Do you find yourself struggling to stay committed to your exercise plan? Millions of people do. In fact, cultivating a consistent workout schedule is one of the hardest things to do, but it ultimately, and ironically, will build your motivation.
Not having motivation is not about being lazy, but rather about struggling with many unseen internal and external challenges. These challenges are diverse, and sometimes these factors can pile up and sap your enthusiasm and energy for physical activity.
The truth is, maintaining motivation for exercise is more complex than it seems, and it's directly intertwined with our brains, our lifestyle habits, and the way we approach fitness as a whole. This post aims to shed light on the causes of low motivation that impair our desire to exercise, the neuroscience behind it, and will seek to provide practical, sustainable strategies to help you reignite your motivation and commitment to a healthier, more active life.
The Causes of Low Motivation
Motivation is the drive that fuels you to take action. It's what gets you up in the morning to jog, convinces you to lift weights, or inspires you to practice yoga.
It's an interplay of biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that compel you to move. However, it can often seem like an elusive energy, especially when it comes to regular exercise. So, what causes this lack of motivation?
Lack of Time
One of the most common reasons you might struggle with maintaining an exercise routine is the feeling that you don't have enough time. Whether it's due to work, family responsibilities, or other commitments, the idea of squeezing in a workout can feel overwhelming.
The perception of insufficient time can quickly derail your motivation, causing you to put off your workout plans indefinitely.
Lack of Interest
If you don't enjoy your workouts, you are less likely to stay motivated over time. You might feel bored by repetitive exercises, disinterested in conventional workout routines, or simply find it hard to see the fun in physical exertion. This lack of interest can often lead to low motivation, reducing the likelihood of maintaining regular physical activity.
Exercising, especially when starting, can often cause physical discomfort and intense discomfort. You might be dealing with sore muscles, fatigue, or breathlessness during a workout. If you're not used to these sensations or don't know how to manage them, they can deter you from continuing with your exercise regimen.
Negative Body Image
If you're not happy with how you look, it can sometimes be discouraging to start exercising, especially in public places like a gym or a park. You might feel self-conscious about your body, thinking that everyone is judging you, which can lead to feelings of discomfort and a drop in motivation.
Past Unsuccessful Attempts
If you've tried to establish an exercise routine in the past and didn't succeed, it might be affecting your current motivation levels. The memory of perceived "failure" can lead to thoughts like, "I couldn't do it then, so why would now be any different?" Such negative thoughts can greatly impact your motivation and desire to try again.
Certain health issues can directly affect your ability to exercise or may cause concerns about the potential impact of exercise on your condition. From chronic pain to heart diseases, these medical conditions can understandably decrease your willingness to engage in physical activity, even though overall risk might be low.
Lack of Knowledge and Know-How
Finally, not knowing how to exercise correctly can be a significant demotivating factor. If you're unsure about what exercises to do, how to perform them, or how to use gym equipment, you might feel intimidated or fearful of injury. The uncertainty can cause you to feel demotivated and give up before even starting.
The Neuroscience Behind Motivation
If you've ever felt the so-called "runner's high" or experienced a mood boost after a good workout, then you've felt the powerful influence of neurotransmitters in your brain. These biochemical messengers play a pivotal role in motivation, including the motivation to exercise.
The Neurotransmitters and Their Role in Motivation
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in our brains that transmit signals from one neuron to another, essentially enabling different parts of the brain to communicate with each other. These little chemical messengers regulate a multitude of functions in our bodies, including heart rate, sleep, appetite, mood, and, crucially, motivation.
Different neurotransmitters have different effects on our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Some can increase our energy and improve our mood, while others can decrease stress and promote relaxation.
They provide the biological underpinnings for our motivations, pushing us towards behaviors that make us feel good and away from those that make us feel bad.
Dopamine: The Role in Pleasure, Reward, and Motivation
Dopamine is often labeled the "feel-good" neurotransmitter because of its vital role in pleasure and reward. When you achieve a goal, dopamine is released, resulting in feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and reward. This dopamine reward motivates us to repeat the behaviors that led to pleasure, creating a positive feedback loop.
In terms of exercise, when you complete a challenging workout or hit a new personal best, your brain releases dopamine, giving you that satisfying sense of achievement. This rewarding feeling can serve as a powerful motivator to continue exercising regularly.
Serotonin: The Impact on Mood, Happiness, and Anxiety
Serotonin is another crucial neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, happiness, and anxiety. It helps regulate your mood naturally and can contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness. When serotonin levels are healthy, you tend to feel happier, calmer, more focused, less anxious, and more emotionally stable.
