Getting Motivated for Weight Training

Achieve your goals with the help of behavioral tactics

Man smiling at gym
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Motivation and the psychological elements of weight training are important for anyone who wants to achieve success. The importance of the psychological component is often underestimated for the millions of people trying to get into shape for general health and fitness. As the legendary baseball coach and manager Yogi Berra wisely proclaimed, "Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical."

How can you get and stay motivated for losing weight, building muscle and getting fit?

Motivation to Change for the Better

The two fundamental skills required to build a fit, healthy body are:

  1. Reliable knowledge of, or access to reliable advice on, nutrition and physical activities and exercise principles; and
  2. The motivation to put that knowledge into practice.

Managing the change process is the secret to success. You need to know how to change behavior from what you're doing now that is unproductive and not what you want, to a way of life that will give you that fitness, health, and body you wish you had.

Some people find it easy to focus on targets and push ahead until they have achieved what they set out to do: Write a book, lose weight, build a successful business. The goals may vary, but successful people have a few things in common.

First, they understand that to be successful, you need a logical plan with achievable objectives at various stages along the way. Second, they tend to have a strong visual and emotional image of what that success will look and feel like for them. This takes organizational skills, patience, focus, determination and drive—and some imagination.

That's all well for the gifted few who seem to intuitively know how this all fits together from an early age. Although high achievers in many fields are "born," some are "made." It is possible to learn how to implement these skills by understanding the fundamental principles of behavioral change.

The Five Steps to Behavioral Change

Psychologists recognize five stages of change. Try to apply this thinking to your life, especially if you have ever wished to make positive changes in your life yet could not quite make it happen. And that includes just about all of us.

  1. Pre-contemplation: In this early stage, a person is not aware of the need to change behavior. This is clearly not you because by reading this article you signal at least the possibility that your behavior may need to change.
  2. Contemplation: In this second stage, a person reflects on the advantages and disadvantages of change. This may be the stage at which many readers of this article find themselves.
  3. Preparation: When "changers" reach this stage, they are usually in the process of preparing concrete plans for change. Planning and preparation are crucial to achieving goals.
  4. Action: This is the stage at which you are fully processing your plan. As a result, your behavior is changing or has changed to achieve your goals.
  5. Maintenance: This is the crucial stage where you decide to continue the new behavior or to relapse to former behavior. Many people will recognize this to be the stage where it all goes wrong. You’ve put a lot of energy into getting to this point, but you just cannot keep it going. You need a specific plan for this possibility as well.

Self-Talk Keeps You on Track

Psychotherapists call this “cognitive therapy" or "rational emotive therapy.” It means developing a reasoned argument or a challenge in your head for why you should think positive or continue a positive habit. You should not indulge in behavior that you know is destructive or counterproductive.

For example, you might challenge the idea that you’ve always been unfit and overweight, and that you will never have a strong, healthy body. Challenging this perception with positive thoughts gives you the energy to change. When it comes to the maintenance phase, you need tools like this to help you build a pattern of behavior that will gradually build stability into your new way of doing things.

Seven Behaviors to Motivate You for Weight Training

Here are seven behaviors to adopt when you’re trying to introduce and build lifelong habits for health and fitness. While some of these may seem impractical, they are examples of the types of behavioral modifications you may wish to consider. Think of some of your own as well.

1. Plan to Achieve Your Goals

  • Consider health and fitness a lifelong project. Approach it in a similar way to buying a house, car, overseas trip or another major project: Make it a necessity.
  • Plan, plan, plan. Use diaries, logs or journals to record activities, nominate goals, and track progress.
  • Include photographs, notes to yourself, motivational quotes, and poetry—anything to keep you focused.
  • Don't over-reach. Set goals that you consider achievable. If you aim too high, disappointment can discourage you. Two pounds a week of fat loss might be an achievable goal for many people. Five pounds may not.

2. Control Overeating Patterns

  • Store food out of sight.
  • Don’t save leftovers.
  • Minimize ready-to-eat foods.
  • Don’t accept food offered by others.
  • Don’t leave serving dishes on the table.
  • Use smaller plate sizes.
  • Shop with a list. That way you won't impulsively buy unhealthy food.

3. Manage Eating Behavior

  • Chew thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Eat slowly. Put your fork down after each mouthful.
  • Don’t watch television while eating or snacking.
  • Establish set meal and snack times and stick to them.
  • Place magnets or stickers on your refrigerator with motivational messages to prevent you from opening that fridge door.

4. Reward Progress and Achievement

  • Ask for help and encouragement from family and friends. Praise and recognition from people that are close to you can be a powerful psychological stimulus for success.
  • Plan rewards for reaching specific behavior and goals such as going to a movie or buying a new outfit.
  • Be careful with food rewards. Healthy foods such as a favorite fruit or low-calorie yogurt may be fine, but don't create a pattern of eating forbidden foods for reward or comfort.
  • Set achievable goals, but make them tough enough that they challenge you and create a sense of achievement on completion.

5. Start Self-Monitoring

  • Start a diary or log.
  • Include food eaten, meals taken, places and people at the meal.
  • Record exercise you do and how you felt you performed.
  • Summarize daily feelings about effort and progress.
  • Use the diary to identify problem areas.
  • Set achievable goals.
  • Learn nutritional and energy values of foods.

6. Increase Physical Activity and Exercise

  • Be aware of the non-exercise activity and how to increase it.
  • Move more: Use stairs, do more housework, sit less, tend to your garden.
  • Use a pedometer to record how much you walk. Aim for 10,000 steps each day.
  • Start with a beginner's exercise program so that you don't get discouraged. If you are new to weight training or any exercise, get clearance from your doctor. The nature of your exercise program will depend on your fitness and existing health conditions.
  • Set achievable goals.
  • Learn energy equivalents of exercise sessions.
  • Keep a diary or log.

7. Use Mind and Psychological Tools

  • Avoid setting goals that may be beyond your capabilities.
  • Dwell on achievements, not on missed goals.
  • Counter negative thoughts with rational and positive thoughts and statements.
  • Use the food and exercise diary or personal journal to issue positive reinforcement, record achievements and adjust goals.

A Word From Verywell

Getting the body you want is not about rushing into a diet and exercise program. You need to carefully assess your current situation. Set goals and a timeline for success. A personal trainer can help you do this if necessary. If you are not in a position to use a personal trainer, read as much beginner information as you can and seek advice from knowledgeable friends. Embarking on a health and fitness program with a methodical plan will increase your chances of success.

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.