How to find and keep the motivation to exercise
Madeleine Hawkes, Weight Loss Expert
PGCert Obesity & Weight Management
BSc (Hons) Nutrition and Dietetics,
BSc (Hons) Psychology
For many of us, it’s easy to decide to start an exercise routine but much more difficult to put it into action. These are our top tips if you want to start exercising and stay motivated in the long run.
Find what you enjoy
Choose forms of exercise that you actually enjoy! Whether you feel like exercise is a chore or have had bad experiences with it in the past, this is your chance to rewrite your narrative around exercise. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re more likely to feel good and stick with it long term – you’ll also get much more out of the exercise than just the physical benefits.
Remind yourself that it isn’t always about enjoying the process of exercising – if you do, that’s great! – but perhaps there are other things that make it enjoyable for you, such as the social aspect, being outdoors, having some time to yourself, or the way you feel afterwards.
Make it social
Exercising with your friends or joining a community of like-minded individuals can help us push ourselves further and stay accountable. If you’re new to an activity, it’s also great to be able to practise in a safe environment with other people around to support you.
Here are some examples of how you can make exercise more sociable:
- Join an exercise class or group like your local Park Run
- Get a gym buddy
- Work with a personal trainer
- Join a team sport
- Attend online workouts and engage with the online community
- Turn a meeting with a friend/colleague into a walking catch up
Schedule it into your day
We often wake up with the best intentions, but if we aren’t specific about what we’ll do and when, exercising can end up at the bottom of the to-do list. Scheduling it into your diary can help you rely less on motivation as it simply becomes a task that you’ve committed to.
Using identity to build motivation
Research shows that when we start to identify with the type of person we want to become, we’re much more likely to carry out behaviours that align with that identity and keep those behaviours up in the long run!
Ask yourself “Who do I want to be?”. If we identify ourselves as a ‘runner’, ‘dancer’, ‘yogi’, ‘walker’ or simply as ‘someone who is active’, we’re much more likely to view being active as an important part of who we are.
Turn exercise into a habit
Once we establish a habit our behaviour becomes more automatic and we don’t have to rely on motivation or willpower alone. Below are some simple strategies to help you develop exercise habits:
Tiny habits help us break down a larger goal into much smaller, actionable steps, they also build our confidence and create momentum to establish new habits.
For example, if you want to get into a routine of going for a walk in the morning before work, your tiny habit might be to lay your trainers out the night before. There’s no pressure to do anything more than this, but you’re taking a step that will help you reach your goal more easily. The next step might be to put your trainers on in the morning. Continue with these tiny habits until you’re going for your morning walks.
Try the two-minute method
Often the hardest part of exercise is getting started. The two-minute method helps you over this hurdle because it only requires two minutes of exercise – perhaps just a short walk or warm-up. When time’s up you can simply stop or decide to continue. Even if you stop, you’ve begun to establish a new exercise routine and two minutes of exercise is still beneficial!
Set an achievable exercise goal
In one of our early articles, we discussed the importance of setting goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. If our goals are too ambitious, we can feel like we’ve failed if we don’t achieve them. It’s ok to build up an exercise routine gradually.
Take Action ⚡
Take some time to think about what forms of exercise you enjoy. If you’re not sure, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I like to exercise alone, in a group, or as part of a team?
- Do I want to follow an instructor or have the flexibility to do my own thing?
- Do I like to exercise in my own home, outdoors, in a gym setting, or elsewhere?
- Do I mind getting wet?
- Do I like to exercise in silence, with some background noise, or in a loud environment?
- Do I like slow, medium, or fast-paced activities?
- Am I more about the intensity or the duration?
It’s completely normal for our motivation to fluctuate, so using these strategies to make exercise an enjoyable habit means that you won’t always have to rely on motivation!
Ntoumanis N, Stenling A, Thøgersen-Ntoumani C, Vlachopoulos S, Lindwall M, Gucciardi DF, Tsakonitis C. Longitudinal associations between exercise identity and exercise motivation: a multilevel growth curve model approach. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018 Feb; 28(2):746-753. doi: 10.1111/sms.12951. Epub 2017 Aug 11. PMID: 28742272