Low levels of serotonin are linked to mood disorders like depression and anxiety, which can both dampen motivation to exercise. On the other hand, activities such as exercise can boost serotonin production in the brain, potentially improving mood and providing an incentive to engage in regular physical activity.
Endorphins: Natural Painkillers and Mood Elevators
Endorphins are often released in response to stress or discomfort, acting as natural painkillers. They can also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For instance, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as "euphoric," a phenomenon often referred to as a "runner's high," which can be attributed to the release of endorphins.
The release of endorphins can help to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety, boost your mood, and enhance your overall sense of well-being. This release can serve as a motivational tool, encouraging regular exercise due to the positive feelings associated with it.
The Impact of Exercise on These Neurotransmitters
Regular physical activity stimulates the release of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, promoting feelings of well-being, satisfaction, and pleasure. As such, exercise can play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy balance of these neurotransmitters.
To put it simply, exercise can create a positive feedback loop in your brain. As you exercise, your brain recognizes this activity as a moment of stress. As your heart pressure increases, your brain thinks you are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it.
To protect yourself and your brain from stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) which acts as a reset switch, and endorphins, to minimize the discomfort of exercise and block the feeling of pain. This reaction to exercise is why we often feel so at ease and things are clear after exercising and eventually happy.
Understanding these neurotransmitters and their relationship with exercise can provide a powerful motivation to get moving and doing it all again.
Recognizing that every workout you do not only benefits your physical health but also contributes to your mental well-being can give you that extra push you need to stay consistent with your exercise routine.
Overcoming Low Motivation
Set SMART Goals
Motivation to exercise begins with goal-setting. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals provide a clear, focused path to follow. For instance, instead of a broad goal like "I want to get fit", you might opt for a specific one such as "I want to run 5km in 30 minutes within the next two months".
The beauty of SMART goals is that they offer a tangible measure of success. They allow you to track your progress accurately, offering the satisfaction of seeing improvement over time. According to a comprehensive review of the scientific literature by Locke and Latham, the most effective performance happens when goals are specific and challenging.
To help you set SMART goals for your fitness journey, here are some tips:
- Be Specific: Be clear about what you want to achieve. Do you want to run faster? Lift heavier weights? Be able to perform a particular yoga pose? The more specific you can be, the easier it will be to create a plan of action.
- Measurable: Once you've identified what you want to achieve, determine how you will measure your progress. If your goal is to run faster, you might measure your speed over a set distance. If you want to lift heavier, you might track the amount of weight you can lift for a certain number of repetitions.
- Achievable: While it's good to challenge yourself, it's also important that your goal is achievable given your current fitness level, lifestyle, and other constraints. Setting a goal that's too challenging may lead to frustration and decreased motivation. On the other hand, a goal that's easily achievable may not provide enough challenge to keep you engaged.
- Relevant: Your goal should align with your larger life goals. If your overall aim is to live a healthier lifestyle, your fitness goal might be to engage in a certain amount of physical activity each week. If you're training for a specific event, your goal might be more performance-focused.
- Time-bound: Setting a timeframe for your goal creates a sense of urgency and can increase your motivation to work towards it. The timeframe should be long enough to allow for significant progress, but not so long that it feels distant and unattainable.
Find a Workout Buddy
Group exercise or partnering with a workout buddy can be a significant motivation booster. Social interaction during exercise can transform your perspective from seeing it as a chore to an enjoyable activity. People who exercise with friends are more likely to enjoy their workout, feel more competent, and intend to continue exercising.
To create and foster a social exercise environment, you might consider:
- Group fitness classes: Group fitness classes provide an opportunity to meet people with similar fitness goals, providing mutual motivation and support. The classes also come with a set schedule, creating a sense of accountability to show up.
- Local sports teams: Joining a local sports team offers regular exercise, a chance to develop new skills, and a fun, social environment. It also offers an element of competition, which can be a powerful motivator for some people.
- Walking or running groups: These groups can be less formal and intense than sports teams or fitness classes but still provide social interaction and motivation. Plus, they're usually free to join.
- Workout buddy: Even if group settings aren't your thing, a workout buddy can still offer the benefits of accountability and social interaction. Choose someone with similar fitness goals and schedule regular workout sessions together.
Adding a social element to your exercise routine can help you look forward to workouts, enhancing your motivation to stay consistent. Remember, the aim is to make exercise fun and enjoyable, so choose the social setting that works best for you.
