It’s early morning and you’re alarm’s ringing. It’s dark outside and the rain (or snow) is pelting against the window. Or maybe you’ve come home from work and just want to sit on the couch. But it’s time for you to exercise.
How many times have these, or similar situations, happened to you? You’ve planned your exercise session, but you just don’t feel motivated. It could be the weather, you’re tired, or you feel you’re too busy. Then your mind starts debating whether to exercise or not. You’re not alone. It happens to me and many others. You’ve essentially lost your motivation to exercise.
What is motivation?
Whenever we hear (or read) about exercise, there’s plenty of discussion on motivation. This is because it’s a key part of starting or maintaining your exercise program. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards. This might be a bonus from your boss for a good job or winning a trophy. It could even be recognition or praise from family or friends. Extrinsic rewards can be helpful in providing motivation for activities that are unenjoyable. But the feeling of satisfaction is only temporary. And external rewards aren’t usually in your control, which can actually hurt your motivation if you don’t get a reward you feel you deserve.
On the other hand, intrinsic motivation comes from feelings within yourself. For example, we’re intrinsically motivated to eat and drink to stay alive and avoid feelings of hunger and thirst. When it comes to lifestyle behaviours, intrinsic motivation comes from how something makes you feel. Essentially the enjoyment of doing an activity. This could be the joy a challenge, an interest in learning, and or even the joy of doing the activity at the time. Because this joy comes from within you, intrinsic motivation is much more powerful for sustaining behaviours than extrinsic motivation.
Discipline Keeps you Going
While motivation is essential to your exercise routine, you can’t rely on motivation alone to keep you going. That’s because motivation is fleeting- there one day and not the next. It may be easy to be motivated to go for a walk when it’s warm and sunny out. But what about when it’s cold and rainy? This is when discipline is needed. Discipline is key when motivation falters. Often these words are used interchangeably but they’re not the same.
Motivation is a noun, while discipline is a verb. Discipline is the action of doing something. It keeps you focused on a certain task or routine, even if we would rather do something else, or in the face of distractions or procrastination. Discipline might be thought of as having self-control.
The goals you have for your exercise program (or any other goal you may have) provide you with the motivation. But it’s hard to reach your goals without discipline. It’s not for lack of motivation people don’t reach their goals but usually a lack of implementation, or discipline.
The long-term benefits from exercise come from being consistent. And it’s okay to miss a session here and there (and that’s unavoidable), but consistency over the long-term is ideal. Be intentional about your exercise and dedicated to doing it repeatedly. We’re creatures of habit and the more you do something, the more it becomes part of your daily life and is easier to do.
Planning is Key to Discipline
Planning is a key to developing discipline. To achieve a goal you need to plan for it. Your plan is the foundation on which everything else is built. With the right plan, having discipline should flow relatively easy. It’s like the foundation of a house; it takes time to build and needs to be solid in the ground before the frame can be built on it. Same thing with your exercise plan.
If you’re having a hard time being consistent with your exercise, try this time evaluation activity. Write down your exercise goal and on a weekly planner (or you can create your own week on paper) outline how you spend time on different activities throughout the week. Be as specific as you can. This will include work/family time as well as your lunch, how you get to and from work or school, or whatever you may be doing. Be honest with your leisure time as well. How much do you spend watching TV, reading, preparing meals, etc.?
Now look at your week. Does the time spent on working towards your goal match with being able to meet your goal? We all likely have at least one goal in our lives where we devote very little, if any, time to achieve it. If that’s the case with your exercise goal, take a good look at your other activities. What spare time do you have? Which activities are low priority that you can do without? Can these times be used for your exercise? Can you shuffle things around to exercise when it’s easiest for you?
The idea is to schedule in your exercise, just like an appointment. Some of us do fine with having an ad hoc schedule that we make up as we go along but many of us can’t work that way. If we wait until we have enough time to do something, the time never comes. It’s sort of like waiting until you have enough money to go on that vacation. It is more likely to happen if you plan your savings. The same goes for your exercise.
Having that schedule is a key part to getting started, now you have to implement it. Adopting a mindset where you approach your scheduled exercise the same way as you do work, or other non-negotiable activities is important. That’s where discipline comes in. It may not happen overnight and you may find sometimes you may slip, and that’s okay. Get used to being able to say: This is my time to exercise and I will say ‘No’ to everything else.
Also, keep up with a healthy lifestyle, including good quality sleep. When you haven’t had a good sleep or healthy meals, you’re more likely to be tired making it easier to be distracted or procrastinate, missing out on what’s truly important to you.
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This post was originally published on November 14, 2018 and updated on August 23, 2023.
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