Finding Motivation To Workout When You Really Don’t Want To

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Photo by Prateek Katyal from Pexels

A lot of the time, the hardest part about working out is just getting the motivation to do it in the first place. As someone who is fairly new to their own fitness journey, I often have a hard time getting myself psyched up to do it. These are some of the most effective strategies I use to push myself to Just Get It Done.

It is worth noting that I am in no way a fitness or health professional (if that whole “new to their fitness journey” part didn’t already tip you off) and am not qualified to give fitness or health advice. These are simply my suggestions — and things I personally use — to help motivate yourself if you, like me, would often rather lay on the couch and eat Funyuns than go lift some weights.

Have Clear Goals

It’s so much easier to stick to anything when you have a really clear vision of why you’re doing it and how everything fits into the bigger picture. So if you want to be able to complete a 5k in a certain amount of minutes (I know literally nothing about running so I can’t even put in a realistic time there, pretend I said something that sounds like a realistic goal,) or learn to do a pull-up, or be able to deadlift…300lbs — I don’t know — whatever your goal might be, having it clearly defined can be incredibly helpful because then you can…

…Remind Yourself Why You’re Doing it

This can get a little tricky, because if you’re anything like me you might occasionally (often) turn this into a way to shame yourself (i.e; “You’ll never have the abs you want if you don’t work them properly!”) please try to avoid that. But find positive ways to remind yourself what you’re working towards and also how far you’ve already come. My fiance is really good at using that second part to remind me when I’m having a rough day — workout wise — and beating myself up. He’ll show me the sheets I used to track my progress and point out how much I’ve improved over time and that really helps me want to keep working so I can do even better. That might work for you as well.

Establish an Accountability Support System

Sometimes you need someone else to kick your butt in gear. This is where personal trainers absolutely come in handy, but that’s obviously not always a realistic option for everybody, at all times. But you can join an online group designed to help with fitness motivation, or even just buddy up with one other person you know who also needs that little boost once in a while.

Lower the Intensity

If you’re really not feeling an intense workout but you know you still should get up and move your body, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing a gentler version of your usual workout once in a while. Lower the weights a bit, do a few fewer reps, cut your workout in half somehow. Doing a little bit is — in my opinion, at least — better than nothing at all. I use this little trick on myself sometimes where I’ll tell myself I’m just going to do half of my regular workout and then I can stop. I tell myself half is good enough for that day. But then often what happens is by the time I hit that halfway point I’m in the zone and figure I might as well just do the whole thing. And yes, going into it I do usually realize that may happen, but it still works.

Change it Up a Bit

Sometimes the reason we don’t want to exercise is that we’re bored with our routine, so don’t be scared to mix it up a bit. If you usually just lift weights, try some yoga. If your workout usually consists of going for a run, try some type of dance-based exercise. Just add something different into the mix. Try following a video you’ve never done before or sign up for a class (online or in-person depending on what is available and realistic for you.)

Promise Yourself a Reward After

I’ve been told I’m a bit of a weirdo because I happen to love protein shakes, so sometimes I can actually motivate myself to exercise by telling myself I can have one after I’m done. But there’s plenty of ways a non-weirdo can reward themselves post-workout if they don’t happen to have an obsession with protein shakes. The key is just finding what that thing is for you. It can be something as simple as soaking in the bath after or playing video games, ordering (or cooking) your favorite meal, or curling up to binge-watch your favorite show, whatever activity you really enjoy. Try not to fall into the stubborn trap of reasoning that “Well I’m a grown-up, so I can just do that anyway!” (been there!) and really try to use the promise of that reward as motivation. If you can choose some kind of healthy reward, that’s even better. But I’m not judging.

Get it Out of the Way Early in the Day (if possible)

This is kind of my personal go-to strategy for dealing with most things that I don’t want to do. I’m a huge procrastinator and almost always leave things for the last minute, and as a result, stress myself out over it. But this last year or so something clicked and I finally realized if I just do the unpleasant thing as soon as possible it’s done and off my plate and no longer looming over my head. So I try to apply this to working out. If I’m dreading it I remind myself that the sooner I do it the sooner I’m done and don’t have to think about it until the next day (or however frequently I’m working out.)

Keep Some Kind of Visual Inspiration Somewhere You Can See it Often

I swear I can vaguely remember a commercial where a woman had her Goal Dress hanging on the wall and every day she’d see it while she…ate her yogurt? I don’t remember exactly but the point is that visual cues can be a big help when it comes to motivation. I’m not saying hang your clothes up on the wall, but finding some sort of creative option that works for you might help. Make a vision board, or hang some motivational posters on your wall. My strategy is simply finding various fitness personalities that I find inspiring, and following them on Youtube or Instagram — although I will caution this can be a bit of a risky move as some people find it more discouraging than helpful because they can’t help but they start comparing themselves to these people who are very likely a lot further along in their fitness journeys. So just keep that in mind and if you find following these types of accounts makes you feel worse then maybe unsubscribe for a bit.

Consider the Fact That Maybe You Do Just Need to Skip a Day

Look, one of the most important aspects of working out — if you’re looking for results — is consistency. However, there are some days when you really just need a break. I don’t think it’s a great idea to take off too many days in a row, because it’s very easy (in my experience) for “Just a couple days” to turn into a couple of weeks, and then a couple of months. But a day off here and there is not likely to hurt your progress too much and may just be exactly what you need to come back more focused and determined than ever.

If lack of motivation becomes a long-term problem for you, it might not hurt to consider looking into seeing a doctor, just to make sure there are no underlying health concerns that might be having a negative impact on you and your progress. Things like vitamin deficiencies, poor sleep, excess stress, depression (or other mental health conditions,) poor diet, can all have a huge impact on your ability to muster up the energy or interest to do anything, much less complete a workout. So I think it’s smart to at least take that step to address any potential health issues if you’re noticing a pattern of being unable to motivate yourself. There might be a very simple adjustment that you can make that will help in a huge way, or you may learn something about your health that changes how you approach your fitness goals and makes a huge difference in your motivation levels.

The most important thing — I think — is to not beat yourself up if you’re having an off day. You’re human (as far as I know) and it happens. And the kinder you are to yourself, the more likely you are to want to achieve your goals. Fitness or otherwise.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, so I spent all my time crafting stories. This is my latest story.

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