Just a wee note first: This blog post is part of a 90 day "content creation challenge". The idea is to post something daily in order to build content creation skills. This means it won't be perfect, but over the course of this challenge, things will get better. I'm doing it to help me stop being such a perfectionist and leaving many pieces unpublished. No more hiding 🙂
After set backs, how do you stay motivated to exercise when you don't always want to?
Today I'm going to talk about my own process on days that I do follow through on my plan to do a workout verses days that I don't. This process is something that has evolved over the last 2-3 years, but I am happy to say that my motivation, consistency, and over all contentment with my exercise has been at an all-time high, even though I'm not as strong, as lean as before, nor to a train as frequently or as long.
A lot of people will talk about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. So let me touch on it.
Extrinsic Motivation: Being motivated by an external reward or avoiding some kind of punishment (I do workouts because I'll lose weight or I'll be able to avoid feeling bad about what I ate last night).
Intrinsic Motivation: When the action (the workout, doing the work) is its own reward. That feeling of challenge, competition, accomplishment etc.
While you do need both, I think intrinsic motivation is more important in staying on track when life is happening.
When I've been more externally motivated (people will be impressed by me if I'm super strong, or I'm afraid that not exercising will result in me being out of shape, which causes me shame), I put a lot more pressure on myself to "get it right" and I'm a lot less forgiving when I fall short. Because the reward is still "out there" waiting for me to meet some kind of condition (that I've set), it creates a pressure and stress that actually kill the intrinsic motivation.
My intrinsic motivations are things like I love the feeling of lifting heavy things, I like exhurting myself physically, and I feel accomplished and proud of myself when I've completed something I set out to do. I even enjoy a self-set nemesis so I can prove them/it wrong somehow. Even if it didn't go perfectly, I can see value in consistency because it ultimately matters more to me to stay in it for the long-haul.
Though I can see that in some ways, I also want to avoid that feeling of disappointment when you stop and start, so there is always an element of external motivation, too.
Here's what can play out on days I DON'T follow-through:
=> I should train today
=> I can't be bothered right now, maybe I'll feel like it later
=> I really should just do it
=> Sure, I can do it tomorrow (but I don't set a real plan)
=> I'll mow the lawn instead (gets a lot of steps)
It's a conversation about whether it really matters if I do it now. It's an "I'll get around to it" attitude. But I try to assess if it's a "I can't" or "I don't want to" day, and if it's the former, I let it go.
An "I don't want to" is different and mostly ends up in me doing something, but it doesn't always end up in me doing everything I had planned.
My mindset used to be more heavy on regret and panic. Like one day would ruin everything, but thankfully I know how little one day matters. That being said, I don't even bother accessing internal motivation, because in that moment (doing nothing), it feels like an external motivator to say "but you'll feel so accomplished". I'm already internally motivated to not work out that day, because I'm enjoying not working out LOL.
So there's another part of the process I believe has to become enjoyable or internally motivating: getting to the workout part (or to the part you actually enjoy, which could well be the end of the workout HAHA). You have to outsmart yourself.
On days that I DO follow through:
=> I have to train tomorrow at 8am (I only have this time set aside on a Tuesday and Friday)
=> What do I fancy doing? (I love designing workouts, so this helps)
=> Plan made and I'm excited to try it
=> I know I may be too tired, so I have planned to film or stream it (because I enjoy sharing my workouts with others)
=> If I'm extra tired, or there was a tech problem which was going to twart my plans to film, I'd use "well, I'm already here, so I may as well try the workout"?
=> Maybe I'll do 2 rounds instead of 3 or do a Wee 3 version, but I'd still do it
=> Finally I'd get to the parts I really love: the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment
The key difference between the days is having a plan and having a plan that feeds my personal intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It plays into my personality and doesn't spark a rebellion against myself (yes, for certain types of people that's a real thing).
I have to be proactive because I know myself and my excuses. Even though one workout won't make or break things, that attitude - if not kept in check - will ruin my consistency and eventually lead me back to feeling like I have to play catch up.
Motivation is a really tough thing to "crack", but I think what matters, in a tangible way, is to know yourself enough to give yourself the right bait or best story to use. If you enjoy a challenge and enjoy being stubborn, then use that to your advantage, like making the whole thing a challenge, but without the kind of pressure that makes you dig your heels in more.
If you're someone who struggles to show up for yourself, what's the point in trying to force yourself to be someone you're not… just own it and set up a scenario in which you now have to show up for others.
Exercising is about honouring your body, so getting yourself to exercise should may be about honouring other parts of who you are. Just my opinion, for what it's worth 🙂
I think a lot of people get stuck because they think they have to "do motivation" a certain way, or it's some kind of feeling. It's not, it's something else…perhaps a kind of fuel for using your agency and freedom to do something you feel is important to your life. Who knows. I have noticed a lot of us tend to just do things because it's what we're supposed to do. I find it helpful to ask myself "why should I" or "Who says". It challenges me to come up with my own story and my own REAL reasons for doing something and sticking with it.
If you're doing things because other people are doing it and it seems like pressure to "now I need to work on X or Y", or "so-and-so says we should be foam rolling, or doing toe-activation" it's just adds more to your plate, which probably won't serve the intrinsic motivation very well…
Unless, that is, you see yourself as something broken that endlessly needs fixed (which is easy to believe given half the things the fitness world is marketing, but that's a rant for another day).
My main takeaway from all of this is to allow yourself to think and feel what you think and feel, try not to judge it, and instead work with it. It's much easier than trying to force even more change. There is always a way to gain more freedom from the things keeping you stuck. Sometimes you just need permission to explore and use your own unique inner resources.
Chat to you tomorrow in my next piece 🙂