ot being motivated to work out is a common issue, but there is a solution. By fulfilling three traits you can get, and stay, motivated to work out. You’ll also receive some additional tips for igniting your workout motivation that has proven effective for my clients. Let’s first see what science has shown to be effective for getting motivated.
How to Get Motivated, According to Science
An excellent book that provides science-driven information about attaining, and maintaining, motivation is Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink uses Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to explain how people become motivated and provides three basic psychological needs that must be fulfilled. Based on Pink’s research and SDT, the three needs that must be met to increase motivation are:
- Autonomy: you have some amount of control.
- Competence: you feel like you’re good at what you do.
- Relatedness: you’re part of a community and feel a sense of connection with others.
Achieving motivation can be as simple as fulfilling those three needs. It’s important to note that Pink’s research is aimed primarily at helping people become motivated for their careers, but I’ve noticed this can also be applicable to attaining motivation to work out and improve one’s health and fitness.
So the question now becomes: How can you satisfy those three needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness) to become, and stay, motivated to work out?
You can achieve this in your fitness regimen by ensuring you have flexibility. For example, if you have to miss a workout or two this week, do you know how to respond? If you get injured and can no longer perform some of the exercises in your program, do you know how to adapt? If your workouts have to meet a new 30 minute time limit instead of your usual 60, can you make that happen? Are your working at your own pace or are you trying to do too much too soon and getting burned out?
The individuals who fail to work out consistently don’t know how to respond to the above scenarios; when their workout schedule or program doesn’t go as planned, they give up completely because they don’t know how to take control and adapt to the situation. They don’t know how to fulfill the need of autonomy. Or they try to follow a program that’s not practical for their lifestyle and when they miss a workout, they give up because they have an all-or-nothing mindset; they either follow the program completely or they don’t do it at all.
How to have autonomy: Know how to adapt when you’re short on time (e.g., cut the workout in half, but make very damn set count), you get injured (e.g., focus exclusively on exercises you can do, and get better at them), a certain exercise causes discomfort (switch to a similar movement), or some other situation inevitably occurs. Following a proven strength training program is a great place to begin, but you must be willing to adapt when life demands it. (This is one reason why many of my programs have built-in flexibility and exercise options.)
Most people won’t stay motivated to continue doing something they don’t have a bit of early success with. This is why I always encourage beginner strength trainees to learn a few basic exercises first. This way, from day one, they can have success and quickly learn how to properly perform the exercises. Realizing, “Hey, I can do this,” from the first workout is important.
I’ve seen coaches introduce someone who has never lifted weights to a very complex lift like a barbell or dumbbell snatch on their first day. They fail to learn the movement because it’s beyond their experience level, and so they feel incredibly discouraged. It’s like asking someone to host a Thanksgiving feast when they’ve never learned to scramble an egg; it’s setting them up for failure.
How to achieve competence: Begin with the basics you can learn quickly, and build momentum. This will establish confidence from day one and make the trainee realize that lifting weights isn’t nearly as complicated or intimidating as they thought, and they’ll want to come back. When in doubt, begin with the proven, basic principles of health and fitness. No one ever regretted becoming efficient at the basics.