Integrate Exercise into Daily Life
A common barrier to regular exercise is the perception of not having enough time. However, by integrating exercise and making it part of your daily routine, you can overcome this obstacle and cultivate a more active lifestyle.
Start by identifying opportunities for physical activity within your day. This could be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car further away from the office or store entrance to walk more. Another strategy is to turn your commute into a workout by biking or walking part or all of the way, if possible.
If you spend a lot of time sitting for work or study, consider using a standing desk or taking short, active breaks throughout the day. The American Council on Exercise suggests that even brief bouts of exercise can accumulate to provide health benefits.
The key is to start small and gradually increase the amount of physical activity in your day. Remember that every bit of movement counts, and small changes can add up over time.
Choose a Type of Exercise You Enjoy
Exercise doesn't have to feel like a chore. In fact, one of the best ways to maintain motivation for regular physical activity is to choose a type of exercise you genuinely enjoy.
Start by exploring different types of exercises, classes, or sports. You might discover a passion for dance, find calm and strength in yoga, or feel invigorated by a brisk morning run. You may enjoy the camaraderie of team sports or the solitude of a long bike ride.
Enjoyment of the discipline is a key predictor of physical activity adherence. If you enjoy the activity, you're more likely to stick with it over time.
Don't be afraid to try new things and be patient with yourself as you learn. It may take time to find what you love, but once you do, exercise can become a rewarding part of your life rather than just another meaningless task on your to-do list.
Improve Sleep Habits
Sleep and exercise share a reciprocal relationship. Regular physical activity can improve sleep quality, while good sleep hygiene can boost your energy levels and motivation to exercise.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. This amount has been found to provide optimal health and well-being.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on the weekends, to regulate your body's internal clock and promote better sleep.
Create a relaxing pre-sleep routine to signal your body that it's time to wind down. This might include reading, taking a warm bath, meditating, or doing gentle stretches. Avoid screens in the hour before bed, as the blue light emitted by phones, tablets, computers, and TVs can interfere with your body's production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
Remember, sleep is a critical component of recovery from exercise. Insufficient sleep can impair performance, mood, and recovery. Prioritizing good sleep hygiene can boost your energy, mood, and motivation to maintain a regular exercise routine.
If you are finding it difficult to get enough sleep, a non habit forming sleep aid such as Dreamzzz can help fix circadian disorders and allow you to get much needed shut-eye.
Maintain a Diet High in Protein
Proper nutrition forms a critical foundation for any fitness routine. A balanced diet provides the energy needed to perform and recover from workouts. It also helps maintain overall health, allowing your body to function optimally.
A focus on protein is particularly important. Protein fuels your muscles and promotes recovery. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are vital for muscle protein synthesis, the process through which the body rebuilds and strengthens muscles after exercise.
In particular, amino acids are necessary for the synthesis of neurotransmitters responsible for mood and motivation regulation. Deficiency can lead to several issues with mental health.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming a protein-rich snack or meal within two hours after a workout to maximize recovery.
Examples could be Greek yogurt with nuts, a chicken and vegetable stir-fry, or a smoothie made with protein powder and fruit.
However, it's important to maintain a balanced diet rather than focusing solely on protein. Carbohydrates provide energy for workouts, while fats support hormone regulation, including those involved in muscle growth and recovery. Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can ensure you're meeting all of your nutrient needs.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian and finding it challenging to meet your protein requirements, our Essential Amino Acid powder helps you get there to support optimal health.
Using rewards to reinforce behavior is a powerful motivational tool. When you reach a fitness goal, reward yourself with something enjoyable. This not only offers immediate gratification but also reinforces the behavior, making you more likely to repeat it in the future.
Rewards can be as simple or elaborate as you like. After reaching a significant milestone, you might treat yourself to a new piece of exercise equipment or clothing. For smaller accomplishments, you could reward yourself with a favorite healthy treat, an episode of a beloved TV show, or a relaxing bath.
The key is to choose rewards that are meaningful and enjoyable to you. This will make them more effective as motivational tools. Furthermore, make sure your rewards support your fitness goals rather than undermine them. For example, rewarding a week of workouts with a junk food binge is counterproductive.
Cold showers, an experience many might instinctively shy away from, have been touted for numerous benefits, ranging from improved skin health to enhanced mood. But, can taking a cold shower before your workout boost your motivation to exercise? The answer lies in the physiological responses elicited by cold exposure- and that answer is yes.
When you step into a cold shower, your body undergoes a type of stress called acute cold stress. This immediate drop in skin temperature prompts various physiological adaptations designed to maintain the body's core temperature.
