6 Ways To Motivate Yourself When The Last Thing You Feel Like Doing Is Working Out
After a long day at work, a night of poor sleep, or simply because the couch is oh-so-much-more appealing than the treadmill, motivation to hit the gym can be hard to come by.
Luckily, a few mental tricks can make us want to get moving even during our laziest moments. Here are six ways to psych yourself into working out when it’s the last thing you want to do.
Prepare yourself in advance.
Sure, you had it in your calendar to do fifteen minutes of cardio and a few sets of squats, but it’s already 6:30pm and you’re exhausted. Being ready for these moments is key to getting through them, says sports psychologist and mental toughness coach Dr. Rob Bell, Ph.D. When your motivation meter hits zero, surround yourself with several exercise prompts.
“A very effective prompt can be packing a gym bag the night prior and taking it to work with you,” says Bell. Simply having workout gear on you makes it that much easier to put it on and get moving.
Another prompt? Put a reminder in your phone or jot your gym days on your calendar. Writing down your goals has been found to increase your likelihood of achieving them.
Make it social.
Having others to hold us accountable — people who expect us to show up and people we want to show up for — can make even the most daunting exercise sessions more likely to be accomplished, says Bell. We’re social animals, after all.
Having workout buddies like folks in an exercise class we regularly attend, other fit friends who ask us how our routine is going, or friendly staff and fellow exercisers at our local fitness center we look forward to seeing, is a fast route to increasing our incentive to exercise.
Bell points out that the accountability factor of working out with other people can also endow us with a sense of purpose and meaning. “If our presence doesn’t make an impact, then our absence won’t make a difference,” he points out. As much as we need other people to keep us coming back, other people also need us to do the same. What’s more motivating than feeling valued, needed, and relied on?
Consider the long term.
While many of us hit the gym to fit into our skinny jeans or look slimmer for an upcoming event, these incentives rarely help us stick to an exercise plan for the long haul, says Bell. Keeping in mind a longer term, bigger picture goal (think: “being able to play with my kids well into old age,” “lowering my risk of disease,” or “maintaining my mental health”) is a more effective — and research-backed — way to stay committed to our objectives.
It can also help to remind ourselves when we’re in a slump that our anticipation of an event is often worse than its actual outcome. Several studies on people who report feeling depressed or anxious demonstrate that activities they end up enjoying and deriving energy and motivation from are the very activities they anticipated beforehand as being stressful, overwhelming, boring, or otherwise negative.
In other words, once you actually get moving, your enjoyment of the activity and your energy levels throughout may be far higher than they were prior to getting up off the couch.
Break it down.
“Setting smaller, manageable goals are easier to accomplish than bigger goals,” says Dr. Jim Taylor, Ph.D., sports psychologist and author of Train Your Mind for Athletic Success. If spending an hour at the gym feels absolutely too daunting, aim to hop on an elliptical machine or take a bike ride outside for just five to eight minutes.
Not only is this better than nothing, but, chances are, once you hit the 10 minute mark, you may want to keep going. The very fact that you’ve accomplished this small win can motivate you to keep at it, notes Taylor.
Keep in mind that every little bit counts when it comes to exercise. A recent study found a mere 20 seconds (yes, seconds) of stair climbing several times a day can improve cardiovascular fitness.
Stop shaming yourself.
Shame and guilt (I feel fat; I look awful) can compel us to hit the gym on occasion. But research shows that self-criticism is more likely to prevent us from achieving our goals than help us adhere to them. “Exercise motivated by shame and guilt is also often devoid of any pleasure,” Bell points out.
Physical activity that lacks any intrinsically rewarding qualities — like the sheer enjoyment of movement or the excitement that comes from getting your blood pumping and challenging yourself — is definitely not something you’re going to want to keep at for any significant stretch of time, adds Taylor.
Do your mental and physical wellbeing a favor and practice some self-compassion. Studies suggest that self-acceptance and forgiveness (for missing a day, say, or not performing at your max) are much more likely to help you commit to your goals.
Keep it interesting.
Routines are great in that we can fall back on them without much effort, and they offer the comfort of repetition. But they can also get stale. If you find yourself dreading your regular workout, that’s a huge sap on your motivation to be active — and a sign that you need to switch things up, says Bell.
Take a new class, try a few new moves, or change the environment in which you exercise. This can mean swapping a treadmill run with an outside jog or walk, doing yoga or weights in a different room (or area of the gym), or simply queuing up a different kind of playlist (or podcast) to put you in a different mindset.
About the Author
Katherine Schreiber is a contributor to the Public Goods Blog, a publication about health, sustainability and people making an impact. Check it out for a wide range of topics: everything from fluoride and sustainable palm oil to flu remedies and brand/product reviews.