‘I just can’t find the motivation to exercise’. I hear this all the time! Every time I hear it I want to adopt my best Drill Sergeant boot camp instructor impression, grab the person by the shoulders and scream: ‘Motivation is a lie!!!’ It pains me when I sense the unspoken story they have told themselves about what this means. Something along the lines of: ‘I’m lazy’ or ‘I’ll never be able to do it’. Ultimately becoming: I’m not good enough.
The problem is we are searching for something that can’t be found. I’m not saying I’m not motivated to exercise. Sometimes I am, especially if I get to attend a class myself instead of teaching it. But I don’t rely on motivation. It’s a flakey friend. What you need is discipline.
Unlike motivation, discipline works like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. I hated exercise when I started my fitness journey but eventually I got hooked on endorphins and the progress I was making. Then the motivation became intrinsic. But more importantly discipline became a habit for me. So here is the real secret to finding the motivation to exercise: making it a habit.
It serves me well now as finding time to exercise whilst solo-parenting an 8-month old is nearly impossible. Often, the only time I get to exercise is at the end of the day when I am exhausted. Not only that, but I’ll be sat in a warm bed feeding Zahra and have to drag myself out of it on a frosty night to go downstairs and roll out my mat.
So here’s what works when looking to exercise regularly:
Make a plan for the week
We are the only species on earth that has the ability to plan. Yet we frequently underuse this amazing gift. Once you plan exercise into your week the chances of you doing it increase substantially. We overly rely on our ‘primitive’ brain, the one that wants to have fun in the moment and avoid pain. But when we start to utilise our pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that can make decisions ahead of time (and does what is in our best interests) then we can start to control the desire to stay on the sofa and watch Netflix instead. If you can stick to a regular time in the day then making it a habit becomes much easier.
In my boxing days I had a scary coach who was the like the Gordan Ramsey of boxing. He would cuss and shout but I wouldn’t dare miss training. Nowadays my exercise goals are different, but being a teacher doesn’t mean I don’t need accountability too. Especially in this season of life where time is limited and I have tiredness to contend with. Find an accountability group or partner to help you stick to your goals.
Let go of the all or nothing attitude
I think it’s beneficial to commit to at least a weekly exercise class. But what happens when the time rolls around and you’re too tired, you’re delayed or the some other calamity has happened? Then two weeks go by without doing anything. You could achieve more by just doing 10 minutes a day. Don’t be put off by short work-outs as you think they seem pointless. Believe me they’re not – you can achieve a lot in 10 minutes.
Set a goal
Ideally a goal not based on aesthetic results as it can be very disheartening when you don’t see the weight loss, or the toning you want in the short-term. If you focus on improving a skill e.g. dance or a martial art, running a race or being able to do specific kinds of exercises e.g. Pilates roll-up, Teaser etc. then the changes to your body become a happy by-product.
Find what you enjoy
Forcing yourself to pound concrete pavements in cold weather is quite a tall order if you’re a beginner to exercise. Yet this is often where people start, and then stop. Be fearless and go and try different sports out. You might be surprised what you connect with.
Stop seeing exercise as a luxury
Exercise is essential self-care, essential for a healthy body, essential for a long-life free of ailments and disease. Yet somehow we feel guilty for prioritising it above the laundry.
Roll out your mat
Your brain doesn’t want to do hard things so break it down into steps. Start by putting your leggings on. Then fill your water bottle. Roll out your mat. Then somehow the exercise happens. It’s a misconception that motivation arrives before we do something. When actually the motivation comes when we start taking action.
Use a habit tracker
I don’t mean something that encourages you to obsessively log every calorie consumed and burned. Just a simple log of whether you completed your exercise commitment. Habit Trackers have been proven to help you stick to your goal. Whether it’s an app or simple wall chart there’s something very satisfying about marking a big tick when you’ve fulfilled your promise to yourself.
For a simple habit tracker and more ideas about how to create healthy habits, try the 5-day Healthy Habits challenge: