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Exercise motivation: finding the motivation to go to the gym


Here are my tips* for getting yourself to go to the gym (or whatever form of exercise you prefer).

I’ve spent years struggling to do things – such as exercising or eating well or not smoking, so it was a revelation to discover that I could (occasionally) control myself!

Anyway, here’s what worked for me:

Power your will

1. Focus on the goal, not the process.

Some people drag themselves through gym classes, thinking about the act of exercising, but exercise is one of those things that demands one foot in the future. Don’t be here now; be tomorrow then. Think of tomorrow. Think how fine your body will feel after exercise. You’re tuning the machine. You’re letting your body’s engine roar, and tomorrow you’ll feel better. Today’s trip to the gym is much more than just a trip to the gym, it’s part of a  lifetime of well-being.

2. Stop telling yourself that you hate exercise.

Why do you hate exercise? Your body is designed to move. To restrict your body is the unnatural thing. Running like a human animal, engaged in a chase, the hunt, fleeing danger; that’s what we’re made for.

3. Just do

People who want to do something often make weak promises, saying things like:

“I’m planning on not drinking this week.”

“I’m aiming for two gym sessions this week.”

“I’m probably going to run today.”

Right. We can all see the intrinsic flaws in these statements. There’s no commitment. There’s a big escape route left in every promise.

So if you’re going to exercise, just say you’re going to exercise. And just do it. Decide to do something, and do exactly that thing. Don’t make vague deals with yourself; decide what you’re going to do and do exactly that.

Sticking to personal promises is addictive. Once you start doing it you’ll find it hard to stop. And once the momentum kicks in you’ll find it impossible to stop.

4. Savour the feelings afterwards.

Okay, so you’ve just done it: you’ve exercised. Good work. How do you feel? You probably feel tired, elated, relaxed, spent, exhausted. That’s good. You’ve wiped away your stress, given yourself a better chance of sleeping well and started something big. Think about tomorrow. Tomorrow you’ll feel better for having exercised today.

When you feel changes in your body, make sure you consciously connect them to your increased exercise. You know what you owe for these good feelings. Your mood is more balanced, your heart beat more tranquil, your complexion more sunny – you owe this to exercise. When you recognise and value the changes that exercise brings you, it becomes impossible to stop exercising because you know that if you stop, so too will the good feelings.

5. Correct your false beliefs.

People have some funny ideas about exercise. Make sure you don’t fall for any crazy ideas…

Exercise makes you tired. No; being unfit makes you tired; exercise gives you energy. If you’re tired, don’t have a nap, go for a run.  So when you’re feeling lethargic, run around the block.

Exercise is a punishment. No it isn’t. Being unable to play football with your teenage children is a punishment.

Exercise is the last thing you need after a hard day. Actually it’s the first thing you need. The last thing you need after a stressful day is a big glass of wine. If you want to reset your stress clock and set yourself up for a good night’s sleep and a happy outlook tomorrow, go to the gym.

6. Say nice things about yourself.

Never say things like:

“I’m not the sort of person who exercises.”

“I’m shit at sports.”

“I should be in the pub.”

You may feel a natural inclination to deprecate your achievements, but don’t. Don’t reduce the power of your improvements with false modesty.

7. Bottle your self-loathing.

By self-loathing I mean all the bad thoughts you have about yourself. The loathing, the resentment, the doubts, the fears. Every time you sigh at your reflection, every time you eat the cake you were supposed to avoid, every time you dream about being fitter and healthier, every time you notice a new wrinkle or roll, put that bad energy in a special place.

And when you’re struggling to persuade yourself to go to the gym, go to that special place, lift up the lid, poke in your nose and inhale deeply. That is why you’re doing it. This is why you are going to the gym right now.

In times of weakness, remind yourself of why this matters to you.

8. Write down and share your commitment

Write down exactly what you’re going to do: when, where and how you’re going to exercise. Now give this promise to a person that you admire. The best person to share it with is someone you want to impress, or someone who you would hate to disappoint. Explain your intentions and ask the recipient to ask you for regular progress reports.

This is a kind of self-entrapment, but if you really want to do something, what are you afraid of?

Related blog post: Writing things down to get things done


*I must point out that I am far from perfect. I eat too much cake, drink lots of beer, enjoy pop music and can be deeply sarcastic. This post is, in many ways, a reminder to myself to be used in times of weakness!

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  1. A really good post. I agree on so many levels. I wanted to stop drinking alcohol for years but didnt. Read endless books, had therepy etc. The book that swung it “Alan Carr’s ” easy way to reduce your drinking” read the book and stopped drinking for 10 years !!

    I coach amateur cyclists to complete 100 mile bike rides and believe strongly in the power of the mind. One area that my believes differ to your article is on the focus on the process rather than the goal.

    To me this is very important. If we obsess about a goal it tends to move further out of reach while concentrating our energy, dicipline and focus on the daily process of doing and living the activity brings it closer faster.

    I wrote a post recently on motivation in endurance cycling that you may enjoy. Luke Bream

  2. admin

    Hi Luke,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I know what you mean about focusing on the process. I think my point of view is due to my own experiences of getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty and forgetting about my actual goals.

    But yes, I totally get what you’re saying.

  3. Great post – better than many motivational articles I’ve read as they tend to be more generic, whereas you’ve really thought about exercise and come up with lots of persuasive ideas and tips.

  4. I always make sure that i get an exercise each day, exercise keeps me fit and healthy.”`:

  5. i always make sure that i take exercise at least 3 times a week’*,

  6. i do a lot of heavy exercise twice a week and it really helped my health to be on excellent condition ~;:


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