Building Motivation For Getting In Shape

depressed man sitting on steps

Nowadays everyone is at least aware that they NEED to exercise to stay healthy, but is knowing this enough? Usually not. There needs to be an underlying conscious, or subconscious incentive to reach a particular goal. Of course I’m talking about motivation.

How a person becomes motivated depends on their personality and can be enhanced with the promise of a desirable reward. But a strong motivation does not mean a long-lasting motivation. Millions of people each year are highly motivated to develop a fit body and to lose fat, only to realize a sense of failure, shame, and laziness; often upon discovering how much effort it takes to develop such a body. As an aside, did you know almost every commercial fitness centre relies on this trend to ensure they can meet new business quotas each month? If you pay and don’t show up, then business is good. But that’s another story for another post.

A person’s level of motivation will have the greatest impact on achieving their goals.  We need to dial into what we really want and fully understand what it takes to get there. I feel that there are 5 important motivational strategies you can use to keep on track . I will discuss them in detail but it’s up to you to implement them into your own fitness regimen.

Setting Up The Right Environment

Everyone responds differently to a particular environment. When choosing a gym or place to train, make sure that the atmosphere is such that you look forward to going. It’s amazing how many people join busy gyms and complain about the crowds and pushy salespeople. Or someone who tries to exercise at home and complains they don’t have anyone one to work out with and a lack of equipment options. No wonder so many people lose interest and quit. If they only took time to consider the environment they train in, these common scenarios could have been avoided.

Some environments may encourage competition, but not everyone is motivated by this.  Some people are very competitive, whereas others are noncompetitive. Some people enjoy competing with themselves, but they find it pointless to try and emulate someone else in terms of physical appearance, strength, or accomplishments. With so many different personalities it is clear that where you train, and with whom you train will greatly impact your motivation in the long run.

Your at home environment also needs to be considered, especially if you train there. Using visual aids like inspiring posters and progress reports of measurements or accomplishments that can be readily seen can be helpful as well. It may be important to get rid of tempting junk food and any distracting devices in the exercise area. The type of music in your workout area  may also be a factor for you, although most people are using ipod’s these days anyway.

Vary The Exercise Demands

The level of exercise demands must be flexible to maintain motivation. Although hard and intense activity is necessary to make the best progress, there must be times of easier exercise to allow minor socializing, to ease mental anxiety or to enhance joy of exercise. This is not to say that hard exercise cannot be enjoyable, but cycling demands, with periods of repose, can allow for greater long-term adherence and pleasure from an exercise program. This is true of any endeavor in life; we cannot commit ourselves fully to any one thing all the time.  Just as our biological functions work in a cyclic manner, so too must our motivation and how we apply ourselves to achieve our objectives.

Don’t Make Too Many Goals

I can really relate to this one. While it’s important to set goals, too many competing goals can derail all of them in no time.  It’s like trying to ride 5 horses with one ass. A person may want to exercise hard and lose weight, but  may have other goals that require serious commitment, such as becoming a professional musician or studying full time to achieve his Ph.d.

Competing goals can create a deep sense of psychological fatigue if a person focuses too much on too many things at one time. Doing so can affect exercise quality and intensity. There is nothing wrong witht a person who places greater importance on other activities or interests besides exercise, but goals need to be prioritized. It may not be realistic to want the best body possible if other goals have taken priority, since the mental and physical effort likely will not be available in order to achieve that goal.

Avoid Exercise And Diet Templates

To feed our insatiable need for things to be “easier”, most publications and even some fitness professionals are in the business of selling these “done for you” exercise and diet programs. Obviously the lack of personal attention in these programs is while they seldom deliver on their promises. I’ve even seen regular people given diets that most competitive bodybuilders couldn’t follow. Seriously though, could someone with poor discipline to eat well, really be expected to eat chicken and broccoli 6 times a day for 3 months? Of course not. They will lose motivation and quickly fall off the program. For a person to be motivated on an exercise and diet plan they must be taught how to eat the foods they enjoy and to exercise with a system that is productive and that they enjoy. Just because a program works well for some initially, doesn’t mean it will work for you or for very long if you’re miserable doing it.

Exercise For The Right Reasons

Some people exercise for the wrong reasons, such as building muscles so that they can threaten and intimidate  people more easily. Martial arts schools are inundated with this attitude. Also consider women who are obsessive about exercise because they hate their bodies and they feel fat, yet they may be thin and borderline anorexic. There are many positive reasons why a person should exercise, and those reasons include greater confidence and to promote good health. If the reasons to exercise are to enhance the ‘positive’ rather than the ‘negative’, there is less burden to succeed, exercise becomes more enjoyable, and the ability to reach and appreciate a state of peak condition will be easier.

At the end of the day there are many factors that can influence your level of motivation and you should now understand a few of them. The ability to become increasingly stronger, to build a better body and to reach peak conditioning requires hard work and knowledge of how your body responds to exercise and the reasons for your motivation. It also takes perseverance,  but taking stock of what motivates you to succeed may have the most profound impact on your success or failure.


Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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