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How to find workout motivation: Working out when you really don’t feel like it

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

Motivation & the gym mindset


Young woman dressed in black, in a sports hijab on the elliptical. Woman working out by doing cardio.

Let’s talk about motivation. I feel that motivation is often perceived as an innate quality, which we all possess, and all it takes are some sly tricks and tiny tweaks to unlock an endless well of it.


Reality is more sobering. We are creatures of habit. And lazy ones at that. We’re wired to take the path of least resistance and seek comfort above all else. Going to the gym after a long work day seems a lot more daunting than watching Netflix with some takeout. Unfortunately, not much change happens inside your comfort zone. Cliche but true. That’s why waiting for motivation to hit you like a lighting bolt is a dangerous game.


Sure, I have gotten random bursts of workout motivation before. I’m certain you have, too.


But tell me this, are they reliable? Do they last? No.


They’re exactly that: a random burst. It’s the same phenomenon we witness in January when gyms are flooded with New-Years-Resolutioners, who fall by the wayside when progress plateaus and motivation dwindles alongside it.


Bamboo or wood toothbrush in a glass jar lying on white backdrop. Brushing your teeth is a habit and you're not motivated to do it, the same way working out and going to the gym should become a habit for a healthy lifestyle.

Motivation is great but by no means a necessity for success. Do you feel motivated to brush your teeth? I doubt it. But you still do it each day. And I’m sure on some level, it makes you feel good. Clean. Ready to take on or wholesomely conclude the day. Similarly with your work or studies. It’s unlikely you jump out of bed every morning, euphoric to take on the day. And that’s okay because you still show up (I hope).



Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) uses a technique called Behavioural Activation (BA). The principle is to schedule small tasks into your day, like taking a shower, meeting friends or doing a face mask. Essentially, making small promises to do something healthy for yourself. The smaller and more achievable, the better.


When you keep these promises, you start noticing tiny mood improvements. The more often you repeat these little favours for your wellbeing, the more you will feel inclined to do them because they make you feel good.


In other words, finding motivation to workout isn’t the driving factor. The driving factor might just be forcing yourself to do small things until they become meaningful to your wellbeing. The way I like to measure ‘meaningful’ is by monitoring how I feel when I leave out the activity. What do you feel when you don’t brush your teeth for one or two days? If it makes no difference, the action hasn’t become meaningful for your wellbeing yet. However, if you feel a bit icky or unbalanced, bingo, that’s the emotion we are striving for.


The process is more significant than the results, especially when working out. Fixating on results typically leads to feelings of frustration and despair, and ultimately kills the joy of moving your body. However, focusing on the endorphins of a good workout, will leave you feeling accomplished and happy. That's why I have compiled 7 tips to help you fall in love with working out and enable you to get yourself into the gym, whether you feel like it or not.



 

How to find workout motivation when every fibre of your being is screaming "I don't feel like it" - A Guide:



1. Get Real

If you want to become committed to the journey, your goals need to go deeper than ‘I want to be skinny’ or ‘I want to have muscle’. You need to ask yourself “why?” after each answer you give, to find the deepest driver of your goal. Why do you want to be skinny? Why do you want muscle? What is the real reason behind this desire? To feel comfortable in your body, to be healthy, to feel lighter? My advice, write them down. Old school, with pen and paper. Neuroscience suggests that people who write down their goals with pen and paper are 1.2-1.4 x more likely to achieve their goals. Writing helps you recall, which in turn supports guiding your daily actions towards your aim.



2. Visualise


The next level to ‘Get Real’. Scrape the internet, magazines, books, journals, your own photographs for anything that helps you visualise your goal in as much detail as you can. Create a collage and hang it someplace you view it daily.



3. Task Coupling


Combine the thing you don’t want to do (in this case the gym) with something you do want to do (watching Netflix, listening to a podcast, reading a book). If you’re struggling with pairing, start by creating a list of things you want to be doing, and a list of workouts you should be doing in the gym (boxing, weights, runs, incline walks, biking, etc), then see how you could match one ‘should’ with a ‘want’.



4. Do It For 10 Minutes.


Tell yourself you’ll only workout for 10 minutes. After that you’re free to do whatever. I guarantee when you hear that timer ring, you’ll be mid exercise and keen to finish your workout the right way. Thank you, endorphins.



5. Dress Party


One of my more obscure pieces of advice. Take a shower before the gym, make yourself look and feel good (while keeping functionality in mind!). It may not work for you but sometimes it gives me the extra kick I need to leave the house after feeling like a bum all day. Disclaimer: Be careful with applying lotions, perfume and makeup, as they may cause a skin reaction when you sweat.



6. Shake Things Up


Workouts don’t just need to be lifting weights or running on the treadmill. If that doesn’t float your boat, that’s fine. YouTube has a range of yoga, pilates and body-weight workouts you can access. If that’s not swanky enough, join a boxing, swimming, versa-climb, aerial, tumbling, pole dance, urban dance, or zumba class. The list goes on and on.



7. Fake it until you become it.


James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits has ground breaking insights into creating habits. He suggests that one of the best ways to become who you want to be is to act like you’re already there. So behave like a gym rat. Think to yourself that this is part of your routine, you’re an athlete and working out is second nature to you. Don’t question whether you’re in the mood to work out or not. Just show up and do the work.


I will go deeper into Atomic Habits and how to utilise Clear’s techniques and wisdom to promote your fitness and health journey in another post.



 

The moral of the story is, workout motivation isn’t reliable. Fitness and excelling in the gym are about simply doing, despite feeling ‘unmotivated’. They say the hardest part is getting started, but truly, the hardest part is falling in love with the journey and all its ups and downs. Hopefully you found some actionable tips here to help you discover joy in the discomfort. Believe me, it will turn to comfort eventually.


Young woman stretching her left calf. She wears bright pink leggings and a pink sports bra. Her hair is in a bun, she has tattoos on her wrist and her back, she is wearing black, green and red trainers. Her skin is glowing.

It's important to remember that you’ll always feel better for working out. It’s physiological. Let that be your driving factor, especially on those days your mood takes a dip or you want a little energy booster. So go out there, find your why and then continue to show up for yourself, until you make yourself proud.


I’ll leave you with one of the best quotes from my all-time favourite Netflix show, Bojack Horseman:



Bojack Horseman (cartoon horse) lying on the grass, monkey with beard speaks to him about running motivation. The text reads: It gets easier. It gets easier but you have to do it every day. That's the hard part. But it does get easier.
Bojack Horseman trying to go on a run for the first time.


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