The most immediate response is a gasp reflex followed by hyperventilation. This rapid intake and release of breath can increase alertness and wakefulness, giving you a quick energy boost, which can be especially useful if you're trying to motivate yourself for a morning workout.
Furthermore, cold showers can stimulate the production of endorphins in your brain, helping to blunt pain sensation and elevate mood. The rush of endorphins in response to the cold can result in feelings of euphoria and invigoration, known as a "cold high." This mood upliftment can potentially boost motivation to exercise.
Cold showers also induce an increase in circulation as the body works to warm itself, promoting better oxygen supply throughout the body. This enhanced circulation and oxygenation can help shake off any lethargy, preparing your body and mind for the physical task ahead.
Cold showers have also been linked to increased levels of brown fat, a type of fat that generates heat and burns calories in the process. Higher brown fat levels can enhance your metabolic function, potentially increasing energy levels and providing another motivational boost.
It's worth noting, though, that the response to cold showers can vary significantly among individuals. Some may find the experience invigorating and motivating, while others may find it unpleasant or even highly stressful.
If you're new to cold showers, it's recommended to start gradually, initially introducing cooler temperatures at the end of a warm shower, and then progressively spending more time under cold water as your tolerance increases.
It's also essential to listen to your body and not to force the experience if it feels too uncomfortable or overwhelming.
As with any new health or fitness routine, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider before starting, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions that might be affected by cold exposure.
While a cold shower might not directly make you eager to lift weights or run a marathon, it can create a physiological and psychological environment that may enhance your readiness to exercise. By stimulating alertness, enhancing mood, and improving circulation, this invigorating ritual could be a valuable tool in your motivation-boosting arsenal.
A common complaint associated with regular exercise, especially for activities perceived as monotonous like cardio, is boredom. But imagine if your workout could become a time you look forward to, a time to catch up on your favorite TV show, immerse yourself in a gripping podcast, or lose yourself in energetic music? Harnessing the power of entertainment can turn an ordinary workout into an engaging experience and a significant motivation booster. Here’s how:
The link between music and exercise is well-established. Research has shown that music can make exercise feel easier, improve mood, and increase stamina. Music can even help distract the mind from feelings of fatigue when performing low to moderate intensity exercise.
But not just any music will do. It's important to select music that matches the rhythm of your workout and songs that you enjoy. Upbeat, fast-paced songs can be great for high-intensity workouts, while slower tunes might suit stretching or yoga sessions. By creating different playlists for various types of workouts, you can set the right mood and pace for each session.
Podcasts and Audiobooks
Podcasts and audiobooks offer a form of intellectual entertainment that can make your workouts fly by. These can be particularly effective during longer, steady-state cardio sessions like running, biking, or walking.
Whether you're learning a new language, deep-diving into true crime stories, exploring self-improvement concepts, or laughing along with a comedy, podcasts, and audiobooks provide a distraction from the physical exertion, making the workout seem less strenuous.
They also provide an added incentive to exercise—you get to find out what happens next in your story or continue your learning only when you exercise.
Watching TV or streaming shows and movies during a workout can provide a great distraction and make the time pass quickly. This can be an effective strategy if you're working out on a stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical trainer, or even doing a home workout.
The key is to choose engaging content that you truly enjoy. That way, you'll start associating workouts with the pleasure of watching your favorite shows. It’s also possible to find workout routines built around TV show marathons or movie themes, adding an element of fun and challenge to the exercise.
Seeking Professional Help
Even with the best intentions and strategies, it can sometimes be challenging to maintain the motivation for exercise. This is where professional help can be invaluable. Personal trainers, health coaches, or physical therapists can provide guidance, accountability, and structure to your workout regimen.
These professionals can offer personalized advice tailored to your fitness level, goals, preferences, and medical history. They can provide instruction on proper exercise techniques to prevent injury and improve effectiveness. They can also help you navigate obstacles that may arise, providing solutions and alternatives to keep you on track.
A study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that individuals who worked with a personal trainer showed greater improvements in body composition, strength, and physical performance than those who worked out independently. Furthermore, those who worked with trainers reported higher levels of self-efficacy and satisfaction.
Seeking professional help can be particularly beneficial if you're new to exercise, have a specific fitness goal, or have a medical condition that needs special consideration. Consider it an investment in your health and well-being.
Waiting on motivation to just happen is a surefire recipe for always avoiding exercise. The truth is that motivation is fleeting, so it makes sense that associating it with something else is a potent solution.
Stick to the habit for a few weeks, doing it even when you don't feel like it, and eventually, it will stick and become almost second nature. Your health and body deserve the investment.