Imagine yourself sitting in a dark movie theater. You’ve got yourself sorted with a large coke on the left and regular popcorn on the right. You’re enthralled and captivated by your film of choice – some superhero action flick that has the fittest, strongest, most genetically-blessed all star lineup for a cast. Simply watching the way they take on and annihilate the bad guys with such precision and grace has you firing on all cylinders. You’re so ready to make yourself the fittest, hottest version you can be, nothing will stand in your way this time…and then the credits roll, you finish off your snacks, leave the cinema (and your fantasy land) behind and get on with your day as per usual. You do nothing different, make no changes to your lifestyle or habits and, not surprisingly, your body/health/fitness/wellbeing doesn’t change.
Not being motivated to work out is an all-too-common issue, but there is a solution.
How to Get Motivated, According to Science
Daniel Pink (Author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us) has identified three basic psychological needs that must be fulfilled in order to get motivated. Based on Pink’s research, the three needs that must be met to increase motivation are:
- Autonomy: you have some amount of control.
- Competence: you feel like you’re good at what you do.
- Relatedness: you’re part of a community and feel a sense of connection with others.
Achieving motivation can be as simple as fulfilling these three needs. So the question now begs: How can you satisfy those three needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness) to become, and stay, motivated to work out?
You can achieve this in your fitness regimen by ensuring you have flexibility. For example, if you have to miss a workout or two this week, do you know how to respond, without giving up and falling off the bandwagon? If you get injured and can no longer perform some of the exercises you normally would do, do you know how to adapt? If your work schedule changes and you have to find a new time to train, can you make that happen? Are your working at your own pace or are you trying to do too much too soon, comparing yourself to others, and getting burned out?
The individuals who fail to work out consistently don’t know how to respond to the above scenarios; when their workout schedule or program doesn’t go as planned, they give up completely because they don’t know how to take control and adapt to the situation. They don’t know how to fulfill the need of autonomy. Or they try to follow a program that’s not practical for their lifestyle and when they miss a workout, they give up because they have an all-or-nothing mindset; they either follow the program completely or they don’t do it at all.
How to have autonomy: Know how to adapt when you’re short on time or have a changed schedule (e.g., cut the workout in half, but make very damn set count, get up before the rest of the household and train), you get injured (e.g., focus exclusively on exercises you can do, and get better at them), a certain exercise causes discomfort (switch to a similar movement), or some other situation inevitably occurs. Have an ‘I’m giving it my all’ attitude, rather than an ‘all or nothing’ one.
Deny it until you are black and blue in the face, but the reality is that humans thrive on feeling like they are the boss at something. Most people won’t stay motivated to continue doing something they don’t have a bit of early success with. This is why I always encourage setting smaller, more achievable goals or ‘wins’ in the lead up to your bigger goals. Therefore, you can have success quickly and use the satisfaction of a small win to drive and motivate you towards the bigger ones. You have to realise that you can do this, even from day one!
How to achieve competence: Select a few basic movements or exercises that you can master quickly, and allow them to build momentum. This will establish confidence from day one and make you realise this whole ‘fitness’ thing isn’t nearly as far-fetched as you initially thought. In fact, you’ll love it so much you’ll want to come back.
Feeling like you’re part of a community can be a powerful motivator. Even worse than being the friend who showed up and exercised is being the one who snoozed and stayed in bed. Odds are you’ll only do that once before you swear to never again let the team down! Women specifically are stepping outside their comfort zones (aka the treadmills) and approaching higher intensity strength and cardio training purely because they love the group dynamic and the energy it creates to drive them to push further and achieve more.
How to achieve relatedness: This one is a no-brainer. Get yourself connected! Find a local studio that offers group fitness classes (I’ve heard the Raw studio is the place to be these days…) and allow yourself to be immersed in the community it has created. You’ll very quickly realise that you no longer ‘dread’ working out and instead view your exercise time as a chance to see your friends in a positive, uplifting environment.
Going back to the movie metaphor, you won’t EVER get results without action. It’s one thing to have intention, but another to actually set up an action plan and execute it – immediately!
Have a plan. Then execute it.
Get Motivated 101 Checklist
In a nutshell, there’s a few simple steps you must take to ensure the motivation train is riding full steam ahead. Keep this as a really simple ‘go to’ to ignite your passion and keep that fire burning.
Shorten your focus. For those individuals who haven’t done the whole ‘exercise’ thing for a significant period of time, it can all seem super daunting and just too much to even bother getting started. The road to living la vida healthy lyfe just seems way too long and daunting. Here’s a quick tip – don’t think that far ahead; narrow your focus. Find one action you can take every day that will lead you in the right direction. Do one workout a week, increase your water intake, get to bed on time. The next week, you’ll be more than ready to increase your workouts and will be very surprised how quickly your mind and body starts to change. The serotonin levels in your brain will almost immediately shift and every day will seem better.
Do something that makes you feel great about yourself today. The results you seek will come as long as you do these things daily.
Get to the edge of your comfort zone, then take one step forward. Competence is important, as explained above. We want to be good at what we do, and exercise is no different. But once you reach a good little routine, it’s time to shake things up. You need to consistently get out of your comfort zone. Challenging yourself regularly with new exercises or heavier weights is a worth-while endeavor. It’s how you grow physically, and mentally, and will keep you motivated to come back for more. It’s also a tremendous habit to embrace to keep you hungry for seeing what else you’re capable of doing, in all areas of life (welcome to the ripple effect).
When all else fails, show up and do something regardless. Nothing is foolproof, and the science-driven information to achieve motivation is no exception. Some days, even if you’re fulfilling the needs above, you still won’t want to work out. It’s going to happen. But show up anyway and do something. The only workout you regret is the one you didn’t do, trust me.
Too often people use lack of motivation as an excuse for not taking care of themselves. Do it anyway. You’ve been blessed with one life and one body. Who are you to deprive it of what it needs? The old saying of mind of matter is what will get you through those ‘I just can’t be bothered’ moments. However, on the other end is the ‘I freaking LOVE my workouts’ sector. This is where I pray every single one of my members finds themselves in every single Raw session, but you have to meet me halfway. Show up regardless and I will do my bit to make the experience phenomenal.
I’m not naive; I know there will be days that your motivation is not pumping, but don’t stop just because you don’t feel like it. If you have the three keys in place (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) you’ll always come out on top and be so damn proud of what you’ve achieved. Not training will never be an option.
Motivation oftentimes develops as a result of taking consistent action. Don’t wait for it to arrive in full force; start doing something immediately.
Then, in a few months, your life, health, and wellbeing will be almost unrecognisably different. Remember to come back and thank me…