September 14, 2011
Mark Twain wasn’t necessarily attempting to motivate people to exercise when he said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started,” but he may well have been.
Getting started sure sounds easy, but for 50% of the US population who don’t meet even the minimal 150 minutes a week of exercise guideline and for the 31% of those Americans who don’t work out at all, it is anything but easy.
Knowing what motivates, or de-motivates, you to exercise is more important than knowing the right athletic shoes to purchase for your feet or remembering the combination to your gym locker door. Without understanding your motivation to begin exercising and to adhere to your program, you just won’t do either.
Exercise professionals explain that there are two forms of motivation — internal, or intrinsic, and external, or extrinsic. What’s this mean? It’s really not that complicated.
Externally motivated folks find the drive to begin exercising when they think of, for example, the end, distant goal of losing weight, getting into better shape, or becoming healthier. When those goals are reached, motivation to continue often fades.
That’s when internal motivation comes in handy.
Internally motivated people are more likely to continue exercising since they are focused on “here and now” internally personal type of rewards — the exercise movement feels enjoyable, or the activity is personally meaningful in some way.
An example might be thinking that in and of itself, exercise feels rewarding, with no other goal. Perhaps seeing improvement in your performance leads you to a sense of mastery that in turn promotes a sense of meaning in meeting an increasing physical challenge. Think of those who do the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® as an example. They are highly motivated and personally engaged in the activity. The more you create deep personal meaning in your exercising, the more likely you will stick with it.
But we are just human and from time to time we are all guilty of irrational, illogical, and inaccurate thinking, especially when it comes to exercise. Words like “never,” “always,” “should,” “impossible,” and “can’t” are tip-offs for irrational obstacle-creating thinking.
For example, you’ve said, or heard, “I don’t have time to exercise!!!” You need what psychologists call a response counter. How about thinking, “I can always find time.”
“I can’t make it to the gym today; I just don’t feel like it.” The response counter is, “I know once I get to the gym, I’ll feel better. I can do it!”
“I’m bored by the same old routines.” The response counter? “I can find a way to avoid boredom by changing up my routine — why not try Les Mills, Zumba, Gravity training, or Pilates?” My response counter to this is, “Who says I can’t tolerate a little boredom?”
“I can’t run that far, lift that much weight.” The response counter to this might be, “I can’t lift that much weight yet (or run that long yet), but I can do this level instead and work up to that level.”
“It’s too hot to do bootcamp today,” or “It’s too cool or windy.” The response counter? “I can workout indoors today,” or, “I can take off — or put on — a layer of clothes.”
Get it? Every negative, irrational (inaccurate) thought you automatically create requires a response counter to move you forward. Otherwise, you are building a sand castle and living in it.
Knowing the benefits of exercise, knowing your own personal reasons, finding friends with whom you can exercise, finding the right time to exercise for your lifestyle (many find first thing in the morning is best), training for a community charity event, being certain to create rewards for yourself and keeping track of your progress can all be motivators.
Exercising with your spouse or partner can be especially motivating since it will lead to not only a better physique but also a better physical and emotional connection. What can be more motivating than that?
Remember that in the end, it’s how you talk with yourself, think of yourself and define yourself. “It's not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.” If you think you are not the type to exercise, unable to, don’t deserve to, you need to bring logical, more accurate and rational response counters along with your towel and water bottle with you when you hit the gym floor.
Michael Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, here he wrote his thesis on obesity. He’s served as the Chief Psychologist of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and the Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He provides breakthrough strategies to help business leaders, athletes, individuals and families create healthy, fit and happy trajectories in life. He is the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for ACE, an international behavior science fitness presenter, an Advisor to numerous companies and fitness organizations, on the Sports Medicine team of The Sporting Club of San Diego and is featured in many international media outlets. He is listed in the greatest.com 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”