How to Get Motivated to Workout (or Do Anything, Really)

Don't feel like heading to the gym? Missing a session one time is fine. But long-term? Not so great, TBH. Here's how to get motivated to workout.

Upset woman turns from husband who holds tasty cake on plate, has sad expression as cannot eat sweets

What do you do when you’re in a funk? When you’re not really in the mood to work out (or do anything at all, for that matter)? 😔

Okay, let’s not take this as a personal attack, but chances are, you’d busy yourself with other non-consequential “tasks” (e.g., unsubscribing from email newsletters, cleaning out your earbuds, and RSVPing to social events).

Hoping that motivation would come knocking on your front door, then drag you to the gym.

On some days, motivation does arrive – like a tight slap across the face.

But on other days? Not so much. And you end up skipping out on your training session. So, let’s talk about these other days: just what could you be doing differently that’ll maximize your chances of following through on your 2022 New Year’s Resolutions (remember those?)

In other words: for those constantly typing "how to get motivated to workout" into the search bar, this article will prove worthy of your time.

What is motivation?

First up, let’s define motivation.

Put simply, motivation is a condition inside us that desires a change – either in the self or the environment. The hallmark trait of a motivated person is energized and persistent goal-directed behavior.

When we’re motivated, we move. And, more importantly, we take action. Numerous factors influence motivation. A non-exhaustive list of examples include:

  • Satisfaction of needs that are essential for wellbeing
  • Physiological needs for food, water, and sex
  • Psychological needs for mastery, belonging, achievement, and self-esteem

Think about common reasons people exercise (e.g., improved moods, community, weight loss, and a better physique), and you’ll realize that they tend to fall into either the first or the second motivation factor.

“How to get motivated to workout”: you’re approaching it wrong

At this point, motivation sounds great. It keeps you moving toward your goals.

But there’s one thing about motivation most people fail to account for: motivation is a dynamic process. Your motives vary over time. Plus, to further complicate matters, you're also driven by many different motives at any one point in time.

Let's take your motivation to work out, for instance. Unfortunately, competing motives like watching Netflix, grabbing a cold one with colleagues, and maybe even napping will weaken your motivation to head to the gym.

So, what’s the solution? Is it for you to double down – and talk yourself into having more motivation? Surprisingly, no.

Sure, motivation influences whether you’d get to the gym or not. But there’s a bigger factor at play: your environment. As it turns out, research shows that your environment tends to overpower personal characteristics (e.g., motivation, talent, and effort). Especially in the long-term.

Feeling a little skeptical? Well, as you should be. That’s what the following two studies are for:

  • This study found that people eat 22% less food by switching from 12-inch dinner plates to 10-inch plates (get more tips on how to eat less without starving yourself here).
  • In this six-month study conducted in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, researchers altered the “choice architecture of the hospital cafeteria by changing how drinks were arranged in the room. More specifically, they made bottled water more readily available. The result? The number of soda sales dropped by 11.4%, while bottled water sales increased by 25.8%!

Meaning? Behavior change can – and will – happen in the absence of motivation in response to environmental changes.

Applying this to your life

Right. So, forget wondering about “how to get motivated to workout”.

That doesn’t matter. But how can you apply what you’ve learned to boost your chances of showing up for your workout? Answer: you’ll need to take steps to design a better environment.

More specifically, two steps:

  1. “Automate” good decisions: Whenever possible, create an environment that helps you make good decisions. For example, pack your workout clothes and shoes into your work bag if you’re prone to skipping out on your post-work gym sessions. Place the gym access card in easy reach (e.g., on your work desk).
  2. Subtract the negative influences: Have a habit of scrolling through social media before your workouts? Frequently get sucked into a rabbit hole of entertaining content – only to emerge, hours later, to realize that it’s too late to exercise? Consider using blocking software to limit your access to digital devices right before (and during) your workout sessions.

Of course, these are just ideas to get you started. You know yourself – and your environment – best. What would make going to the gym easier for you? What are your triggers? Give it deep thought.

Is motivation what gets you started?

Oh, and here’s a bonus nugget of information: contrary to popular belief, motivation isn’t necessarily the precursor for action.

To elaborate, many people believe that motivation must come before they can do something (e.g., start a new diet, lose weight, sign up for fitness classes).

But that’s not the case; as self-help expert James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) puts it, motivation typically only comes in after you’ve already started on something.

The moral of the story? Don't wait till you're motivated to workout, eat right, or find a new job better aligned with your interests. Motivation will never happen soon enough.

Instead, find a way to get started – no matter how small it is, and you’ll soon find it difficult to stop. You know, it’s kind of like what Newton said: “An object in motion will stay in motion”. It’s basically a law.

By the way: do check out this past article covering workout motivation as well. It contains a few other valuable tips that’ll get you rushing to the gym.

GymStreak: your 24/7 fitness companion

Psst: still struggling to see how you can automate good decisions to increase your chances of staying consistent with your training program?

We do have something for you. It’s called GymStreak.

An AI-powered personal trainer app, GymStreak goes wherever you go – serving as a constant reminder of your fitness aspirations.

Better yet, thanks to features like a comprehensive exercise library, VR capabilities, and automatic periodization, it’s more than capable of guiding you through the journey as well, no matter your lifting experience. See it in action here.

References

Motivation: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated. (n.d.). James Clear. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://jamesclear.com/motivation

Thorndike, A. N., Sonnenberg, L., Riis, J., Barraclough, S., & Levy, D. E. (2012). A 2-phase labeling and choice architecture intervention to improve healthy food and beverage choices. American Journal of Public Health, 102(3), 527–533. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2011.300391

Van Ittersum, K., & Wansink, B. (2012). Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion’s Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1086/662615