Exercise motivation: 5 ways to find the energy to move
We are living through so much social change and stress right now that it can be hard to muster up motivation to do anything, let alone exercise. Often, exercise is the first thing that we let go of when we are limited on time or bandwidth. We then end up feeling guilty about not doing it. We know exercise is an effective treatment for people with depression and anxiety, but there are days when we’re just not in the mood for it. See below some tips to help get you moving again when you’re feeling ‘meh’ about exercise.
1. Start small.
Can’t commit to a full 30 min a day or 150 min a week in exercise? Reframe your mind about exercise and simply keep moving. This could mean taking a walk to the shops, walking your dog or doing some household chores (yes, that counts!). Think of the cumulative steps that you are taking that could count towards your exercise quota for the day or week. Alternatively, start with little things that put you in the frame of mind for exercise. For example, put your workout clothes on and simply do your errands to build up the mindset.
2. Make it easy to do.
When things aren’t simple, we’re less likely do it. If you can pre-empt your barriers you can then devise steps to counteract them. For example, if you know that exercise in the morning is a no go, then don’t schedule or do any in the morning. It’s that simple. If the thought of lugging exercise gear around from home to work to class is a turn-off, find ways to leave your gear at work or your class. You can also try following the two-minute rule from David Allen’s book ‘Getting it done’. If a task takes less than two minutes, for example putting your workout shoes on or laying out an exercise mat, go ahead and do it. That one little action may push you to go further and give you the motivation to finish the task.
3. Build exercise into a habit and the motivation will follow.
James Clear, the author of the New York Times bestseller ‘Atomic Habits’, says that establishing exercise as a habit will make it automatic and therefore less likely for you to skip. Habits are behaviours that you repeat without thinking, which means they are also behaviours that you start repeatedly. In other words, if you don’t consistently get started, then you won’t have a habit. In many ways, building new habits is simply an exercise in getting started time after time. Part of this habit formation is understanding it’s important to set up the process or system rather than focusing on the goal.
We are all tempted to focus on the results or the end goal eg: “I will be stronger and healthier when I exercise each day for a year,” but this sets us up for disappointment if we don’t reach those goals. Instead a better way is to set up the habit or the routine of exercise so that it becomes our new normal. One way of helping us establish a new habit is setting up an upper limit of our behaviour, for example set up a rule that you will not exercise for more than 10 minutes a day. This will help establish a small, achievable habit at the start before you can build up to a longer duration.
4. Don’t do it alone.
It’s much easier to stay motivated if you aren’t exercising or working towards or your exercise goals in isolation. You could go old school and meet a friend for a walk or a game of tennis, or try a gym class. There are also many online communities to help you feel connected even from the safety of your own lounge room. There are great apps, like Nike Training and Strava, which connect you to a global community of like minded athletes. And there are plenty of personal trainers online ready to help you stay motivated and accountable. Some offer paid programs, like The 28-Day Booty Burner Challenge by Cori at Redefining Fitness, and others are available free, like the hugely popular Yoga With Adriene YouTube channel.
5. Finding the motivation to exercise isn’t easy. Practice self-compassion.
Finally, make sure you are kind to yourself. Each step is progress and like anything else it is about small steps of progress rather than perfection. It’s perfectly normal to not feel like doing something-we’re in a global pandemic after all! There are days when it is just too hard and that is ok. Releasing ourselves from self- judgment, criticism and the “should” mentality is a large part of practicing self-compassion.
If it’s been a long time since you did any exercise, you may also like to check out this article: How to start exercising if you’re out of shape.
Stephanie Lee is a marketing and communications professional, with an interest in health, patient advocacy, and intersectional feminism. She lives in Western Sydney with her husband and pet corgi.