3 Ways to Create Motivation to Exercise

Odds are, you started the New Year promising yourself you’d workout more – then everything changed. COVID, kids, work, life…

Slowly those great plans you had have scattered and you’ve started to go back to your bad habits. Sound familiar? We all know we’re supposed to work out, but finding the motivation to exercise can be tough.

If you can relate, fear not.


Let’s start with hard facts.

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable disease (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers) worldwide – contributing to over three million preventable deaths annually. Nearly one in three (29.7%) adults are insufficiently active (less than 150 minutes of physical activity per week), while 14.8% are inactive (no exercise in the last week).

We know exercise is good for us!

So why aren’t more of us exercising?! I think it’s safe to say our motivation to exercise is a pretty universal barrier for most of us, so let’s talk about three factors that impact motivation!


The Link Between Our Goals & Motivation to Exercise

Setting appropriate goals can have a huge impact on our levels of motivation. Sometimes, our goals don’t foster a positive, successful experience that builds self-efficacy and growth.

For instance, imagine I measure my success at the gym by thinking “do I look like Jennifer Aniston yet?”. I’ll be self-critical, unmotivated and ultimately, I’ll fail. Why? Because it’s not something I have control over! We have different genetics, different body types, enjoy different types of exercise, have different time constraints (the list goes on). There’s simply no way that I’ll maintain motivation when my goal is unachievable.

But what if I change my goal to “maintaining a regular and consistent exercise routine”? Suddenly, it’s achievable. I can do this! Each week, I make progress, and progress is a HUGE motivator.

So how do you choose a suitable goal? It’s important that our goals are driven by our values. Choose something that is important and relevant to you. Learn more about goal setting here.


Motivation to Exercise and the ‘F’ Word

The fear of failing (yeah, that ‘F’ word) holds of a lot of us back. But failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Let’s think about toddlers (stick with me here). Toddlers learning to walk continually fail. They stand up, take half a step, wobble, fall over, and repeat that cycle a few thousand times before they can actually walk. Never do they think “my god, I suck at this, I don’t think walking is for me!”.

Improvement is always based on thousands of tiny failures. And the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because they have failed at it more than you have. (Or done it many more times, and therefore have refined the skill and have the capacity to do it better!)

Rather than letting a small failure set you back, use it as a motivator. Be determined to get stronger, faster, fitter – no matter how many times you fail. Ultimately, the more times you try, the less you’ll fail.

Important note: Pain is part of the process (mentally and physically). You can’t make a muscle without tearing a few fibers!


The “Just do SOMETHING” Principle

To come full circle; action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it is also the cause of it. Most of us only commit to action if we feel a certain level of motivation. And we feel motivation only when we feel enough emotional inspiration. We assume it’s a chain reaction.

The thing is, it’s not a chain, it’s an endless loop.

If we start doing something, this sparks inspiration, and then before we know it, we have motivation, so we keep doing that thing! All the while, we improve, feel more confident and eventually, we feel inspired to challenge ourselves a little further, and look at that – more motivation!

Take the novelist who wrote over seventy novels. Someone asked how he was able to write so consistently and remain inspired and motivated. He replied, “two hundred crappy words per day, that’s it.” The idea was that if he forced himself to write two hundred crappy words, more often than not, the act of writing would inspire him; and before he knew it, he’d have thousands of words down on the page.

It’s the same with exercise. You don’t have to do an incredible workout every day, but something is always better than nothing. Go for a walk, do some stretching… Just do SOMETHING.

Take home messages to improve your motivation to exercise:

  • Pick small, achievable goals or challenges
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. It’ll only make you stronger.
  • Just do SOMETHING, no matter how small. It’s always better than nothing!
  • Make use of technology, fitness trackers help keep you accountable and motivated
  • Use free apps like the free Nike Running Club, that provides you with a range of guided runs that keep you focused


Still unsure? It’s OK to ask for help. We recommend getting advice from an expert, like an Exercise Physiologist or Exercise Scientist. To find one near you, click here.

Exercise Physiologist - Jacinta Brinsley

Jacinta Brinsley is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at iNform Health and Fitness Solutions, and is currently completing a PHD on Mental Health.