Have you lost the motivation to exercise? How to reset your mind
Written By: Alex Smith
Have you lost the motivation to exercise? Trainer and athlete Alex Smith gives us some handy tips on how to reset your mind.
We all lose motivation every now and again. It’s just one of those things.
But what about when you can’t find it again? You’re stuck in an exercise rut. You’ve lost inspiration. Your drive has disappeared and that fire in your tummy that once got you to the gym first thing in the morning is nowhere to be found!
ACTION LEADS TO MOTIVATION
Motivation comes from the Latin word movere, which means “to move.” Many people think that motivation leads to action, when – in reality – taking action increases motivation. Sounds a bit backwards doesn’t it?
The validity of this was proven to me a very short while ago whilst following a CBT programme. Whilst the thought of diving into an activity without having the mental support and energy seemed overwhelming, I put this theory into practice and couldn’t believe how well it worked! I found that the smallest amount of activity (action) helped me feel less lethargic and tired, that I could think more clearly, I started to feel a sense of achievement and mastery again, and actually once I was “doing”, I got rather into it!
BARRIERS. YOU KNOW, OTHER ‘STUFF’ TO DO!
One of the most interesting aspects of human motivation is that we generally dislike the feeling of effort and willpower, and tend to avoid it. [I should point out though, that according to The Effort Paradox, humans also tend to associate effort with reward and value, and will sometimes select activities precisely because they require effort i.e. Ironman, Ultra-Marathons. But, for the purpose of searching for today’s missing motivation, the former research is certainly more relevant.]
Usually, motivation is a battle of different choices. Exercise fights against many other appealing activities such as going out for dinner, the cinema, snoozing past your alarm in the morning, or spending the evening in your pajamas watching an ITV drama. With these appealing barriers to exercise present, relying on getting your training done for the sole reason of it being a necessity to stay fit and healthy presents a real battle of effort and willpower.
GET THE BALL ROLLING
So, motivation doesn’t come naturally, nor does effort or willpower. Things aren’t looking great for us!
The key is not to wait for motivation, but to take some small, specific action to get the ball rolling. One approach is to attempt to minimize the amount of effort required to get your training done; make it as easy as possible to get started! You’ll find that once you’ve got the ball rolling, it begins to gather momentum, and the motivation to continue arises naturally and on its own.
Here are a few ideas -
- Plan your exercise for when it’s easiest to fit into your schedule. For most people, this is earlier in the day before temptations, obstacles and stresses begin to appear. The problem is, as the day goes on, the more time you will have to find an excuse not to exercise.
- Make it easier to exercise. Prep your sports kit for the morning – sleep in it if you must! – or in your gym bag to take to work with you. Find a gym/or run club close to home to avoid any journey or time barriers. And, in my experience, do not return home after work before going out again to the gym. Especially in the Winter!
- Break exercise into small bite sized chunks. Who remembers micro goals from my ‘How to set realistic training goals and stick to them’ article? Start off small again – people often make the big mistake of trying to do too much too soon. As you achieve each micro goal, you will feel more encouraged to stick to your plan and keep fighting towards your overall fitness goal.
- Do what you enjoy! Even if it’s just to get you started again. Return to what you know, an activity that you feel comfortable with. This requires a lot less mental effort than trying to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do! For example, you’ve lost motivation to attend your weekly run track session following an injury that halted your training. Why not find a new run route whilst you build your pace back up? You could run off road trails for a set amount of time rather than clocking distance. Another idea would be to arrange to run with friends for a social, just whilst you recover from injury and find the motivation to push on with speed training again.
- Call in the help of a professional! A Fitness Coach can offer a new training plan, add variety to your existing exercise routine and be a sounding board for your fitness goals. The commitment to an exercise professional may well be the small step you need to begin action!
CONSISTENCY ISN’T ALWAYS EASY!
I have lost motivation on and off a lot over the years! Maintaining the desire to commit to a training routine isn’t always easy. Life gets busy, often stressful; schedules and priorities change, pleasurable barriers fill up your diary. It just happens!
One trigger I have identified to cause a lack of motivation is the pressure of progress. It’s very easy to feel disheartened if you don’t maintain pace or even achieve a PB on every training session. Whilst I know that these really are very unrealistic standards, it doesn’t change the fact that what, in my opinion, were poor results, would dissuade me from continuing to pursue a goal. Now I know that I am not alone on this. Frustration is very, very common when people feel that they are not seeing results, whether it be in body shape or weight, training times or strength gains.
EXERCISE SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVES MENTAL HEALTH
A personal favourite technique for finding lost motivation is to focus on pleasure not progress. There has been a huge amount of research into the positive effects of physical activity on our mental health. Exercise is a very powerful mood booster, and the emphasis on this has been impossible to ignore during the Covid-19 pandemic.
So, I stripped my training back to basics. The very simple recipe included a pair of trainers, fresh air in any location and my non judgmental cocker spaniel. I ditched my Garmin and started to run at a pace I felt like on that specific day, for a distance I fancied. I looked around and soaked up the scenery.
This technique can be applied to any training – cycling, gym, team sports. An example of finding pleasure in cycling would be to ride a route you’ve never cycled before. There are no expectations, no personal bests to beat. Again, leave the Garmin at home, switch off Strava and cycle because, well “just because”. Even better, stop at a café and enjoy a scone and coffee!
As soon as I started exercising again for pleasure I felt differently. I discovered a little burn of motivation again! And, I felt good too.
Remember, your motivation to exercise will gradually increase again over time – it’s not an overnight occurrence. For now, action, however small, is key. Start the ball rolling, build up a bit of momentum, and remember to make it easy for yourself too! But the most important take home message from me is to enjoy yourself, and get pleasure from whatever training you’re doing!
Alex Smith is an experienced Personal Trainer and the founder of AKTIV Training.
Our content hubs are packed full of kit recommendations, inspiration and advice, whether you’re hiking, running, hitting the trail or heading to the gym. If you find you particularly struggle with motivation over the colder, darker seasons, then check out our winter motivation tips to help get your back on the trail.