Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in weight management and eating behaviors.
Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact checker, and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content.
Motivation: You know you need it to reach your fitness goals, but what exactly is it? Whether we’re talking exercise, work-related tasks, or managing a household, there are two main types of motivation at play: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to an internal stimulus, while extrinsic refers to an external one. Moreover, these two types of motivation may at times be intertwined.
Keeping up with exercise requires discipline and commitment, but it’s normal for motivation to come and go. Use the tips here to keep up with your routine and meet your fitness goals.
Motivation to exercise can be both intrinsically and extrinsically driven. An example of an intrinsic motivator would be the desire to feel more confident and comfortable completing day-to-day tasks. Carrying groceries, walking up the stairs without huffing and puffing, and playing more often with your kids are all examples of intrinsic motivators. You may also want to feel your best in your favorite clothes or out at the beach or by the pool. This appearance-driven motivation may be considered extrinsic.
A habit is a regular tendency or practice. While research varies on the timeline of habit formation, over time, a habit becomes second nature. Brushing your teeth or taking a walk every day after dinner are examples of habits.
When intrinsic motivation is lacking, it may be more challenging to reach your goals. If you’re already on your journey and not seeing results, this also may be a deterrent.
Planning and preparation can both help make exercise a habit. This may be as simple as scheduling your workouts and honoring them in the same way you would an important meeting or doctor’s appointment. Utilizing certain cues and focusing more on the habit than the reward when getting started may also be helpful.
When thinking about fitness goals, consider the SMART acronym: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant, and timely. You’ll want to set a SMART goal that is focused on where you are today. For example, if you’re following a strength-training program, you might set a goal of being able to squat x amount of weight (say 70% of your 1RM) x number of reps in six weeks. Note that for some people, it may not be motivating to think about what they can do in 6 weeks, but rather, what they are going to do starting now and this week.
As the word “journey” implies, there is no destination as you embark on an active lifestyle! Your journey may even have stops and starts along the way, and that’s all part of the ride. The key is to remain injury-free and enjoy the journey.
A habit is a regular tendency or practice.
Rewards are incentives or benefits of completing a specific goal. Rewards can be material objects, such as a new pair of shoes, or health benefits, like increased strength. Increased physical fitness is one of the potential health-related rewards of your fitness journey. If you prefer material rewards, you might choose to treat yourself with a massage after completing a race, or a new mat carrier when you get into a groove of attending yoga classes.
Cerasoli CP, Nicklin JM, Ford MT. Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic incentives jointly predict performance: a 40-year meta-analysis. Psychol Bull. 2014;140(4):980-1008. doi:10.1037/a0035661
Smith KS, Graybiel AM. Habit formation. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2016;18(1):33-43. doi:10.31887/dcns.2016.18.1/ksmith
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