You know you want to have the motivation to exercise, but you just don’t feel like it. Well, I’ll let you in on a secret that those of us who do psychotherapy know, but gets past many people. Don’t wait for motivation to exercise; just begin doing the thing you choose to do and motivation will soon follow.

But wait, you intuitively already knew that, right? Many times you’ve talked yourself into the pool, onto the bike, or out on a run, and discovered that once you began, you felt like going the full distance.

Motivation to exercise follows action

Whether we are seeking motivation to exercise, or facing other life stressors, getting active is one of the best interventions to succeed. You have to trust that motivation to exercise will follow action. As you will be aware, before action it’s very common to simply not feel like exerting ourselves.

Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense to conserve calories for those terrifying moments when we really need to burn them (e.g., a saber-toothed tiger nearby). When danger approached, our ancestors acted without waiting for motivation. Today, we sometimes make the mistake of waiting for it.


woman sitting on a chair, looking bored - how do I get motivation to exercise?


Mustering motivation to exercise

“Fake it ’til you make it” is really good advice at times. I trust that action will be helpful when my clients are sceptical that exercise will help lower their anxiety or lift their depression. They tell me that they can’t muster the motivation to get out the door.

When they talk about their anxiety, I tell them to go into it. Approach the thing they fear, marinate in the situation they believe they can’t tolerate. By doing it anyway, their anxiety decreases as they habituate, or get used to it. It’s simply not as bad as they had imagined.

They are able to get through the workout, the tense holiday party, the cramped airline trip. A common intervention for depression is also to encourage clients to exercise, to get their heart rate up. Depressed people usually don’t feel like exercising, but when they do their mood lifts and they are able to see their problems a bit more clearly and with a bit more optimism. 

girl with closed eyes looking blissful under the sun

One lap of the block leads to many

Mood and exercise are directly related. Don’t let your lack of motivation to exercise derail you. If you think you should exercise, but you don’t feel like doing it, then tell yourself that you’ll just get started. Give yourself permission to only do a lap around the block. The thing is, it is very likely that after that lap you’ll feel like continuing for the full run.

Being aware of this dynamic is empowering. Still, test it out. See if it works for you (and I think it will, since you are human like the rest of us, and this is simply how we are “wired.”). So the next time, trust that motivation will follow action!

I’ll talk about other influences in future articles. What motivates us to self-improve, to lose weight, or to compete? Some of the influences are our genetics, family of origin, birth order, peers, religion, region of the world and era we live, and culture. What are the psychodynamics. What is the interrelation between the unconscious and conscious forces that determine motivation? They matter. Big time!

Until then: how to find motivation to exercise? Don’t wait for it – go get it!

P.S. Check these trendy new exercise ideas that might just be the right thing to get your enthusiasm back on track!


(image credit: hubatoxford, static.guim, thebestbrainpossible) 

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