For some people, exercise and keeping fit is part of their DNA. Such individuals can’t conceive of a life of inactivity. The word sedentary isn’t in their dictionary and keeping still is, in their opinion, a sin! Sadly, such people are not the norm amongst members of the human species residing in the West; where large numbers of individuals find it difficult to stick with or even get started on an exercise program. Indeed, when these people look up the word sedentary in the dictionary, they are met with their own reflection!
Knowing that exercise is good for you doesn't quite cut it in the motivational top 20 "Reasons for Keeping Fit and Exercising". Moreover, for people who find it difficult to exercise, their motivation can sustain a terminal blow once the evenings start getting darker that little bit earlier as the cold winter months threaten to roll in.
So, how do you avoid succumbing to a sedentary lifestyle? Or, to put it more positively, how do you motivate yourself to want to get up and be active on a regular basis?
There are several different theories about which motivation strategies work and which are less effective. It is a widely held belief that will power and motivation are the same thing. That is, it's possible to motivate yourself to take action by sheer force. However, whilst this might be sufficient in the short term, in the longer term it is much harder to sustain.
Studies by Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner amongst others have shown that using sheer force to will yourself to do something that, deep down, you don’t actually want to do, rather than psyching you up to do it, results in feeling disempowered. This is because this strategy makes it easy for the individual to focus on the gap between how they really feel about the situation and how they are trying to motivate themselves to feel about it.
Hence, repeatedly chanting mantras about how much you love exercising or putting together mood boards (showing all the wonderful figure hugging clothes you are going to wear once you’ve got that ideal body) actually adds to a lack of motivation. Now not only do you have to take the action, you also have to feel like doing it too!
Another motivation theory makes a distinction between what is called intrinsic motivation (what motivates or rewards you is generated from within you, i.e. wanting to feel good or personal satisfaction), and extrinsic motivation (you are motivated by things outside of you such as money, applause, nice things etc.).
Some studies have shown that people who are motivated by external factors tend to be more likely to be successful in the short term. On the other hand those motivated by internal reasons are more likely to stick to their goals once they achieve them. However, there is still a significant amount of debate about whether intrinsic or extrinsic motivation is better, with some research even suggesting that a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is the ideal.
Regardless of which theory of motivation one subscribes to, personal experience and observing the experience of others suggest that different tactics work for different people. Hence, one approach would be to identify a number of different methods that have been successful for others in the past and try them out. If it works, then keep it; if it doesn't then discard it and move on to the next one. The most likely outcome would be that you find several that work for you in different circumstances.
Therefore, having a box of tricks to pull out, when you require motivation to get up and exercise, is likely to achieve more success than having only one that you rely on. This is because you will have something to fall back on if when one of the tactics does not work on a particular occasion.
Here is a list of things to try to get you motivated to get up and get exercising - remember to use, review and discard as you see fit.
- Redefine what exercise means to you. Individuals that have a strict definition of exercise or what constitutes physical activity may have created a mental picture of exercise activities that is unappealing. This mindset is restrictive and will contribute to feelings of being demotivated. If you redefine exercise as activities that are fun and that you enjoy doing, or things that can easily be built into an active lifestyle (like taking the stairs, getting off the bus/train early and walking the last few stops, gardening or even using interactive video games) you will be more likely to want to get active.
- Positive self talk. This is different from affirmations and trying to persuade yourself you want to do something that you don’t want to do. This is changing the tape that is already playing in your head. So, for example, if the voice in your head is telling you there is no point in going to the gym because you’re not the sporty type, you can respond by saying "thank you for sharing, but now I’d like to try something new."
- Exercise to music. Music is a great way to inspire activity. A favourite energetic song playing whilst you exercise can increase the level of energy you expend, whilst reducing perceived exertion. Technogym’s MYRUN, with Running Music, takes this to the next level by seamlessly synchronising your running to the beat of the music. Exercising to music allows you to associate feelings of pleasure and enjoyment with the activity, thus motivating you to want to repeat it.
- Discover your Big Y.There is a saying that goes: "When the why is big enough, the rest will follow." Knowing why you are doing something or what is your ultimate compelling purpose, is one of the strongest drivers for action. Ask yourself what would it do for you if you were able to exercise regularly? Each time you answer the question, ask yourself again, until you arrive at an answer where you can go no further. This will be your compelling purpose. Every time you feel demotivated about exercising, remind yourself of your compelling purpose.
- Take action. "Just do it", the now famous advertising slogan holds an empowering secret, which once discovered can be your passport to achieving whatever you want. Action often comes before motivation. You don’t have to feel like exercising, you can do it because you said you would. If you wait for the feelings of motivation they may never arrive. However, if you start by taking action, for example, by going for a walk, going swimming etc., once you are doing it, the endorphins (the feel good hormones) kick in along with feelings of motivation.
- Find a training partner.This is an ideal way to make something fun and increase motivation. What may be a "painful chore" for you, is someone else’s pleasure. Find someone to train with who enjoys being active and exercising. Not only can they provide encouragement when you don’t feel like exercising, there is also the opportunity for social interaction, which is an added benefit.
- Work with your body’s natural rhythm. Sometimes the reason for feeling demotivated is because what you want to do is out of sync with your body or emotions. The result is that your body or how you feel ends up working against you simply because you’re not giving your body the rest or fuel it requires. You can improve your motivation and your results by identifying a routine for eating, sleeping, and exercising that supports you.