Create a Fitness Mindset for Workout Motivation

woman outdoors going for a run

Courtney Hale / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

If you are feeling unmotivated to work out, you aren't alone. Mental blocks can interfere with workout motivation, so overcoming these blocks is key to maintaining motivation and sticking with a regular fitness routine.

While it's OK to be flexible with yourself and your exercise goals, making healthy habits like exercise part of your regular routine can have a significant impact on your health and well-being. Use these ideas to rebuild your confidence, boost your motivation, and enjoy the benefits of regular exercise.

Tackle Tiredness

If you feel tired, ask yourself if it's physical or mental. If your tiredness isn't due to a lack of sleep, illness, or a physically demanding job, chances are you're mentally tired. While mental exhaustion can often feel physical, one of the best cures is physical activity and, once you get started, you'll feel better.

Participating in regular physical activity can boost your energy levels and leave you feeling less fatigued than before. Just make sure you also work in recovery time to repair and restore your body after exercise.

Pay Attention to Self-Talk

There's a good chance you have some voices in your head. These voices belong to everyone, from your parents to someone on TV to your favorite Instagrammer. Your most prominent voice, however, is probably one of your own.

Sometimes you should listen to the voices telling you to take a day off or opt for a gentler workout. But most times, you'll need to be ready to stand up to the unhelpful voice to stay motivated.

  • Be prepared and remove obstacles. Removing other obstacles to exercise means you'll only have the voice to deal with. For example, having your workout gear handy and your exercise time pre-scheduled can be a big help.
  • Don't give the voice time to chime in. If you plan to exercise after work, don't sit down and watch TV or go home before the gym. If you need a transition, try something gentle but active, like stretching or doing a light, satisfying chore. If you exercise in the morning, put on your workout clothes right away, so you have one less obstacle between you and your workout.
  • Stop the argument. For every excuse, reply, "I'm working out anyway." Better yet, "I'm not listening! La la la la!" Remind yourself of why you're committing to exercise and why those reasons outweigh what the voices say.

Research shows that using second-person self talk can help with motivation. Encouraging yourself with phrases such as "you can do this" or "you are going to meet your goal" improves the chances of obtaining your desired outcome.

Fight Fear

The need to do it right, to do it perfectly, or to work as hard as you can is what makes it hard to do in the first place. So start with baby steps. Ask yourself if fear is stopping you from even starting. If you're up against exercise fears, try:

  • Asking for help. Is there someone—a colleague, friend, or partner—you trust? Tell them you're having trouble sticking with exercise, and ask them to work out with you.
  • Doing what you can. If you can't work out for 30 minutes yet, so what? Go for as long as you can and do more tomorrow. It's that simple, and it all counts.
  • Redefining your idea of exercise. Does workout equal work in your mind? It doesn't have to. Think about it like this: If you've been sitting in a stuffy office all day, you now have 30 whole minutes to get out of there for a while. Or maybe you've been caring for your kids, and now you get some time to yourself to do something just for you. That's not just exercise—that's sanity!
  • Reminding yourself. Write yourself notes and put them on your computer, your car, your shoes…everywhere. Remind yourself of your exercise goals ("I will exercise for 30 minutes today") and why you're doing it ("I want to have more energy.")

Train Your Brain for Workout Motivation

The imagination is a powerful tool and one you can use for your exercise routines. When the issue is motivation, it's your mind you're up against, so you have to convince it that there really is a good reason to exercise. Here's how to use your mind-over-matter skills:

