Let’s start with hard facts:
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable disease (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers) worldwide – contributing to over three million preventable deaths annually.
Nearly one in three (29.7%) adults are insufficiently active (less than 150 minutes of physical activity per week), while 14.8% are inactive (no exercise in the last week).
We know exercise is good for us! Even if we don’t really know how or why – we all know it’s good for us, it’s almost in innate knowledge. So why aren’t more of us exercising?! I think it’s fairly safe to say our motivation to exercise is a pretty universal barrier for most of us, so let’s talk about that.
Motivation to Exercise and the F Word
I’m going to go a bit left field here, stick with me… I’ve just finished reading Mark Manson’s book and a lot of what he said resonated with me not just in life, but particularly toward our motivation to exercise.
Failure is a relative concept. It totally depends on how we’re choosing to measure our success towards our goals. And our goals should be driven by our values.
The Link Between Our Values & Motivation to Exercise
Sometimes, where we go wrong is that our values aren’t quite right to help foster a positive, successful experience that builds self-efficacy and growth.
For instance, if I measure my effort at the gym by “do I look like Jennifer Aniston yet?”, I will be self-critical and negative as this is something I don’t really have control over. We have different genetics, different body types, enjoy different types of exercise, have different time constraints (the list goes on). But if I adopt the metric “maintain a regular and consistent exercise routine”, I can live up to my value of “Live a healthy, balanced life”.
Toddlers learning to walk continually fail. They stand up, take half a step, wobble, fall over, and repeat that cycle a few thousand times before they can actually walk. Never do they think “my god, I suck at this, I don’t think walking is for me!”.
However, improvement on anything is based on thousands of tiny failures. And the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because they have failed at it more than you have. (Or done it many more times, and therefore have refined the skill and have the capacity to do it better!)
Important note: Pain is part of the process! (mentally and physically). You can’t make a muscle without tearing a few fibers!
For most of us, our proudest achievements come in the face of our greatest adversity. I know that when I’m feeling lazy and I squat 20kg I feel alright…but when I manage to push myself and squat 55kg (closer to my 1RM), I feel like I just earnt athlete status! This usually involves some stern positive self-talk at the time, and some muscle soreness the next day. Neither are comfortable, but both build resilience, strength and capacity. Both also build my motivation to exercise!
The “just do SOMETHING” Principle
To come full circle; action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it is also the cause of it.
Most of us only commit to action if we feel a certain level of motivation. And we feel motivation only when we feel enough emotional inspiration. We assume it’s a chain reaction.
The thing is, it’s not a chain, it’s an endless loop.
If we start doing something, this sparks inspiration, and then before we know it, we have motivation, and so we keep doing that thing (all the while, improving and feeling more confident) and then we feel inspired to challenge ourselves a little further, and look at that – more motivation!
Tim Ferris (American author) spoke of a story he once heard about a novelist who wrote over seventy novels. Someone asked how he was able to write so consistently and remain inspired and motivated. He replied, “two hundred crappy words per day, that’s it.”
The idea was that if he forced himself to write two hundred crappy words, more often than not, the act of writing would inspire him; and before he knew it, he’d have thousands of words down on the page.
Take home messages to improve your motivation to exercise:
- Pick small, achievable tasks or challenges
- Do SOMETHING. Something is better than nothing! (and it breeds motivation to do more)
- Make sure the way you’re measuring your success comes down to your actions and input (not other, external factors)