We’ve all had those mornings when the sky is gray, there’s a cold rain, and the bed is so warm and comfortable and finding motivation to work out gets thrown in the mud. Why do you have to go to the gym, anyway? There’s a pillow calling your name… It’s hard to find motivation sometimes, even for the most devoted fitness fanatic.
Economists and psychologists have spent years looking into the science of motivation, and how we’re able to make ourselves do things that we really don’t want to do. Based on their studies, the following four hints are things that have been found to actually motivate the uninspired.
1. Give Yourself a Tangible Reward
We’re supposed to be able to motivate ourselves by imagining all of the wonderful things that will happen if we haul ourselves out of bed and go running. Sometimes, though, those visualizations just fall flat.
The trick, scientists propose, is to offer oneself a tangible reward in addition to the intangible ones. Yes, still envision how awesome you’ll look at your cousin’s wedding when you’ve dropped those last ten pounds. While that’s this summer – what about now? When you actually go through with it and go to the gym on a day when you don’t want to get out of bed. Give yourself a real-world reward if you reach your long terms goals with a new sports watch. Or maybe a short term goal can be to treat yourself to some frozen yogurt, or an afternoon of Netflix binge-watching. Doing something that will give a little nudge to the pleasure center of your brain and the endorphins is can release.
Retrain or Even Trick Your Brain
Your brain will start to associate the task (going to the gym) with the reward (a smoothie). When this association is made, the brain starts to believe in this new behavior. In essence you’re trying to train your brain that it is actually worth all the bother. Before you know it finding the motivation to work out becomes slightly easy.
This is called the neurological habit loop. There’s the cue to trigger the behavior (waking up and realizing that it’s time to hit the gym). Then there is the actual behavior (going to the gym and working out). Then last the reward. All three steps have to be included for this loop to be complete.
At the beginning, the reward for working out is purely extrinsic, but over time, it becomes internalized. The brain begins to associate the pain and sweat of a workout with the rush of endorphins. Eventually the workout itself is all the reward you need.
2. Sign a Contract
People are more likely follow through with promises if they’re made where other people can hear them. This is especially true if the witnesses to these promises are friends. There’s a very strong social drive to not disappoint your “tribe,”. If you fail to keep your promise, you’ll likely feel ashamed or embarrassed. Thus finding motivation to work out becomes the primary objective.
If the contract that you sign imposes a penalty, like a clause that forces you to give $20 to a friend every time you skip the gym that will sting. More importantly the embarrassment at being proven to be a liar is joined by the loss of money.
People who sign long-term commitment contracts like these are more likely to exercise and keep their promises than people in short-term contracts. However long these contracts are, the point is that the brain needs to find a way to focus. This 'pain' will get you past the initial displeasure at being revealed as a someone who does not honor their commitments.
On the other side of the embarrassment is the long-term benefit. After a while, the work out is more than just a way to stop being seen as a cheat and you get to keep your $20. That alone becomes a positive reinforcement in and of itself.
3. Rethink Affirmations and Visualizations
Affirmation visualizations only really work if they’re paired with more realistic methods of problem solving. It’s not enough to identify what you want and to envision yourself achieving it – you must also determine what’s stopping you from achieving it in the first place.
This process is called “mental contrasting”. It works in three steps: (1) identify the wish; (2) visualize the outcome; and (3) identify what’s holding you back and how you can get around it.
Once you realize that you always skip your after-work run if you stop at home after leaving the office, then you know what you need to do. Go straight to the work out. Home will still be there after you’ve done what you’re supposed to do. When there are less factors that prevents you, finding motivation to work out becomes the focus of your coming actions.
4. Find Your Team
There’s really nothing like a strong and supportive community to encourage and motivate a person. The feeling of esprit de corps cannot be underestimated. Surround yourself with people who are dedicated to the same goals as you, and who make you feel better about yourself by being around them. In time, going to the gym means that you get to spend time with people like you who are consistently finding motivation to work out and support your fitness goals. You want to go to the gym precisely because of the other people who will be there.