  • Give yourself a reward. If you finish your workout, reward yourself. While exercise comes with its own natural rewards (like more energy, better mood, less stress, and lowering your risk of disease), external rewards work, too. Maybe the promise of a new pair of shoes, an hour reading your favorite book, or a massage will get you going.
  • Make a deal with yourself. You'll exercise for 15 minutes, and if you still really don't want to continue, then you can stop. Nine times out of 10, you'll keep going.
  • Pretend. Make-believe can alter your mindset. Pretend you're in a race, and if you win, you get a million dollars. Pretend that you're racing to catch a bus or that if you make it home in a certain amount of time, Nike will be there to put you in one of their "Just Do It" commercials. Anything that makes you want to move works!
  • Set achievable goals. Nothing can stop you in your tracks faster than staring up at a goal you fear you can't achieve. While you can have big exercise goals, make sure that you also set smaller goals along the way. That way, you have more frequent victories to celebrate and keep you motivated to keep moving.
  • Tap into your competitive side. A little healthy competition can be a great motivator. Try competing with yourself for faster times, higher weights, or just more frequency. Or maybe use social media and apps like MapMyRun or Fitbit to compete with friends.
  • Visualize. Athletes often visualize themselves winning a race to get themselves pumped up. You can do the same thing by picturing yourself going through your workout from beginning to end. How do you feel when you're finished? Visualize your success and make it happen.
  • Work things out. One great thing about exercise is that it gives you quiet time to think about any problems you're facing. Use your workout time to work through problems. You'll be amazed at the results!
  • Use process goals. Choosing specific goals that are part of a process, such as exercising 4 times per week, works better than using outcome goals, such as losing 10 pounds. Since outcome goals are relatively out of our control, focusing on the steps that will get you there is a more concrete, controllable method of working toward your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I find the motivation to work out at home?

Finding the motivation to work out at home can be challenging due to a lack of transition and possible distractions. One strategy is to set an alarm on a schedule for each workout day. When the alarm goes off, change into workout-appropriate clothing and prepare a water bottle. It might help to have these things set out ahead of time. These tasks help your body and brain make the transition to workout time.

It's also wise to inform others in your home that you will be busy and unavailable during your workout time if you can. If you have small children that need your attention, getting them safely involved in the workout can be an option; or you may need to save workouts until kids are asleep or with another caregiver.

How do I get workout motivation back? 

Workout motivation is not likely to appear spontaneously. You will likely have to push through the period of time when you feel unmotivated to create a habit. Once the routine of working out has been set, the motivation to work out will arise as you experience the feel-good benefits of being active.

If this is a struggle, try rewarding yourself by pairing your workout time with something you enjoy, such as a podcast, special playlist, or TV show. Only enjoy that particular thing when you are working out. This can help you get over the slump of feeling unmotivated.

How do I keep up my motivation to work out?

Keep motivation up by tracking your success and progress. This should go beyond weight to include physical or mental benefits you notice. Are you feeling more energized? Getting better sleep? Feeling more confident? Keep a log of your workouts, weight lifted, and more while noting how you feel physically and mentally. Reflect on these things when you are feeling unmotivated to remind yourself of the benefits in store if you keep going.

A Word From Verywell

Changing your lifestyle to include exercise is no easy task. The most important step is to adjust your attitude. Thinking about exercise as an obligation will never motivate you to do it. Instead, treat exercise like a break from a stressful day, a reward for a body that has worked so hard for you all day long, and as something that deserves a reward at the end.

6 Sources
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.
  1. de Vries JD, van Hooff ML, Geurts SA, Kompier MA. Exercise as an intervention to reduce study-related fatigue among university students: A two-arm parallel randomized controlled trialPLoS One. 2016;11(3):e0152137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152137

  2. Loy BD, O'Connor PJ, Dishman RK. The effect of a single bout of exercise on energy and fatigue states: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Fatigue. 2013;1(4):223-242. doi:10.1080/21641846.2013.843266

  3. Dolcos S, Albarracin D. The inner speech of behavioral regulation: Intentions and task performance strengthen when you talk to yourself as a You. Eur J Social Psychol. 2014;44(6):636-642. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2048.

  4. Lachman ME, Lipsitz L, Lubben J, Castaneda-sceppa C, Jette AM. When adults don't exercise: Behavioral strategies to increase physical activity in sedentary middle-aged and older adults. Innov Aging. 2018;2(1):igy007. doi:10.1093/geroni/igy007

  5. Renner F, Murphy FC, Ji JL, Manly T, Holmes EA. Mental imagery as a "motivational amplifier" to promote activities. Behav Res Ther. 2019;114:51-59. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2019.02.002

  6. Wilson K, Brookfield D. Effect of goal setting on motivation and adherence in a six‐week exercise program. Int J Sport Exercise Psychol. 2009;7(1):89-100. doi:10.1080/1612197x.2009.9671894

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."