3 Simple Ways to Master Your Motivation to Exercise

The interweb is full of advice on motivation. Spoiler alert: it’s not all good.

You can only hear so much about goals, willpower, and “discipline” before you realize that these things aren’t enough. Besides, what does discipline even mean? I’m guessing that if you’ve found this article amidst all the noise, you’re probably looking for something to help you right now. I’m down with that. So let’s see if we can’t get you some instant gratification for your longing for more motivation to exercise.

Here are three things that take little effort that you can do this week that I know will make a difference to the quality of your workouts. And remember, motivation is as much if not more dependent on the quality of your workouts than the quantity. So, whether you can only get moving 2 times a week, that’s cool. Do your best with what life is serving you right now.

“If you create quality, you’ll crave quantity”

1) Plan Smarter

And life serves us a big plate of ‘busy’ doesn’t it. Because of that, we have competing priorities. The common wisdom is to tell you “If you really want to change you’ll make it a priority”. Just ignore that. That advice is just as good as “suck it up and get it done”. Welcome to the no-shame corner of the internet. If you’re interested in being more active, you’ve already mentally made it a priority. Well done.

However, the next step is to plan your workout schedule better. Again, focus on quality time, not quantity. To create quality time, stop planning workouts when you’re tired. What does this mean? Plan and then protect the time you really feel like exercising.

For example, it’s always surprising to hear from people how they don’t feel like doing thing X because they’re tired. Hey, it’s okay to be tired because, well, life is tiring. But when do you feel more vigor towards it? Is it really right after work?

Perform an honest assessment of the times in your week where your physical energy is not an obstacle to your motivation. Hitting the gym Friday night after a long stressful week might not be the best option. The more you workout at times your energy is there, the greater the quality and enjoyment you will experience. Be idealistic. When do you feel like working out the most? It might just be that you can pry that time out of the clutches of another priority somehow. Even creating one gap in your week like this can be a massive step for your long-term motivation.

If you plan smarter  you won’t have to use willpower to show up each time.

2) Lower the Intensity

And showing up is the second win (closely behind wanting to move more in the first place, which brought you here). But if the intensity of your workouts feels like you’re fighting for your life against an invisible opponent, you might just be creating an aversion to exercise. We can push too hard and too long and that might be hurting  your motivation.

As the Peak-End Rule suggests, we are biased to remember the peak intensity of an exercise experience and the end. If the peak is painful or awful in some other way, we’ll have a negative association with that exercise (or at least begin to). Same for if the end is always awful; like if you try and empty the take to squeeze every last drop of energy out of your body.

Finish on a high note. Don’t make your workouts suck. That might mean pumping the brakes on intensity and finishing in a more enjoyable fashion.

“Do what you trust…”

3) Do Something You Trust

Speaking of high notes, your exercise history make be checkered, with both some awful experiences and some terrific ones. If you’re feeling a little unmotivated at the moment, dip into that history and do something you know you’ll like. May be it’s doing a class you haven’t done for a while. May be it’s just going for a walk by yourself in your neighborhood. May be it’s dusting off your bike for the first time in a couple years. Whatever it is, do what you trust you’ll like. Besides, variety can indeed be the spice of life and it’s often the same for our fitness routine.

If you make these adjustments, you can get that fitness win you’re looking for this week. That win could be exactly what you’re routine needs. Quality first.

If you create quality, you’ll crave quantity.

Dr. Kelly Doell is a physical activity counsellor specializing in sustainable fitness. He’s the author of Feel Like It: Makeover Your Motivation to Move and hosts a weekly podcast on the mental side of active living called Happily Ever Active.