I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
Staying motivated to workout consistently is HARD.
It’s what I can get myself to do now, but this wasn’t always the case.
There was a time when I was in a constant cycle of optimistically starting a new exercise regime…only to have my motivation wane after a few weeks (or maybe even just one)…
…till I was back on the couch eating cornchips.
This cycle continued on for YEARS. And no matter how frustrated I got with myself, I just couldn’t stay consistent with working out.
Well, these 8 tips that I’m about to share of course.
I don’t know if I accidentally stumbled upon them or what but they are what finally shifted my attitude towards exercise and got me stay motivated to workout regularly 5-6 days a week.
1. Realise shorter workouts count too
Research shows that running just 5 mins a day at slow speeds can cut your risk of death from cardiovascular and other diseases.
You’ll probably need to aim for more than this if you want to lose fat and tone up but it demonstrates that whatever exercise you can fit in has benefits.
I used to think you had to hit the gym hard for at least 1+ hours to get results. Some exercise programs even ask you to commit to exercising 2 or more hours a day.
Normal people just don’t have time for that. I certainly didn’t. The time commitment required deterred me because if I couldn’t commit the time needed for results, what was the point of even starting?
However, now I know from personal experience that working out for just 30-40 mins can have very noticeable results on my body and it’s what I’ve been doing for over a year now. Even though my sweet spot is around 30 mins of exercise a day, sometimes I do longer or shorter depending on what I feel like.
I’ve changed my thinking and approach; now I snatch whatever time I have to get active even if that’s just 15 or 20 mins for a quick run.
Action for you:
Ask yourself – how much time you’re willing to commit to exercise? If you don’t think you can commit to 1+ hours, it’s perfectly ok to go for a shorter time. Fit it around your lifestyle. Don’t fall into the trap of the ‘all or nothing’ mindset.
Exercise doesn’t need to be this massive time-consuming commitment if that doesn’t gel well with your life at the moment.
If you’re not making huge sacrifices for exercise, you’re going to be more likely to stick with it – and then you just build from there.
And as mentioned – even 5 mins makes a difference and you can reap many benefits from it.
So aim to snatch bits of time to get active and it will all add up.
2. Have a pre-set workout plan
This helped me a lot.
One of the keys to getting yourself to do something you don’t really want to do is to make it as easy as possible to start.
You don’t want to have to be figuring out what exercises you need to do, AND be trying to motivate yourself at the same time before a workout. It’s too much work. You want to be able to just pick up and go.
I used the Kayla Itsines ebooks which contain pre-constructed exercises that you can follow on whatever given day.
As a beginner, it took the guesswork out for me.
And now that I have more experience, I’ve constructed my own set of workout routines to have ready whenever I need to train.
There are plenty of other trainers out there who have books or online resources with structured programs that you can adopt. You could also get a personal trainer to do the same thing for you if you have the cash to spare.
Whatever way you do it, having a program you follow without needing to think about it is a godsend for keeping you turning up.
This is especially true if you’re someone like me who doesn’t have much time to exercise in the first place, so having to fuddle around beforehand figuring out what you’re actually doing makes the whole process doubly difficult and off-putting.
3. Find a way to make exercise enjoyable
This may sound like trite advice but seriously – are you really going to stay consistent with working out if it’s something you dread?
We’re not super-humans, and using sheer willpower can only take you so far. On some level you will have to enjoy exercise to stay motivated to do it long-term.
Luckily, finding exercise you enjoy shouldn’t be hard because exercise is anything that allows you to move your body.
This includes walking, swimming, hiking, dancing, cycling, playing sports, cleaning, vacuuming, chasing your kids, walking the dog etc.
As long as you’re consciously choosing to do something active with your body – that’s exercise.
If you make it light, fun, easy and something you enjoy you’ll be far more likely to do it, rather than seeing it as a doom and gloom obligation you have to slave through.
There are so many ways to exercise you don’t have to keep doing things that you hate. If you haven’t found what that is yet, keep trying new things or ways to be more active until you find an activity that you enjoy and that fits your lifestyle.
If you’re not convinced, another tip is to piggyback the exercise activity you feel average about off something you do like.
For example, I used to jog on a treadmill at the gym.
I don’t like jogging and I don’t like treadmills.
This activity is not only the boringest thing ever to me but I’m also in a bare room so all I’ve got to focus on is how much I’m wheezing and suffering.
You can see how it took all the willpower I had to get myself to go to the gym to do that.
