How To *Actually* Get Motivated To Workout

When most people think about motivation, they think it’s getting yourself “pumped up” or excited to do something. But you may have found that it’s difficult to motivate yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing—especially if it’s something you haven’t tried or succeeded at before.

If you’ve previously tried and failed to find motivation to workout, you know that reading inspirational quotes or watching “motivational” videos doesn’t always work. This is because boosting motivation doesn’t work like that. We have the misconception that motivation leads to action, when in fact, taking action is what actually increases motivation.

Wait what? This may seem counterintuitive or unfair that you need to force yourself to do something before you have the desire or mental energy to do so. But that’s how the human brain works. If your motivation for fitness is low, or hasn’t been created yet because you’re new to fitness, you can still set yourself up for success.

What is Motivation?

Motivation comes from the Latin word movere, which means “to move.” So, in a way, it makes sense that you need to move (or take action) first in order to feel the motivation.

Neuroscientists have studied motivation and have found that you’re more likely to have the mental energy needed to achieve your goals when your brain understands the challenges, hurdles, and tasks involved. When you try something new or work towards a new goal, the part of your brain that creates doubt and disbelief (right prefrontal cortex) is triggered. If you want to increase your motivation, you need to tap into the left prefrontal cortex, which increases mental energy and focus. This side creates hope, inspiration, and belief that you can succeed.

Your brain is capable of motivating you to succeed at your goals, but unfamiliarity is what can lessen your drive (or motivation). Your brain needs to understand the action required to achieve this new task or goal, and it needs to feel realistic and doable.

Motivation Starts With The Mind

Rather than relying on motivation as a jumpstart or a first step, think of it as a refuel to keep the momentum going. Motivation is much more likely to help you continue working towards your goals rather than make you want to get started.

Action increases motivation. Your brain is wired to increase motivation for tasks and activities we’re familiar with and are confident about. It’s easier to repeat habits you’ve already built than to create new habits. So instead of trying to jump in immediately to tackle a new habit, think about how you can make it easier for your brain to build it.

With the right tools, the motivation will come. The road to your fitness journey starts before making changes to your body or diet, but with a plan to strengthen your mind.

Commitment Is Key

Scientists have been trying to figure out how to increase motivation. They have figured out that there isn’t a way to increase it directly. Instead, you take measures that make it easier for your brain to feel motivated.

Through intention and commitment, you turn your goals into a clear process that your brain understands and can get excited about. Once your brain understands your goals and the necessary steps to accomplish them, you can trigger the motivation.

This is the difference between “motivating” yourself in a way that triggers the left prefrontal cortex that feels the inspiration to succeed, or triggers the right prefrontal cortex that fills you with doubt. There are many studies that support the idea that making a hard commitment, and preferably writing down your intentions in detail, increases the chances that you’ll stay on task and reach your goals.

The Scientific Evidence

The bottom line is that if you want more motivation to workout (or do anything), make the commitments first, and then those plans will become more effective. The British Journal of Health Psychology conducted an experiment that helped people become more consistent with exercise and tracked their results. In the experiment, the control group simply tracked their exercise. The motivation group tried to increase their motivation by reading about the benefits of exercise, and also tracked their exercise. The idea behind this was to see if the brain would become more motivated after learning why exercise was so important. The third group, the intention group, did the same thing as the motivation group, but they also had to write down their intentions in this format: Every week, I will exercise for at least 20 minutes on [day of week] at [time of day] at [location/gym].

The results showed that in the first two groups (control and motivation groups), about 35% of participants exercised at least once a week. The intention group tracked 91% of their participants working out at least once per week.

This is evidence that commitment and intention, combined with action, leads to the motivation that keeps you going.

Stay Motivated With Smaller Goals

There are several ways you can actually increase your motivation. Rather than trying to take on a huge idea of a goal, it’s more effective to take a step-by-step approach. Breaking down the goal to one habit at a time reduces the cognitive load on your brain, making it easier for your brain to learn the habit and increase motivation.

As an example, if you set a lofty goal of wanting to lose 20 pounds, your brain pulls on past experiences. If you haven’t succeeded at this goal before, then it’s more likely that your brain will remember past failures instead. This can trigger learned helplessness, where more failed attempts lead you to expect failure.

To avoid this, you can focus on creating smaller attainable goals, clearly define why they are important, and set intentions and commitments. A personal trainer can help you break down your fitness goals into realistic steps, and keep you accountable to your intentions. You’ll still have to work hard and put in the effort, but having someone else supporting you can relieve the pressure and help you stay motivated. With clear and simple processes, you can train your mind to break down any goal and boost motivation to reach success.