Finding motivation to work out is not easy.
Especially if you are one of those people who doesn’t particularly enjoy exercise. Here’s the thing. Even fitness junkies don’t always want to get that work out in.
But they do it anyways.
And what can the rest of us regular folks do to get some of that “can do” magic?
It turns out, it’s not really magic at all. It’s not even about motivation!
1. Reframe the narrative inside your head about fitness.
You may recall that one reason forming new habits is so difficult is because willpower is a finite resource. If you’re going to rely on gritting teeth to get out of bed at 5 AM to head to the gym, you’ll probably fail.
If you’re going to have a shot at becoming a person who work outs, you have to first believe that you are someone who, well, works out!
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the importance of creating a new identity if you want new habits to stick around. No, I don’t mean taking on an alias and doing something drastic to your appearance.
I mean the core beliefs that you hold about yourself.
I can tell you fifteen ways to make working out more convenient, but until you start to identify as a person who works out consistently, they won’t help you.
So what you need to do to start is determine who you want to be.
Then, according to Clear, you prove it to yourself with small wins.
What does that look like?
Let’s say you want to drop about 15 pounds and have more energy. You figure working out is a great way to get there. The problem is, all your focus is on a particular outcome.
Which, let’s be honest, is completely normal. In fact, the vast majority of us frame a new habit in terms of whatever outcome we’d like to achieve from it.
Here’s how to approach it differently.d
Think about what you want your new identity will be and how you plan to prove it to yourself every day. Like this:
What is your new identity? I’m someone who finds ways to move my body every single day.
Small wins to prove it: Get a fitness tracker like an Apple watch or FitBit and decide that you will reach 2K steps or more every single day. Or maybe decide that every day before you get in the shower you’re going to do 10 squats.
These are small, easy wins and that is the point.
They compound. The more wins you have, the bigger they’ll become, and slowly you’ll believe that you are someone who gets some movement in every day because it’s true!
When that’s the case, you don’t need to rely on motivation to work out. It’s just something you do.
Which leads me to #2…
2. Start Small
When you’re just starting out with any new habit, it’s important to be realistic. You are not going to go from couch potato to hour long workouts five days per week overnight.
Besides, you don’t have to do an overly intense workout to see benefits. If working out means going for a 20 minute walk, that is 100% fine and amazing. Good job!
It’s far better to consistently get some squats or push ups in every morning than to try some high intensity 45 minute daily program straight out the gate.
In fact, if you can get a combined 3.5 hours of moderate activity in per week (thirty minutes per day) you’ll be able to lose some weight. Moderate activity can range anywhere from a nice walk to playing a game of kickball with your kid.
Thirty minutes sound too big? No problem! Start with five minutes and work your way up.
Give yourself a goal you can easily achieve every day.
For example, I was having trouble staying consistent with my workouts. The thought of sticking to a program just did not appeal to me.
So I gave myself a smaller goal.
Every day, before I brush my teeth, I do ten squats. After I got accustomed to that, I increased the goal to ten squats after I use the bathroom (every time). Eventually I added five push ups to the routine after I make my bed.
By attaching quick fitness moves to things I was already doing every day, I easily became someone who did 70+ squats per day and counting. It snowballed from there to any time I found myself with a free moment, I would do some squats or lunges.
And yes, I DO see results from this. I feel better, I’m getting faster, my digestion is improved, and it does not require an ounce of motivation on my part.
I just do it.
3. Do something you enjoy.
It’s incredibly easy to look on Instagram and see happy, chiseled bodies and think, “I need to do XYZ workout!” You buy a 30-day program or get a membership card to some boutique fitness studio only to find that you absolutely hate it.
This is how so many of us quit our fitness habits within a few weeks of starting.
If you want to become someone who works out, start by doing things you actually enjoy.
If yoga makes you feel good, do that! Don’t worry if you’re burning the right amount of calories. Maybe you enjoy playing tennis. That is a fabulous way to get some aerobic exercise while having fun.
If you hate bootcamp style classes, you will quit them.
But if you love playing basketball with a group of coworkers a couple times per week, you’ll keep at it. You will become someone who likes to stay active.
Don’t pay attention to what anybody is trying to sell you.
Simplify the whole process.
What do I like doing? And then go do that. Very little motivation required.
Sure, fitness gurus and athletes push themselves past their limits every day and do activities they know are gonna hurt, but that’s not where we are right now, so forget the idea that you need to suffer through your workout.
4. Take yourself seriously.
Consistency is key in any habit.
If you have identified yourself as someone who works out every day, then be that person. It is better to do five minutes of something than to say, “I’ll just try again tomorrow.”
Of course no one is perfect and everyone slips up occasionally, but those should be very rare exceptions. People who identify as fitness junkies show up every single day, even if they don’t feel like it.
So part of your identity change needs to involve becoming someone who does what they say they’ll do. If you said you’re going to do five push ups every day, then you need to do them every day, even if it feels like the last thing you want to do.
Since you’ve chosen something extremely easy that doesn’t require much time, what reason could you possibly have to skip it? (Besides maybe a broken arm.)
Prove that you are who you say you are!
And then watch yourself change.
Recommended books to help you become a person who works out:
Don’t have time to read all these books?
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