Motivation is something that people find to be mysterious and out of reach. That's especially true when it comes to exercising consistently — instead of in the start-and-stop fashion that many people find so frustrating and defeating.
Yet, having the motivation to exercise is within everyone's reach. It's just that people tend to look for it in the wrong places and have expectations that immediately put them at a disadvantage.
In my experience, the three most common reasons people have difficulty finding motivation to exercise are:
1. They think exercise has to be more intense than it has to be. "When I lose weight I'll be able to exercise the way it should be done," is a common refrain. But barring any specific prohibition from your doctor, exercise can be done anytime and at any body size. The only requirement is that you move consistently, frequently and easily. You don't have to perform any particular type of exercise. You don't have to exercise at any particular speed or intensity. You simply start from your current fitness level and do more.
Exercise should not be stressful or painful. If it is, it's too intense. So ease up a little, but don't stop. For example, if you're walking at a speed that feels too difficult, uncomfortable or unenjoyable, slow down until it feels like you're working, but it also feels like you can keep it up for 20 or 30 minutes.
No one wants to do something that seems overwhelming. It should be no big surprise, then, that you would resist anything that feels out of reach. Make it reachable and you'll keep doing it. It doesn't matter how simple the activity seems compared to what you see other people do. If you start at your own level, you'll want to keep going. There will be opportunities to increase intensity later, when it feels comfortable.
2. They think they have few exercise options, and none are appealing. Exercise can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you move consistently. You do not have to be a runner, a walker or a gym person. Perhaps you're more of a dancer, a rope jumper, a hiker, a stair climber or you just like to jump up and down while watching TV. You pick. Make it your own and you'll be more likely to stay with it because you'll like it.
3. They only want to exercise to lose weight. Weight loss alone is not a good motivator because of its short-term nature. If your brain isn't thinking past losing weight, what will be the incentive to keep being active for the rest of your life? The best motivating approach is one that includes a lifetime goal of health and fitness mixed with related short-term goals. You might remind yourself frequently that exercise is the best way to age without diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Try to imagine how the exercise you're doing each day is ensuring that your muscles stay strong enough to allow you to get around independently or keep looking and feeling healthy and strong as the years go on.
Within this global focus you can have short-term goals that give you an extra push — like walking a little farther or lifting a heavier weight. Attitude is everything, so keep challenges fun and achievable.
When you feel motivated to do something, it's because you imagine it to be a good thing. Nothing destroys motivation faster than anticipating a task that is negative or even torturous. It's human nature to avoid such things.
The human brain is capable of reframing difficult tasks into worthwhile and even pleasurable ones. So use that wonderful brain and create your own enjoyable ways to move more. You'll be surprised how quickly motivation will appear.
Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached through her website, fatmatters.com, or at (813) 240-9557.