Finding Exercise Motivation at all levels from Exercise-phobes to Aspiring Sports Stars


Why is it that we find it so difficult to stick to our exercise goals? No matter how many experts urge us to make time for our 30 minutes a day, or even when we read some life-changing book which calls us to make a plan and set SMART goals, why is it that our great motivational buzz seems to dwindle just as we get a good routine going?

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At all levels, whether you are looking to get motivation to exercise after a long hiatus, reach a particular goal such as a body weight or even achieve some great sporting feat, external stimuli like your ‘power song’, motivational videos, seminars, or your great exercise plan can lose their ‘spark’ after a while. That is because these stimuli are merely the kindling for the fire. They are still hugely important, but like an over-played song can become tired and ineffective and will need replacing after a while.

Your ‘log of wood’ will be a set of guiding principles that are flexible to changes in your motivational/philosophical outlook. You should be allowed to experiment with different motivational stimuli. Each of these will give you a fresh change in attitude that will get you excited to achieve your goal. No matter what new exercise philosophy you take on, you should be able to remember these guiding principles and be reassured about what you’re doing.

When you start to struggle, these principles will get you back to the right frame of mind. Here is your base to start from. Put your own twist on them, make them your own or even combine them with some principles that are important to you, but make sure that they are simple and easy to remember:

5 Guiding Principles

  1. Make it fun – if you’re going to do something a lot, you’d better enjoy it
  2. Focus on your progress – measure and record. Nothing motivates you like knowing you’re progressing
  3. Make it social – invite your peers to encourage, compete with and depend on you to help you achieve your goal
  4. Create a snowball – make incremental efforts to improve, both while you’re exercising and when you’re not
  5. Have a No-Nonsense Attitude – learn to identify excuses as excuses when they pop up and make a habit of dismissing them

1)   Make it Fun

When starting out, you need to make exercise something you want to do. If running distances or lifting heavy objects isn’t for you, then why start with that? Think about what things you enjoy or might like to try that involve movement. Trying something new or that you know is in itself, fun, will get you over that first hurdle.

Alternatively you may like the idea of the more conventional forms of exercise (running, biking, going to the gym), in which case, bring something new or interesting to the table while you do them.

Here are some ideas. Start brainstorming:

  • Play – touch rugby, cricket, netball, we are lucky to have access to so many clubs and facilities – just look online for what’s near you.
  • Explore – we live in a giant playground. NZ has so many great beaches, islands, mountains, bush trails, soaking in the scenery can turn a 5k walk or run into an adventure.
  • Learn – new skills, interesting concepts and facts about your chosen game, sport or discipline make it more than just a physical process and enrich the whole experience.

Be careful not to confuse “fun” with “easy”. If your exercise plan is going to be sustainable, you need challenge. Fun is what will make you like exercise, challenge and progress are what will make you love it.

2)   Focus on Your Progress

“The best form of motivation is progress” – Mike Spracklen, 4-time Olympic Gold Medal-winning coach in rowing.

In my years of coaching, I have never found a more effective phrase than “look, you’re doing it”. Adrenaline, dopamine, endorphins, no single biological buzz word can describe the way an athlete lights up when they realise what they are doing is progressing them right at the most difficult part of their workout.

The key is to always make this progress apparent, which means measure, track and record your progress wherever possible. Think beyond bodyweight, size, or even distance run or weight lifted. Progress can be time taken to mow the lawn, how you felt when you worked out, or improvement in your lifting technique. Improvements are everywhere and have the power to keep you excited about your exercise.

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3)   Make it Social

Your friends, coaches, personal trainers, team mates, family or colleagues can

  • Encourage you
  • Compete with you
  • Work with you towards a common goal
  • Depend on you

All of these are things which will drive you towards honouring your original goal and getting out there to get the job done. It is getting easier and easier to connect with these people via sports clubs, gyms, social media, performance tracking apps, etc. Include the people around you so that they have some investment in your exercise as well.


4)   Create a Snowball

When you make a sacrifice for your exercise plan, be it deciding to eat a healthy meal, getting an early night before a workout or missing some screen time, you engrain a habit of putting your goals first and become more invested in them. A snowball gets larger and larger as it rolls down a hill, gaining momentum. The more sacrifices you make for your goal, the easier it is to make the next one.

This can be looked at from a different angle. Brad Thorn’s mantra ‘Champions Do Extra’ is cited in “The All Blacks guide to being successful (off the field)”, as “finding incremental ways to do more”. Think about what lifestyle choices you can make to help you progress outside your workout time. Dedicate a few moments every now and then to reading articles or blogs, watching videos and listening to songs which will help you stay motivated. Add discipline to your eating and sleeping habits which will strongly reinforce your investment in your goal.


5)   Have a No-Nonsense Attitude

On the path towards any goal, excuses will pop up in front of you left, right and centre, as well as opportunities to be negative about what you’re doing. lists some of the most common excuses to stop us from exercising:

“I’m too busy”

“I’m too tired”

“I’m not athletic”

See more…

Going beyond the feel-good, making progress and being good at your exercise stage isn’t just about having a really good power song or finding the right quote to inspire you. It’s about identifying excuses or negativity when they pop up, and making a habit out of pushing past them.


Extra Tips

All of the above principles will help you to motivate yourself to achieve your exercise goals. It is important to note however, that some steps in isolation can be destructive to your exercise plans. For example, coming down hard on yourself for making excuses can be damaging if there is not a foundation of focus on progress and enjoyment. Similarly, one can focus on their diet, sleep patterns and motivation, but go nowhere without thinking inside the box first and focusing on their workouts.

In order to get into a consistent, enjoyable workout routine, you should start with a base of fun activities which progress you and then look to use the people around you, your habits outside of exercise and a disciplined attitude to progress towards more lofty goals.


How To Get Motivated To Exercise, 5.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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  1. Curtis W says:

    I always struggle to get motivated to exercise – great tips.

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    Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)