How to Get Motivated to Exercise When You're Off Track

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It's easy (and even important, as part of a goal-setting process) to make plans to exercise. It's the follow-through that sometimes gets people caught up. That's where motivation comes in. It gives purpose and direction to your behavior, providing the internal push you need to overcome excuses and get started. Unfortunately, sometimes it deserts you right when you need it most.

The Source of Motivation

For athletes, motivation to exercise may come from the desire to compete and win. For other exercisers, it may come from a wish to be healthy or live longer for their kids. For many, losing weight is the goal.

Many of us believe motivation will come to us if we wait long enough: Someday, we'll wake up and finally want to exercise. The reality is that motivation is something we can and need to create for ourselves.

Use the following elements to create your own motivation and you'll find it easier to stick with your workouts. Then, you'll start seeing the results of your efforts, which may help fuel your will to keep going.

Goals

The first step is having something to work for. It doesn't matter whether it's a weight loss goal or a goal to run a marathon—anything that gives you a reason to exercise will work. And don't think you have to set only one goal. You can set as many as you like, whenever you like.

Set daily goals ("I'll walk for 20 minutes today,") weekly goals ("I'll get a minimum of 3 workouts in this week,") or even hourly goals ("I'll get up every 45 minutes and walk around the building.")

Always having something to work for, big or small, keeps you going.

Preparation

Once you've decided to exercise, make it as easy as possible to follow through. That means having what you need and getting it all ready in advance. For example, pack your gym bag the night before, prepare any pre-workout meals or snacks so you can grab them and go, and plan what workout you'll do on a given day. Find ways you can be ready for your workout well before it happens.

Discipline

Create routines and you'll develop the discipline to stick with them. If you can, plan a regular day and time you work out so that, once that time comes, you're on automatic pilot. You can also create a ritual around your exercise sessions—a prompt that helps you get into workout mode.

For example, take a few minutes to stretch before you get started. Listen to an upbeat song that gets you ready to work. Find ways to make your workout just another regular habit, like brushing your teeth.

Flexibility

Routines are helpful, but not if they're overly rigid. Part of being able to stick to them is allowing some leeway. You may plan on jogging five miles four times a week, but there will come a day when you're too tired or you don't have time.

Have a backup plan. Allow yourself to walk instead of run, or alternate jogging and walking. If you have to work late, see if you can fit in a quick walk at lunch, or use your breaks for some stair-walking. Everything counts.

Commitment

Being healthy isn't a decision you make once—it's one you make every day. Recommitting to your goals keeps you on track. Spend a few minutes each morning thinking or writing about what you want to accomplish that day and how you'll do it.

Remind yourself of your goals and take some time to appreciate how far you've come in reaching them. Tracking your progress in a journal helps: Notice changes in how your clothes fit, your need to upgrade to heavier weights, or your ability to run for longer. Logging pounds or inches lost might also work for you.

Fun

Exercise (and the preparation, discipline, and commitment it requires) can sound like just another duty. But moving your body can be something you consider an enjoyable part of your daily life. If the activity you have been doing doesn't excite you, find something that does. And make time for unstructured, free-flowing movement, too: taking a stroll, jumping in a big pile of leaves, or dancing to your favorite music.

Rewards

Promise yourself a treat after you reach a goal. It might be something small, like a leisurely trip to the bookstore, or something big, like a massage. But don't forget to look for the intrinsic rewards of exercise, too: That feeling of achievement, stress relief, or calm that you enjoy after a good workout.

A Word From Verywell

What motivates you may change from day to day. That means digging deep to find that thought, goal, or reward that will get you moving today. Make sustaining motivation easier by eliminating your excuses before they happen. But, most of all, realize that all of this gets easier with practice. When you exercise consistently, you gradually fill your motivational stores as you understand what what gets you moving. Your own actions are what generate that feeling you've been searching for.

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