You probably already know the gym industry thrives by attracting members who don’t actually use the gym.
But why does that work?
One huge reason is motivation. If you’re human, you’ve probably had an experience that goes something like this:
- You decide to finally change that thing that really bugs you about your life.
- The next day you totally change that thing.
- But a couple of days later you lose steam and the thing you changed reverts to how it’s always been.
If you’ve ever started an exercise program but didn’t follow through with it, you might be a little frustrated or discouraged.
We all have bursts of motivation where we make big plans. And eventually, they’re always followed by moments of not wanting to put any effort towards anything for any reason. It’s just part of being human.
Which is why, if you want to make long-term change it’s important to root those changes in motivations that will go the distance.
In this article, I’ll share a blueprint for building the sort of motivation that will keep you on track, including our three best strategies for building lasting motivation and our favorite resources for figuring out what matters to you most.
First, Know Why You’re Doing It
You’d be surprised how many people start training programs just because they think exercise is “good” or that they’re supposed to. It won’t come as a shock to you that those people don’t often stick with it.
Building a consistent exercise habit starts with knowing why you want one in the first place. It’s helpful here to divide motivations into external and internal.
If You Want to Go the Distance, Start.
Imagine you have a high school reunion coming up and you want to lose 15 pounds so the people who used to make fun of you will have to say, “You look great!” and begrudgingly mean it. Or that you have a doctor’s appointment coming up and need to get your cholesterol down to qualify for cheaper life insurance.
These are external motivators. They’re based on what someone else wants. And while they’re pretty good at getting you up and moving, they usually fade fast and leave you right back where you started.
Internal motivators, on the other hand, are about what’s important to you. And the deeper an internal motivation connects to the things really care about, the more likely you are to keep at it—even when it’s early and you’re bleary-eyed and the snooze button is whispering sweet nothings in your ear.
But it’s hard to see our deeper motivations in the midst of day-to-day schedules and routines. So here are two questions to help you see how your training connects with the things you really care about.
- What do you most love, value, or enjoy in the world? Time to get honest. Write down the few things that are most important. The more specific, the better.
- How will your training benefit these things, or protect them from harm? If you love your labradoodle more than anything, and you know that being in better shape would let you keep her healthier for the long run and have more fun with her, too, that’s a pretty powerful motivation.
Lifelong trainees have clear answers to these questions, and that’s what keeps them motivated to keep showing up, even when the going gets tough.
If you don’t see where training connects to anything you really care about, maybe it shouldn’t be a priority right now. But if you do find some strong connections, that’s the sort of deep internal motivation that can power you through all the bumps and dips along the way.
You might even want to memorize or write down your deepest motivations. Because there will be days when you don’t feel them, and a reminding yourself why you’re really doing it can help you push through.
3 Strategies for Keeping Your Motivation Alive
Even with clear, deep motivations, sticking to your training goals over the long-term is hard.
If I’m having a really bad day or week, just thinking about my kids – my #1 motivation – isn’t going to be enough to get me into the gym. Especially if my son’s been having a tantrum all morning and all I want is a break.
And what about when you’ve had a bad month or even year? You need some real strategies to get back on the horse.
So let’s talk strategies.
1. Get Over the Dreaded Hump
Having an internal motivation that’s really important to you is a great way to get yourself going on building a new habit or starting a new training program.
But, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, there comes a point a couple weeks or a month into your new routine that you just aren’t feeling it as much as you did in the beginning. It’s inevitable. The initial passion you felt has fizzled.
We talked in another article about getting past that hump by breaking your commitment down into smaller chunks so you can string them together into a sustained effort.
And that’s a great strategy, and one you should definitely use.
I’m going to take that a step further, though, and tie it back to that internal motivation so you can get the most out of this strategy.
- When you start to feel that inevitable “blah” feeling, that lack of motivation, remind yourself to take things day by day. Don’t think about the full length of the program you’ve committed to – that feels too big. Just focus on what you have to do today. And then tomorrow. And then the next day.
- At the beginning of each day or each training session, think back on your “why.” Think about how your training will impact that bigger why, and remember that all you have to do today is today’s session.
That simple reminder is usually enough to get you over that initial dip in motivation, and taking things day by day means you can look back a week or two or six from now and realize how much you’ve accomplished. That accomplishment will keep you motivated.
2. Come Back Strong After Setbacks
If you can get past that initial slump, you’re in better shape than most.
But, sooner or later, you’re going to hit some setbacks.
Whether you catch a nasty flu that keeps you from training for two weeks, or you’re on a deadline for work that takes up all of your spare time for a while, something is going to come up. All the planning in the world can’t prevent the inevitable: shit happens.
