Even the most committed and dedicated athletes – professionals and amateurs alike – often struggle to find the motivation to train.
The problem with motivation is that it is dynamic and influenced by many factors, from our moods and emotional state to the weather and the type of day we’re having.
And much like any muscle, if you don’t work to strengthen your motivation often enough, it weakens.
That’s right. Motivation can be strengthened and developed but you need a plan to get that initial impetus for action when you’re willpower lets you down.
Here are 8 tips to boost your motivation levels to ensure you get out on the road, to the track, or to the gym to flex that motivation muscle every day:
#1. Find your exercise fit
Hitting the gym or training five to six times a week is a common approach serious athletes or committed individuals follow to achieve their sporting or body transformation goals.
However, hitting every session is difficult, if not impossible, for someone who doesn’t enjoy the environment or the activity itself.
Take someone trying to lose weight as an example. While there are many benefits to training with weights for weight loss, it becomes really challenging to hit the gym daily if you don’t enjoy that form of exercise, or the gym itself.
As such, choosing a form of exercise you enjoy makes heading out the door for a run or ride, or a group class with friends at a set time each day a much easier proposition.
In these instances, the intrinsic enjoyment of the act itself is enough to get you out the door to a training session, even when your motivation levels are low.
#2. Create systems
Another major issue is that the motivation to complete specific goals is dose-dependent – motivation levels hinge a great deal on the magnitude and relative importance of a goal. Motivation levels also ebb and intensify based on various factors.
And when your motivation falters, what do you have as a backup? The solution is a system.
The concept was popularised by Scott Adams, the world-renowned cartoonist and creator of Dilbert, and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.
In his book, Adams talks about using systems instead of goals to achieve success. For example, losing 10 kilos is a goal-oriented approach that requires a great of willpower to stick to the plan.
That’s one of the reasons offered as to why few people can sustain weight-loss efforts over extended periods. In contrast, learning about what constitutes a healthful and appropriate diet and how to prepare food in the correct manner is a system that substitutes knowledge for willpower.
Ultimately, your system becomes what you do each day to progress towards your ultimate goal. The key here is to determine whether if you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get the results?
When this happens, you make your goals attainable through a change in lifestyle, rather than short-lived quick fixes. This enables you to focus on your efforts and the process, rather than a blinkered focus on the outcome.
#3. Change it up
A new challenge is a great way to revive waning motivation levels to keep your training interesting. Sign up for a group class if you really feel like you’re going to skip your workout, or switch up your training with a few fun outdoor activities on days when you don’t feel like going to the gym.
Entering a race also introduces new excitement and anticipation into an established training system. The excitement and anticipation for the event serves as a powerful source of renewed motivation and acts as a short-term goal or objective within your broader approach.
#4. Change your mindset
The source of our motivation and actions are, first and foremost, our thoughts. So, when we change our thoughts by making the conscious decision to clean up our mind and our thought processes, we will transform our actions.
Studies in psychology have found a direct link between a person’s emotions and their levels of motivation. People who try to accomplish tasks with a negative mindset are far more likely to quit before accomplishing their goal than those who started out with positive thoughts.
For this reason, it is best to think about the positive aspects of your impending workout rather than any negatives.
For example, if you’re heading out for a long run or ride, consider how good it will feel to get outdoors, with the wind and the warmth of the sun on your face, rather than how difficult it will be.
#5. Inspire action
Visualisation is another powerful tool that can help get you into the right frame of mind and align your thoughts.
A mood board, for example, will help you visualise what you’ll look and feel like once you have reached your goal, which will motivate you to get to work. A motivational mood board can include images of athletes or models who inspire you to reach your goals. Watching motivational or inspirational videos online can also help to get you going when motivation levels are low.
Just keep in mind that while some people are more receptive to visual cues, others may respond better to auditory, kinaesthetic or sensory stimuli. If you’re an auditory person, then listen to music or podcasts that inspire you when the going gets tough. If you’re a kinaesthetic person, select exercises that you enjoy simply for the sake of the movement you experience. If you’re a sensory person, then go for a massage when you’re not feeling 100%.
#6. Remember your ‘why’
Finding your ‘why’ – your intrinsic motivator – will carry you through difficult days or through those times when your motivation levels are at their lowest.
When determining your ‘why’, ask yourself, “what drives me? What is my greatest desire?”
Purpose gives us energy, focus and perseverance during our most trying times. Remind yourself why you started your journey because this will motivate you to get to your goal.
#7. Track your progress
Start tracking your workouts. Not only does this practice hold you accountable, but monitoring your fitness, strength and performance improvements delivers hard facts about the effectiveness of your training and, importantly, your progress.
By tracking how quickly and by how much you’re improving, you’ll realise that the effort you put in is rewarded with results. This will inspire you to keep working towards your goals, no matter the external factors.
#8. Just do something
And if all else fails, just do something. When we give in to the impulse to skip a workout, most of us will notch this up to a lack of motivation, which results in inaction.
However, most people mistakenly believe that motivation must precede action – that before you do something you must first feel motivated to do it.
The fact of the matter is that, in most cases, action precedes motivation. This happens because taking action, be it putting on your running shoes or getting in the car to drive to the gym, initiates motivation.
This initial action generates momentum, which makes it easier to continue what you’ve started.
Best-selling self-help author and blogger Mark Manson advocates an approach to overcoming procrastination he calls the ‘Do Something’ principle. In a blog post on his site markmanson.net he explains that “the “Do Something” principle takes advantage of the fact that action is both the cause of motivation as well as the effect. And once you take one small, simple action, there’s a momentum that builds inside you, making the rest easier.” His advice is “if you want to do something — anything — then you just start with the simplest component of that task.”