I like nature, being outside and mindfulness. My ideal exercise is hiking, but living in London that’s hard to do regularly.
I needed to do cardio and the most accessible form to me unfortunately was jogging.
I forced myself to go. I started off jogging on the streets which was marginally better because I was outside rather than in a room.
But it wasn’t until I found a big, beautiful park in my neighbourhood to jog around that I actually started to look forward jogging.
What I looked forward to wasn’t the jog itself, but being able to jog outside in nature, amongst the beautiful trees and flowers, and also being mindfully in my body as I did it (more about this below).
I actually lied and rushed home early from a work party one time because I really wanted to fit in a jog around the park that evening (but going home to jog isn’t usually a usable excuse).
When I started doing weight training I also put together a really good playlist that I only listened to when I worked out. I found I started wanting to workout because I wanted to listen to the playlist.
That effect wore off because I got lazy about refreshing the playlist. But luckily by that stage I was actually already more into the mindfulness aspect of weight training so even working out in silence was enough. I liked spending that time consciously aware and being in my body.
I go into this in more detail below but once you get into the habit of exercising, it just becomes something you do automatically like getting dressed in the morning; you don’t necessarily need all these motivation boosters to keep at it.
But in the beginning especially, finding exercise you enjoy will go a long way in helping you commit to it regularly.
4. Don’t use your body’s appearance to track progress
Use the feeling of becoming fitter and stronger in your body instead.
The problem with exercising solely to change the appearance of your body is that all bodies are different, so even if you do the exact same exercises as someone else you aren’t going to get the same results. So hoping to get the same booty or body shape as a model you saw in a magazine can become very demotivating.
Shaping a body is a slow, long-term process (if you want to do it in a healthy, balanced and sustainable way) because you can’t spot reduce fat.
You lose fat in an all-over body way and you don’t get a say where it happens first. If you’re too focused on getting your body to look a certain way and your body isn’t cooperating, then this may cause you to feel like you aren’t making valid progress, when you are.
I encourage you to think about your goals and progress in terms of ‘feeling’ more than appearance. What I mean is focus on the feeling of becoming stronger and fitter. This will be progress you will notice very quickly as you work out.
Even from week to week I was amazed at how fast my body adjusted from barely being able to do a push-up to doing several without an issue.
Just set your goals to focus on building your strength, flexibility and endurance and the rest (including being toned and having a great butt) will follow.
Bodies are pretty amazing. They carry us around and allow us to do things like see the world, hug people we love, jump, swim…
Yet we always give our bodies a hard time; Criticising it for not looking a certain way or fitting some ideal when we should be loving and appreciating our body for all it does for us.
Talk to someone who has lost the function of their body and you will understand how much we take for granted.
Part of what it means to respect our body is to take care of it so that it’s fit and strong and in the best condition it can be.
Shifting my focus to this goal has kept me a lot more motivated than a purely appearance-centred one because it means every little bit of exercise I do makes a difference.
And remember – having a body and being able to exercise is a privilege!
5. Find where you most like to workout
A lot of my tips are about shifting exercise to fit your lifestyle and how you like to do things.
The key is to find a way to fit it into your routines and preferences so that it doesn’t become this labour intensive operation.
Where you exercise also adds to this and is worth considering or experimenting with.
When I was a gym member I never went because it was such an effort to drive there, find parking and wait for equipment when it was crowded.
One of the reasons I stuck with the Kayla Itsines program was because it was home-based with little need for equipment so it was easy to just go to my living room and get started.
From that I found that I prefer to work out at home. And for cardio I found that I prefer to do this outside.
The gym is not the only place you can workout. If the gym isn’t doing it for you, try a different place e.g. the park or at home and see if it works better for you. You don’t need loads of gym equipment to exercise effectively.
Remember, for maintaining consistent exercise, the main goal is is to make it easy to start and enjoyable for yourself.
6. In the beginning, just focus on turning up
Some days I won’t feel like exercising, but if it’s a day I’m scheduled to exercise, I will do it.
You have to work on forming the habit and rhythm.
At the beginning of forming a habit, turning up and staying consistent is what counts – more so than what you actually do while you’re there.
Each time you repeat an activity, it strengthens the neural pathway associated with that activity.
As the neural pathway deepens, the activity becomes ingrained in your brain and becomes a habit i.e. you have the ability to perform it automatically like turning on the lights or brushing your teeth.
