How to Exercise, Even When Motivation Fails
- 6:00 am — The alarm goes off. Your phone says, “Time to workout!”
- 6:01 am — Snooze.
- 6:10 am — The alarm goes off. “Get your butt to the gym!!”
- 6:11 am — Snooze.
- 6:20 am — The alarm goes off. “Seriously, go now or it’s too late!!!”
You groan and roll over to turn it off.
You think to yourself, wow my bed is SO comfy. And it’s SO cold. And I’m sore. I’m supposed to listen to my body right? It’s telling me it’s too tired to work out.
So you go back to bed. Figuring out when to work out next is a future problem for future you.
Raise your hand if this has happened to you.
Let’s be real. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had days, weeks, months, even years, where we simply could not find the motivation to exercise.
And that’s okay.
These days, we’re constantly inundated with “motivation”, like fitspo accounts on Instagram telling you to “dig deep and always push forward”.
Sometimes, it can make you feel like if you can’t find the motivation within yourself to stick to a workout plan, there’s something wrong with you.
That’s not the case.
No one wakes up every day, ready to give 110%. But what separates those who do follow through with working out and those who don’t?
Or rather, developing the discipline to turn your desired behaviors into habit.
Here are 10 tips I use to keep myself on track, in the long term:
1. Do what you like
Despise running? Don’t force yourself to do it. Forcing yourself is a surefire way to start associating exercise as an obligation or chore. You’re much more likely to stick to working out if it’s something you actually enjoy!
That being said, don’t shy away from exercises you think you might dislike. And give yourself some time to actually get better at it. If you haven’t run in years, don’t just run once, feel out of shape/horrible, and swear off running forever. Maybe try easing into it for 2 weeks, and if you still hate it, at least you know you tried!
2. Plan, plan, plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
There’s nothing worse than waking up early to do a workout, only to fumble around for half an hour in the dark trying to get everything together.
And then you find out that you left your shoes when you get to the gym too.
Plan out when you’re going to exercise and actually do the prep for it. Early morning workout? Pack your bag and post-workout food the night before. If it’s an afternoon workout, make sure you bring snacks to eat beforehand. Whatever you need to do, do it.
3.Branch out and keep things interesting
If you’re pounding the pavement, day in day out, it might get a little boring.
Additionally, your body will get used to doing the same thing over and over. At some point, you’ll stop improving. Switch things up, keep your body guessing. Try a new group exercise class or yoga class. Bring your workout outdoors, or hit up a fitness studio. Incorporate cross-training, HIIT, steady-state cardio, and lifting for a well-rounded, functional fitness routine.
4. Follow a workout plan
Finding and sticking to a workout plan helps take the guesswork out of your fitness regimen and gives you some guidelines to follow. I find that if I don’t have a plan to follow, I’ll sometimes lack the motivation to workout.
Find a blend of activities you enjoy and a schedule you can stick with over the long haul. Here is a resource you can use to find the perfect workout regimen!
5. Understand your schedule and when you like to work out
This is SUPER key. I am a morning workout person. 10000%. I really do enjoy waking up early and exercising before work. It gets my endorphins going, it sets the tone for the day, and I feel good checking it off my list.
When I try to workout in the afternoon, I have about… 5% chance of doing it. I know I’ll spend the whole day dreading the workout, or be so drained from work that I won’t have the energy, or (most often) I’ll be so hungry that my pre-workout snack just turns into a straight up dinner.
So, I make it a habit to get my workout done first thing in the morning (before my brain or stomach knows what is happening).
Figure out what works best for you and your schedule and plan accordingly.
6. Find a buddy or join a community
Accountability, support, and camaraderie (or commiseration!)
By finding someone to hold you accountable, push you during your workouts, and share your journey with, you’re much more likely to stick to working out. This doesn’t have to be every single workout, but every so often, having someone to keep you on track is a huge boost.
For me, I enjoy doing most of my workouts solo. I find it easier to focus and give it my all. But I miss the camaraderie and support I had when I competed on a team, so I created a Fitness Instagram (@fit_pham). Through there, I found a great community of women empowering other women. Find what works for you, and jump in!
7. Be flexible (listen to your body)
Like I said earlier, no one is able to give 110% every day. If life is overwhelming, you’re feeling physically beat down, or you need a mental break, be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to take the day off.
Listen to your body. Know the difference between good and bad pain.
Relax. Recharge. And be ready to get back to it the next day.
8. Don’t compare yourself to others
Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.
The only person that matters in this journey is you.
While it may be easy to get caught up comparing yourself to all the chiseled abs and toned arms you see on Instagram, don’t let it detract from YOU.
Also, don’t assign too much importance to your weight. While your goal may be to lose weight, don’t forget to also track other metrics, such as strength, flexibility, and endurance. Numbers on a scale don’t matter that much, especially as your body composition changes with muscle gains!
9. Start small & ramp up.
If you haven’t run in a while, then your first run back will probably not be a half marathon. Right?
Same thing applies for workout regimens. If it’s been a while since the last time you worked out, don’t set out with the goal “I’m going to go to the gym every day”.
Start small and ramp up. Instead of every day, start with 2 gym sessions that week. And keep the workouts short. In the beginning, leave the gym when you’re still craving more.
Wait, what? You’re telling me to leave when I am still motivated to do more?
Yes. Instead, use this motivation to fuel your next visit. Then build it into a habit. (See what I did there?)
10. Make a large goal. Then break it up to manageable & specific tasks.
What is motivating you to get into fitness?
Write it on paper and define it so you know exactly what your goal is. But be specific. Don’t say, “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to go to the gym more”. Instead, make your goal “I want to stop my late night snacking and eat a hearty breakfast every morning for 2 weeks” or “I want to go to the gym 3x a week after work for 12 weeks”.
Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (SMART). Start with smaller goals that you can check off week to week and gradually build bigger goals.
And don’t forget to reward yourself once you get that goal. Whether that be new workout clothes, a massage, or some ice cream, you do you.
And most importantly,
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun. Do what you love. For me, that’s being active and outdoors, hiking up mountains and having my breath stolen away (by both the altitude and awesome views).
What motivates you to exercise should be organic to who you are and what you truly want, not what you want to avoid. Don’t workout because you hate your body and want to change it. Workout because you love your body and you want to build a stronger, healthier, and more active lifestyle.
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