Keys to Motivation, Part 1: Finding the Workout Motivation that’s Right for You
Finding the right workout motivation is a necessary part of building healthy, regular exercise habits. But motivation is a complicated thing; sometimes it’s there and sometimes it just isn’t. Even if you feel amped up and ready to blast your abs right now, there’s no guarantee that you’ll feel this way tomorrow. Or when you’ve had a rough day at work, or when the snow piles up outside.
You can come up with a workout motivation mantra, a phrase or reminder that you repeat in your head in order to force yourself into action, but that’s not recommended. And even if harsh internal shouting is part of your overall workout motivation plan, it shouldn’t be the only part. Working out is healthy and it feels great, so there’s no need to turn a generally positive thing into a source of internal conflict and self-abuse. Instead, make things easy for yourself. Consider each of the following keys to motivation, and incorporate them into a workout motivation strategy that works for you.
Keys to Motivation: Music
For thousands of years, people have noticed that music has an interesting effect on the experience of physical exertion. From chopping wood to hauling fishnets, our activities seem easier and our collective strength increases when we add rhythm and music in the form of singing, drums, and other instruments. Researchers have divided this powerful effect into five categories: dissociation, arousal regulation, flow, synchronization, and the improved acquisition of motor skills.
These terms each have a specific scientific definition, but in summary, music seems to provide workout motivation by distracting our minds from what our bodies are doing. It reduces our experience of pain and fatigue, and for some reason, it improves our ability to learn and repeat new physical tasks. It also makes working out more interesting and fun. That leaves us with positive memories, which can help get us off the couch the next time we need a boost.
Keys to Motivation: Surroundings and People
Working out all alone in a grimy, airless basement with no natural light is okay. It’s better than not working out at all. But it’s not ideal. And the thought of getting up and heading down into that dull, mildewy dungeon isn’t always easy or pleasant. Finding the right workout motivation means removing obstacles from the process. If you work out at home, do it in a room where you enjoy spending time. If you use a gym, find one with an atmosphere that suits your personality. If you run, choose a path through forests, parks and neighborhoods that you like.
Meanwhile, find workout companions who inspire and support you, and let go of the ones who leave you feeling depressed or inadequate. If you’re reluctant to start working out because you dread snarky remarks from your family, keep your workout plans to yourself for a while. Wait until your workout habits are established and you’re making progress at your own pace. Then feel free to open up. In the meantime, protect yourself, and protect your chosen form of workout motivation from anything that might undermine your confidence or stand in your way.
Keys to Motivation: A Reason to Get Excited
We can’t stress this one enough: There is no stronger form of workout motivation than a sport or activity you love doing and want to become great at. When you’re dreaming about your sport at night, when you can’t stop thinking about it, when you secretly practice moves in the elevator on your way into the office, and when you relentlessly badger your spouse to start coming to the dojo/soccer field/roller derby rink/rock climbing wall/kite surfing school with you, then you’ll know you’re on the right track.
If you haven’t found your one true sport yet, that’s okay. Just keep an open mind and be willing to try new things. When you find your sport, you’ll know, and your desire to excel at whatever it is will provide all the workout motivation you need.
Keys to Motivation: Time and Attention
If you have no time to work out, none at all, then it’s time for some science. Tonight before going to bed, take ten minutes to stretch and do some crunches. Check the feeling. If you like it, try it again tomorrow night. If not, try a few moves tomorrow morning, or during your lunch break. Don’t make any commitments. Just try things. Try making a plan and maintaining it for three days. Then try a week. Then maybe a month. The key word is “try”. This is science, not a life sentence.
As soon as you get distracted, frustrated or bored, drop your current form of workout motivation and try a new one. Don’t let working out become a drag. It’s not a drag. Working out feels great! As soon as you cease to agree, it’s time for a change. The right workout motivation is out there, you just need to find it. Then sometimes you need to find it again. And again.
Keys to Motivation: Relishing the Payoff
Socrates (or somebody famous) once said, “It is a shame for a person to grow old without ever experiencing the strength and beauty of which our bodies are capable.” That’s paraphrased, but you get the idea. There are three indescribably awesome feelings that only happen when we exert ourselves and push our physical limits: 1) The rush of endorphins that flood over us after a good workout, 2) The magnificent sense of well-being that comes from doing something beautiful and excessive-- like a back flip or a twelve mile run-- that we thought we couldn’t do, and 3) The sense of satisfaction that comes from a day well spent, i.e., going to sleep knowing we’ve taken care of things.
But there’s more. Workout motivation isn’t just about the workout itself, it’s about what working out does for our lives. It’s about what happens after a few weeks of regular exercise, then a few months, then a few years. And when you start feeling these long-term effects, recognize and celebrate them.
Buy and wear better clothes. Flirt. Check yourself out in the mirror. Do the things you’re now able to do that you couldn’t do before, whatever they are (swing dancing? Kayaking? Lifting up the brother who used to torment you and swirling him around in a bear hug? Seeing an elderly lady struggling with her bag at the airport and helping her instead of just shrugging?)
Take notice of your new abilities and new limits. Appreciate them! And most of all, recognize that this didn’t just happen by accident. This is the result of hard work, work that you did with your own strong, capable, beautiful body. This amazing body may get old someday and it may slow down and stiffen up… But not today, my friend! That will not be happening today.