The idea is to get to the point where exercise becomes like brushing your teeth, something that you just do at a certain time of the day or week without thinking.
Nowadays I’ve gotten to the point where I’m so used to exercising and being active every day that if I miss a few workouts in a row, I start feeling off and want to get back to exercise. This can happen to you too!
Also, one of the biggest productivity hacks I‘ve discovered in recent years is that you don’t have to feel like doing something to do it.
This roots itself in the meditation concept of each of us having ‘two minds’. Basically it’s the idea that you are not your mind or your thoughts. You don’t have to follow everything that your mind urges you to do.
That’s why there are ‘two minds’ – the one that offers up suggestions and excuses as to why you are too tired to exercise today, and then another part of you that can choose to listen to this or just choose to hit the exercise mat or go for a run anyway.
Whenever I have no motivation, I like to go into ‘autopilot’ mode.
This means even while my mind is complaining or throwing up excuses, I just pretend I’m a robot and a button has been pressed – which means I have to get changed, get my mat and weights out, start warming up etc.
No thinking required!
And once that gets rolling it’s easier to start because everything is already ready. I mean it’s already there, why not?; you almost fall into it. And once you start, energy and motivation will magically appear so just trust the process!
Another mind hack which I read via Tony Robbins is to change your thinking from ‘I should exercise today’ to ‘I must exercise today’.
Categorising exercise as a ‘must’ invites no further questions or arguments. It simplifies everything by taking choice out of the equation – it’s a done deal, you don’t have to waste time debating it in your head. Just follow the instructions and go do it.
7. Put some mindfulness into it
I enjoy weight training and moving my body because it allows me to be mindful. If you’re into that type of thing, exercising can be a meditative experience and a time to be in your body.
Try bringing awareness to sensations like your muscles contracting and relaxing, your breathing and the contact between your feet and the mat.
Even while jogging and doing other forms of cardio – notice the air on your skin, how movement happens in your body, how your weight shifts from one foot to the other.
Try working out this way and see if you enjoy it too.
Working out slowly and mindfully can be a very mentally cleansing experience.
This meditative experience is another factor that helps me look forward to, and enjoy exercise.
8. It’s not all ‘go hard or go home’
One reason I never liked exercise was how much suffering I had to go through. I used to have a ‘go hard or go home’ attitude that you might resonate with.
If that’s the case, changing your definition of a successful workout could help you stay motivated.
Pushing yourself till you’re hyperventilating and about to puke is not going to help you enjoy exercise. And remember, enjoying exercise is key to being able to stay consistent with working out.
If you need to take a rest and have a breather, take a rest and have a breather.
When I jog, I give myself permission to walk if I feel like it.
This has become one of the big reasons why I can now look forward to jogging. I know I don’t have to suffer.
On days when I’m tired it also makes it that much easier to motivate myself to still jog because I know I have permission to walk more than usual if I need it. This means I still exercise when otherwise I probably would’ve skipped the session
Be kind to yourself – this may seem counterproductive but it will help you enjoy exercise and stay motivated to keep doing it. In my view, exercising lightly regularly is better than going all out once in a while.
Here’s a twist though. Often I find that even when I feel like I have zero energy or motivation to exercise, when I get started, the energy just magically appears.
Getting started is the hardest part.
So make it as easy as possible to start by not threatening to push yourself to breaking point every time you have a workout.
And just because I give myself permission to walk doesn’t mean I never push myself.
When my energy is there, I happily challenge myself and explore my limits. It’s enjoyable in this way because I’m choosing to do it rather than forcing myself.
And if that energy doesn’t come, it’s ok to honour that feeling and your body that day and have a lighter workout. Be proud that you worked out anyway even though you didn’t feel like it.
The Bottom Line
The key to being able to stay motivated to workout consistently is to make it something you can enjoy and something that fits your lifestyle.
If that means shortening your exercise sessions, walking instead of jogging, working out at home instead of the gym, then do it! Every bit counts.
Being kinder to myself and making exercise work for me is what ultimately got me to enjoy it and stay motivated to keep doing it.
Then eventually it just became a habit and now I get uncomfortable if I miss workouts.
Try it for yourself and use these 8 motivation tips:
- Realise shorter workouts count too
- Have a pre-set workout plan
- Find a way to make exercise enjoyable
- Don’t use your body’s appearance to track progress
- Find where you most like to workout
- In the beginning, just focus on turning up
- Put some mindfulness into it
- It’s not all ‘go hard or go home’