. Your self-esteem will receive a huge boost and you will project far more confidently to others. You’ll even improve your posture.
- (4) It alleviates anxiety: An exercise session can do wonders in terms of calming down a person who is in a state of anxiety. It allows time to get the blood flowing, to take some personal time, to find perspective and peace.
- (5) It strengthens the connection between mind, body and spirit: Taking great care of our physical body reflects a deep appreciation for the gift that we have been given. It also sharpens our awareness of the interconnectedness of the aspects that make up our whole being – the mind, body and spirit. For many people there is a spiritual dimension that comes with the endorphin rush that comes with exercise – especially if you’re jogging along the beach at sunrise.This chemical regulates the brain’s response to stress. That’s why exercise can help you deal with the stresses of your life – both mental and physical.
- (6) It improves self-confidence: After just one session, you start feeling more confident, more self-assured, more in control of your destiny. Your self-esteem will receive a huge boost and you will project far more confidently to others. You’ll even improve your posture.
- (7) It alleviates anxiety: An exercise session can do wonders in terms of calming down a person who is in a state of anxiety. It allows time to get the blood flowing, to take some personal time, to find perspective and peace.
- (8) It strengthens the connection between mind, body and spirit: Taking great care of our physical body reflects a deep appreciation for the gift that we have been given. It also sharpens our awareness of the interconnectedness of the aspects that make up our whole being – the mind, body and spirit. For many people there is a spiritual dimension that comes with the endorphin rush that comes with exercise – especially if you’re jogging along the beach at sunrise.