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Getting Motivated to Exercise and The Elements of Self-Motivation

Feb 6, 2012

Getting motivated to exercise is always easy when you're planning it for the future. That early morning workout at the gym on Monday is just what you need to get back on track. You may even be excited about it...right up until the alarm goes off and you actually have to follow through. It's then you realize that all those things that motivated you a few days ago are suddenly nowhere to be found.
So, why does exercise seem great until we actually have to do it? If a lack of motivation is what's hampering you then maybe we need to figure out just what motivation is. Is it a feeling? An action? Or a little bit of both?
What Is Motivation?
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines motivation as "that which gives purpose and direction to behavior." By that definition, we're looking for something to drive us to exercise, something to get us moving. So where does that 'something' come from? For some people, like athletes, it may come from the desire to compete and to win. For others, it may come from a desire to be healthy or live longer for their kids. For most, losing weight is often the goal. But is that enough to motivate us? Judging from our obesity problems, that would be a no.
The problem with motivation is that many of us believe it's something that will come to us if we wait long enough...that someday we'll wake up and finally want to exercise. Rather than believe in that fantasy, maybe we'd all be better off by realizing that motivation is something we create, not something we wait for.
Is it Possible to Get Excited About Exercise?
When do you get excited about exercise? For me, it's usually right after I've made the decision to do it at some future time. Justdeciding to exercise makes me feel good...almost like I've already done something. The problem happens when it comes time to follow through and my motivation has suddenly disappeared. If that sounds like you, maybe it's time to focus your attention on what's important. Deciding to exercise is important, but it's what you do to follow through that really matters.
Redefining Motivation
I believe motivation comes from different places -- it's not based on how we feel or even something we have to wait around for. It's something we create for ourselves. Use the following elements to create your own motivation, and you'll find that exercising will be easier.
You already know that the first step in motivating yourself is having something to work for. It doesn't matter whether that's a weight loss goal or a goal to run a marathon -- anything that gives you reason to exercise will work. And don't think you have to set only one goal. You can set as many goals as you like, whenever you like. Set daily goals (I'll walk for 20 minutes today), weekly goals (I'll get a minimum of 3 workouts in), or even hourly goals (I'll get up every 45 minutes and walk around the building). Always having something to work for, big or small, is just one way to keep yourself going.
The Elements of Self-Motivation
Once you've decided to exercise, make it as easy as possible to follow through. That means having what you need and getting it all ready for your workouts -- pack your gym bag, prepare meals or snacks, and plan out what you'll do that day. I've skipped plenty of morning workouts because finding my running shoes turned out the be the equivalent of finding the lost city of Atlantis. I now park them right next to the bed, unlaced, so all I have to do is step into them and I'm ready to go. Find ways you can be ready for your workout well before it happens.
Part of doing what we do each day has to do with routine and habits. If you can make exercise a habit, you're that much closer to making it easier to do. It helps to have a regular day and time you workout so that, once that time comes, you know it's time to get busy. You can also create a ritual around your workout to help you get ready. For example, if you're a morning exerciser, take a few minutes to stretch before you get started. Or, if it's cold, throw your clothes in the dryer before putting them on. Find ways to make your workout just another part of your life, like brushing your teeth.
Part of being able to stick to your routine is allowing some leeway. You may plan on jogging 5 miles, but there will come a day when you're too tired or you don't have the time. Most of us end up skipping our workouts rather than coming up with something else to do. Have a goal in mind, but be willing to change it if you find you're tired that day or you have to work late. Always have a backup plan -- if you find you have to work late, see if you can fit in a quick walk at lunch, or use your breaks for some stair walking. Everything counts!
Being healthy isn't a decision you make once -- it's one you make every day. Recommitting to your goals is necessary to keep yourself on track. See if you can spend a few minutes each morning thinking or writing about what you want to accomplish that day and how you'll do it. Remind yourself of your goals and take some time to appreciate how far you've come in reaching them. Write down your goals and stick them on your desk or wall so you can see them. Do whatever you can to remind yourself of your commitment to exercise.
Having Fun
All those words I've just used (preparation, discipline, commitment) sound like the opposite of fun, don't they? If you're like me, you sometimes get tired of being so mature all the time -- of all the obligations and responsibilities you have. Exercise often sounds like just another duty. We forget that moving our bodies can actually be fun. Making time for unstructured, free-flowing movement can help you lighten up a little. I highly recommend taking a stroll, jumping in a big pile of leaves or challenging your loved on to a wrestling match.
Reward Yourself
For me, motivation happens almost instantly whenever I reward myself. It might be something small, like a leisurely trip to the bookstore, or something big, like a massage. Check out Spa Wish to purchase your own massage gift certificate -- but don't allow yourself to use it until you finish all of your workouts!
In thinking about it, I've found that what motivates me changes from day to day -- what got me moving today may not do a darned thing tomorrow. If that's true for you, that means digging deep to find that thing -- that thought, feeling, goal, reward -- that gets you moving. Make motivation easier by eliminating your excuses before they happen. But, most of all, realize that this motivation thing gets easier with practice. When you exercise consistently, you gradually fill your motivational stores as you understand what makes you tick and what gets you moving. The more you practice, the better you'll get. You'll realize your actions are what generates that feeling you've been searching for -- motivation.


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