Your internal motivation is the key to getting back on the horse when life gets in the way, and the following can help reignite that motivation:
- Seek out role models who not only practice the things you want to practice but also have similar values to your own. One of my role models I always come back to is my dad. One of my fondest memories is climbing Mt. Baldy with my dad as a teenager, and that’s been a huge motivation to me, since I want to do that kind of stuff with my kids for as long as possible. Just like my dad, I want to be able to share what I love with my kids, and be able to keep up with them as they get to love these things too!
- Build rewards into your life that link back to that motivation. I started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu last year, and I love it. I wanted to share that with my kids because I thought it would be a really fun thing for us to experience together. And then I broke my ankle and had to take time off of training. Part of the “reward” I made for myself that kept me motivated to go through my rehab and get back to my training was that I’d be able to introduce my kids to BJJ.
Life is going to get in your way. Having role models who remind you of your internal motivation and rewarding yourself with what really matters to you can help reignite that internal motivation when it starts to dwindle.
3. Keep Things Fresh for the Long-Term
So, we’ve covered short-term motivation and medium-term motivation, but what about long-term motivation? What is it that separates consistent, lifelong exercisers from those who flit in and out of a training regimen? How can you stay motivated for 1, 5, 20 years?
It’s obvious that your approach to training is not going to stay the same forever, so I’m not talking about sticking with a particular routine for a long time. What I’m talking about is that internal motivation that keeps you coming back to training over many years, even when you hit setbacks or your goals change. There are a couple of strategies that will help you with this:
- Revise your expectations based on your prior experiences. Take all the training you’ve done and think about where your expectations didn’t match reality, and revise your expectations moving forward based on that. In the past, I may have had certain expectations about how my training would go, but now, I look back at a lifetime of training and the setbacks I’ve had, and nothing surprises me anymore. Therefore, when I broke my ankle, it was a minor setback and it didn’t have to completely throw me off course.
- Re-evaluate what’s meaningful to you over time. The internal motivation that keeps you going now isn’t always going to have the same impact. As we grow and change, our priorities do as well. When you feel your motivation dwindling, take stock of what’s most meaningful to you. Your “why” will change over time, and you have to revise your strategies accordingly.
The key is being flexible in how you approach your training (and the rest of your life, too!). Motivations aren’t stagnant, so revisit them and allow them to change over time. That will keep you going for a lifetime.
Our Favorite Tools for Finding Your “Why”
You may not have an immediate internal motivation that comes to mind, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean it’s not there. Everyone has things that are important to them, but it may take some introspection to figure out what they are and what to do about them.
Since training for a bigger purpose is something that’s important to all of us at GMB (it’s why we do what we do), I turned to our team and asked which resources they’ve all found most helpful for going through this process of introspection. Here’s what they came up with:
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
- As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
- On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, and this accompanying essay
These are just some suggestions to get the ball rolling, but the important thing is that you know why you’re doing this. Knowing what’s important to you and why you train can become an extremely powerful force in your life – but it takes a bit of introspection to figure it out. I highly recommend sitting down and spending the time to find out.
Remember, start with what you love, and then find the honest connections.
The First Step to Long-Term Success is to Start
The one great thing about external motivations is that they’re usually urgent. They get you off the couch, at least for a little while.
When you’re working from internal motivations, getting started is often a little trickier. For instance, you might know that when your son grows up and buys his first house, you want to still be strong enough to climb up and help him put on a new roof.
But what do you actually do today?
Knowing your long-term motivations doesn’t always clarify your goals for right now. And that can be paralyzing. Often the best thing to do in this situation is to just get started. It’s like taking a trip somewhere you’ve never been before. You can research and plan to your heart’s content. But when your feet actually hit the ground in a brand new place, that’s when you really start learning.
That’s why we created our Bodyweight Circuit. It includes movements from our Elements program so you can get stronger and move better with less pain. It’ll make your body work better and feel better for virtually any activity.
And we give it away for free so people can get a little taste of the kind of training we offer. So there’s no reason to get stuck “figuring it all out.” Start moving in the direction of the things you really care about. You’ll figure out much more along the way.
Get Stronger and Move Better
Build strength and agility for virtually any activity with our free Bodyweight Circuit.
Here’s a quick summary of what we covered in this article:
|How to Stay Motivated to Work Out|
|1. Figure out your "why" for training--what's really driving you?|
|2. Get over the first slump by taking things day by day, and reminding yourself of your "why".|
|3. Find role models who share your values, and build rewards for yourself that tie back to your bigger "why".|
|4. Revise your expectations and re-evaluate your "why" periodically to keep yourself motivated.|