Exercise Health

How To Motivate Yourself to Work Out

You don’t need to be told that working out is good for your health— you know it can improve your physical and mental well-being. What you need is to more motivation to put on your sneakers and drag yourself to the gym. Sound familiar?

Building a new exercise routine isn’t easy, but it’s doable. By learning a little bit more about how to motivate yourself and form new habits, you may discover that increasing your physical activity levels wasn’t as tough as you thought.

Try these tips to build a plan that will get yourself moving!

Find Your “Why”

Why do you want to increase your activity levels? Maybe you’re hoping to lose some excess weight, put on some muscle, or lower your blood pressure levels. Whatever your reason, it’s important to be clear on your “why.” Stronger motivation follows when you keep in mind your reasons for taking a new step.

Make an Action Plan

Think about what steps it’ll take to reach your goals. For best results, create an action plan that includes precisely when and where you’re going to be exercising — simply deciding, “I’ll exercise three times per week” isn’t going to cut it. For ideas, think:

  • “I’ll go on a walk at the nearby park every morning before work.”
  • “I’m going to join a local kickball league that has games every Tuesday evening.”
  • “I’m hitting the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after work to

As part of your action plan, don’t forget to make a coping plan — in other words, a plan B! If it’s raining one morning, for example, what are you going to do instead of your usual walk? Have a 10-minute YouTube video with a doable cardio routine ready to go.

Get Real

When it comes to motivation, it’s super important that your action plan be realistic — studies show that you’re more likely to be successful when you have reasonable expectations.

If your goal is to lose a ton of weight before your cousin’s wedding next month, you’ll probably get discouraged when you realize that you’re not shedding pounds as fast as you hoped. You may even quit your new plan. On the other hand, if you give yourself more time to shed some pounds, you’ll more likely to meet your short-term goals, which will provide further incentive for you to keep going.

This Should Be Fun, Not Painful

Knowing that you’re getting something out of working out gives you a greater chance of being successful in the long run, and the best long-term motivators are positive feelings. You’re more likely to keep working out if you’re excited, feel like you’re accomplishing something or are just plain having fun.

When making your action plan, don’t try to force yourself to go for a jog if you hate running. Instead, go for a swim at your local pool or learn how to play pickleball with a friend. Try a few activities until you find something you actually like!

You can also bring the good vibes to your workout sessions in other ways. Listen to a favorite podcast while working out or treat yourself to a TV episode once you get home from the gym.

Put Some Skin in the Game

What happens when your workout habits affect your bank account? You may be more likely to be physically active, according to studies. Putting your own money on the line can provide extra incentive to follow through on your action plan.

Sign up for a website or app like HealthyWage or WayBetter where you can place bets to register for challenges. Once you cross the finish line, you’ll receive back your original bet, or more! You can also create a similar challenge with friends by throwing money into a shared pot and encouraging each other to stick with your action plans.

Staying Motivated Long-Term

Can’t seem to stick with your plan? Turn to psychology to figure out where you’re getting stuck.

Experts have described a “habit loop” that describes how you form behavioral patterns. If you’re struggling, try to figure out which part of this process isn’t working:

  • Cue — A certain factor, such as a particular activity or a specific time of day, triggers the start of your habit loop. Maybe you don’t have a strong enough cue and you need to better define when you’ll exercise — aim to start your workout directly after completing an activity (such as coming home from work) or at a certain time of day (set an alarm)!
  • Routine — Once you encounter your cue, you automatically follow through with the desired behavior. If you already have a specific cue, think about whether something’s getting in the way of following through. Can you decide on a specific workout routine in advance, pack your gym bag the night before, or find a closer gym?
  • Reward — After completing your desired actions, you get some type of positive benefit. Keep in mind that goals like weight loss or lowering blood pressure levels can take time. Perhaps you can apply a more immediate reward by making each individual workout more fun. Bring along a friend, make an exercise playlist full of fun music, or try a new workout class.
Cultivating Exercise Motivation

Remember that new habit formation takes time! You’re not going to get it right away, but taking small steps on a regular basis will produce results in the long term.

By Mo McNulty

Maureen McNulty studied molecular genetics and English at Ohio State University. She has spent over a decade researching the genetic causes of — and possible treatments for — multiple types of cancer. Maureen is now a medical writer who is passionate about helping people use science to enrich their lives.