Question: Do you need motivation to exercise?

By Lavanya

Jul 1, 20246 mins read

Question: Do you need motivation to exercise?

How many of us have felt this - you make plans to start a new training or healthy food regime from Monday / 1st of the month (insert auspicious day here), buy new gear, set your alarm the previous night... but come morning, you just feel totally blah. And bail. 

Why? Because, the drive, and the motivation are just not there. 

Then you read about X who managed to climb Kilimanjaro, or aunty next door's son-in-law's bestie who went on this program, lost a ton of club, and is now looking like a million dollars - and you wonder what is wrong with you, you cannot even stick to a program for once. 

You swear to yourself that this time will be different, you are going to crack it. 

​But you don't. 

Ever wondered why some among us can climb their mountains and come to the other side, seemingly easily but for us, it seems unsurmountable? How is it that some of us are motivated enough to do whatever we set out to do, while others fail to even take that first step? 

Are we not motivated enough to drive the change? What is missing? Why are we unable to stick to something in the long run?

Could it be, that we have failed to grasp this important fact?

Action ----> motivation

Whither goes motivation?

Motivation does not happen in a vacuum. You do not wake up one day and automatically become filled with motivation ions that will carry you forward. Nope. Lack of motivation is often cited as the reason why we don't do certain things: don't go to the gym after the first couple of weeks in January, keep up with your fancy diet program after the first two weeks, stop clocking in daily on Duolingo to learn how to say "I like an apple" in Italian... 

There's this particular type of listlessness that sets in after being in potato mode. Where we are just vegetating, citing various reasons for why we are not out there striking hot irons and catching early worms. 

Yes, motivation plays an important role in getting us to complete a task. But where we go wrong is when we put the onus on this germ of motivation to power the whole enterprise. 

So let's see what helps shall we? 

1. Defining what the ultimate goal is 


New Year's resolutions rarely stand the test of time. But healthy habits can last a lifetime. Pithy maxims? yes. But also, simple truth? 

I have never known my grandmother to not wake up at the crack of dawn. Till the very end, she always rose before the sun. Even when she was freezing in England, she was up with the larks. Why? Because she never lay in wait, for motivation to strike her. She just did it. And yes, good habits do last us a lifetime. 

Weight loss should never become so weighty (pardon the pun!) as the ultimate goal. Because it unfortunately may well become a moving target. "Lose 20 pounds?" "Okay done. Now let's go for 30!" Where is the finish line? And even if we reach that elusive target, then what? A completable goal that aligns with your life and your beliefs would be easier to hit, don't you think?

2. Working towards a specific challenge

Trekking to the Annapurna Base Camp or losing X pounds before getting married in 6 months - these are all time-bound fitness goals that may serve excellently as massive sources of motivation. Why? We have already bought into it. We have defined the goal and committed to it. That means the well of motivation is full.

All that's left is just get cracking. Start taking the necessary steps towards reaching the goal. This will ensure forward momentum and help keep us going. Working towards such a goal would also nix the concept of doing something for the sake of the activity and allowing boredom to set in. The coming weeks will bring you closer to the completion of your challenge, causing some major boost to your self.

3. Power of goal-setting


Not all of us possess a goal-oriented mindset. Some of us may well be in the throes of goal fatigue. So we need to start thinking along the lines of, what works for the long term? What would make us put in the hard work and keep at it?

Goal-setting is a powerful tool. Setting a goal and charting out a path to getting to it is a great idea because it gives you focus. It helps you commit to a cause and gives you a direction to pursue. Without it, you may well be shooting in the dark. The biggest advantage of setting goals is that, rather than wait for this elusive motivation to strike you, you can set goals that do motivate you! With each step you take towards the goal completion, you get more and more personal enjoyment from accomplishing it. And the best way to do this, is to ask the "Why?" question. Why are you doing this? Why is it important to you? 

This will help narrow your focus and steer clear of endless arbitrary targets.

4. Intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation 

External factors, and external rewards like social media validation light up the reward centres of our brains and make us feel so, so good. But the subsequent feelings of dissatisfaction we get when the validations dry up may well cause us to give up. 

This is where intrinsic motivation scores. When you do set a goal to achieve something for the joy it brings you, rather than the reward it brings, you stand to win more. Let's take the example of you picking up a new sport, per the suggestion of your personal trainer as a way of adding more activity to your life. Now, you hit the courts at least a couple of times a week, have a good group of pals, and are getting some genuine joy out of the whole enterprise. This would serve as plenty of motivation for you to keep this going. 

Instead, you pick up the sport but get caught in the PRs you nail and the subsequent kudos you get when you write about it on your social media pages, it may not spell good news in the long run. It may well affect your mental state. 

For the sake of our own health, both mental and physical health, extrinsic motivation may work for a little while - but in the long term, you might be better off sticking with those that fall on the intrinsic motivation side of the table. These will prove both enjoyable and satisfying in the long run.

So, the next time you are lounging about in your favorite easy chair, waiting for motivation to strike, don't. The best thing to do instead is to just go out there and go for it. What's the worst that could happen?