You’ve probably heard someone say something to that effect before. You might’ve even said it yourself. We attribute motivation as the key to getting results in all aspects of life. But is it really? Is our success dependent solely on our sheer force of will?
In great part, yes. But even the most committed exercisers or high-level athletes don’t always feel like working out. So how do they stay consistent with their routines?
To answer this, we must first distinguish between intrinsic motivation and emotional motivation. Being intrinsically motivated means doing whatever it takes to reach your goal, even if you don’t feel like it. It is fixed and independent of outside circumstances. Emotional motivation means working towards your goals when you feel pumped or when the circumstances are right. It is mutable and subject to whims. It is possible to be intrinsically motivated and feel emotional motivation at the same time. This is a great state of mind to be in.
It is also possible to feel emotional motivation but not be intrinsically motivated. For example, this is what might cause someone to go to the gym and have a great workout but then not return for weeks.
It is also possible to be intrinsically motivated but not feel emotional motivation. In this case, the person forces himself or herself to workout even though they’d rather lie around watching TV. When people say they need to find motivation, they are often talking about emotional motivation–the feel-good drive to get up and go do something. But like all emotions, this type of motivation is fleeting. It ebbs and flows. Those who are intrinsically motivated and don’t rely on their emotional state to get things done. They know that they are not always going to feel like going to the gym, but they do it anyway.
So does that mean if you are not intrinsically motivated that you’re doomed to continuously fall off the wagon? Fortunately, no. And that’s because intrinsic motivation can be cultivated. You may have not been born that way, but there are things you can do to improve your consistency.
It’s important to point out that for people who are not intrinsically motivated, consistency will build their motivation, not the other way around. The more you do something, the easier it gets and the more you see the benefits. This provides you with positive feedback that reinforces the habit.
Now that you know you motivation is something you can build, how do you do it?
One of the most common reasons people fail with consistency is going too hard, too soon. If you want a habit to stick, your best bet is to pick just one manageable thing to focus on. Don’t take on anything else until you’ve been consistent with that one action for two weeks to a month.
For example, it’s unrealistic for someone to go from not exercising at all to running three miles six days a week and be able to sustain that for the long term. There may be a small percentage of people who can maintain that, but the majority will eventually burn out. A more practical option would be starting with three days of less intense exercise and then slowly adding on to that over time. By taking on a more moderate approach, you increase the likelihood of consistently following through.
Get in touch with your why
Why do you want to exercise and get in shape? For many people, the surface reason is to look good. But your desire for 6-pack abs is not what’s going to pry you out of a comfortable couch when you’ve got a pizza sitting in front of you. Things like more confidence, getting rid of back pain, being able to keep up with your kids, and a sense of accomplishment and empowerment are the real drivers. To find your deeper why, start by asking yourself why you want to reach a certain goal. Once you have that answer, ask why again. And again. Eventually you will get to the emotional core of your reason.
This process might look something like this: You want to workout to lose 15 lbs. Why do you want to lose 15 lbs.? To look better. Why do you want to look better? To feel more confident. Why is feeling more confident important to you? So that I can be the best version of me.
Once you have your deeper “why”, visualize what it would be like to have attained your goal. Put yourself in the future and really try to experience how you look and feel and how your life has improved.
Whenever you’re feeling unmotivated, practicing these exercises can realign you with your true reason for wanting to accomplish a goal.
Set the bar low
Expect that some days you aren’t going to feel like working out even though you know you should.
In these moments,tell yourself that you can show up to the gym and dial it in by doing the minimum effort. Oftentimes what happens is that once you’re in the gym you end up putting in the effort anyway. Ask anyone who works out regularly, and they’ll most likely tell you that the hardest part of working out is physically getting yourself in the gym.
Setting the bar low and giving yourself permission to have a lazy workout gets you over that mental hurdle and keeps you on track.
Do things that you like
Hate running? Don’t do it. Love walking? Then stroll away. Fitness shouldn’t be about suffering or doing things you hate–both of which are terrible for compliance. So find a gym that suits you and do workouts that make you feel good. Don’t get caught up on what you think fitness should look like. The important thing is to do what works for you. You’re in this for the long game, and people don’t do things they dislike for very long.
Remember that you’re not always going to feel inspired to exercise or eat healthy. But if you implement these tools, you’ll maintain consistency as you get past the growing pains of adopting a new habit. As you start to see the benefits of your efforts, it’ll be easier to harness your motivation.
If you need help getting motivated or finding the right program, our coaches are happy to assist you.