Workout Motivation 101: How to Stay Focused on Your Goals
Everyone seems to be on a never-ending quest for workout motivation. But the truth is motivation is fleeting. One minute it can be at a peak, and the next it can be in a valley. Some days, it may be gone completely.
Even when you're working toward an exercise or wellness goal that you're really passionate about, motivation isn't constant. When you also consider that life is unpredictable and that there are going to be obstacles and personal issues that get in your way, having a constantly high level of exercise motivation can become even more elusive.
We're not knocking the concept of motivation, but it's important to understand that there's no way to guarantee that you'll feel motivated to work out all of the time. In fact, you won't.
You can do all of the positive thinking exercises and read all of the personal development books in the world. But maintaining workout motivation comes down to your drive, your self-discipline and your desire to meet your goals. Read on to learn about how motivation relates to exercise and how to keep your workout motivation strong.
Why Is Motivation Key for Exercise?
The official definition of motivation is “The general desire or willingness of someone to do something,” but the emphasis here needs to be on the “willingness” part of the definition.
Sure, you may have a desire to begin a regular workout routine, but if you’re not willing to put in the work to do it, despite what life throws at you, you can’t really reach your goals.
There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from outside sources. With weight loss, an example of extrinsic motivation may be fitting into those jeans that were a little too tight.
Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from within. When you lose weight in a healthy way, your confidence levels may increase and you may be proud of yourself for sticking to your goals.
As a general rule, most people are initially driven by extrinsic motivation. But the key to staying motivated with any fitness plan is to put more emphasis on intrinsic motivation by setting small, measurable goals that you can achieve on the way to your overall goal, or outcome goal.
Motivation vs. Self Discipline
Another major factor in this is your drive or self-discipline. If we only relied on motivation alone, there would be plenty of times that we wouldn't get much done. This is when you have to turn to self-discipline, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as "the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it."
We like to think of self-discipline as keeping promises that you made to yourself, even when you don't feel like it. While you may make a goal and develop a plan to get there, there will be days that you don't feel like putting in the work.
On those days, you have to really dig deep within yourself to remember why you started on this fitness journey in the first place. Then, you can push through and do the work.
How To Maintain Workout Motivation
Ultimately, motivation and self-discipline are very individualized experiences. Making your own choice to commit to yourself and follow through with your plan is one of the things that will keep you the most motivated.
That being said, there are some things you can do to help boost your motivation along the way:
Start with small, motivating goals
If you're new to an exercise routine, you won’t go from sitting on the couch to running a seven-minute mile overnight. If you only make unrealistic goals like this, you're basically setting yourself up for failure. And when you feel like you've failed, you can lose both drive and workout motivation.
On the other hand, setting small, realistic goals along the way and meeting them makes you feel good, boosts your self-confidence and increases intrinsic motivation as a result.
If your goal is to run a seven-minute mile, figure out what you have to do along the way and set up a smaller goal timeline to get there. Start by timing where you’re at now. If you’re running a mile in 13 minutes, aim to run it in 12 minutes, then 11 minutes, 10 minutes and so on and celebrate as you hit those goals.
Make specific fitness goals
It's important that you make your fitness goals concrete and measurable. We don't mean you have to set a strict time limit on this plan. Actually, doing this can backfire, since you're likely to hit roadblocks and obstacles along the way that interfere with even the most well-thought-out plans.
But when you make your fitness goals, they need to be something you can actually measure. Instead of saying "I want to work out more," say something like "I want to do four 30-minute workouts each week."
Once you nail that goal, you can create another specific fitness goal.
Write everything down
Once you've figured out your fitness goals, write them down. Having a plan you can reference makes a world of difference in how likely you are to stick to your plan.
Writing everything down also helps you track your progress so you can see where you started and how far you've come. This can be extremely motivating, especially when you don’t see big changes in your physical appearance as quickly as you'd like.
Don't set too many fitness goals at once
While goals are important for maintaining workout motivation, you don't want to go overboard. If you make too many goals at once, it can become overwhelming instead of motivating. Make one or two major goals and then develop a tiered process to help you get there.
For example, if your goal is to do 15 muscle-ups in a row, figure out a timeline and how to measure your progress as you work toward it.
Try to lose your attachment to the outcome
One of the biggest mistakes that we see is getting so attached to an outcome that you lose sight of the benefits along the way.
For example, if your major goal is to lose 30 pounds and your progress doesn't happen at the rate you're hoping for, you can start to feel demotivated. When this happens, you're more likely to give up and have a "what's the point" attitude about your new exercise routine.
But instead of focusing only on the final goal — like losing 30 pounds — celebrate the small victories along the way. This might be your energy levels improving, your clothes fitting better or the endorphins from your new workout routine make you feel happier and more confident. If you’re working out more and eating healthier, you should eventually see your health improve in these ways and others.
These are things that should be celebrated and that can keep you motivated as you work toward your largest goal.
Get into a daily routine
Everything that you regularly do in your life is a habit you've created over time. For example, at some point, you had to be told to brush your teeth. But now, you probably do it without thinking.
We've seen memes and social media posts saying it takes three weeks to form a habit. However, it's actually not that clear cut. The amount of time it takes to develop a habit depends on the complexity of that habit and your starting point.
Incorporate small changes in your daily routine that get you closer to your goals while also understanding that it can take time to develop a habit that feels second nature.
You can start small by putting on your workout clothes as soon as you wake up so you can do a morning workout in your living room or by making it a point to get in at least 15 minutes of movement before dinner every night.
Make changes along the way
As you progress in your fitness journey, your goals are going to change because you're going to change.
If you find yourself starting to lose workout motivation, take a minute to reflect on your goals. Remind yourself of all of the reasons you started on this journey in the first place. What are you working toward, and what are you working to get away from?
Take an honest look at your goals, and make some changes if you don’t feel fulfilled. You might need to change your exercise routine or try some new foods. Whatever it is, you can meet your goals if you combine desire with motivation.
Let’s be honest — if something isn’t fun, you’re probably not going to stick to it long term. Boredom is one of the biggest reasons people lose drive and workout motivation.
If structured fitness classes aren't your thing, go for a bike ride instead. If you have a hard time getting through a cardio workout, listen to a motivating podcast or some high-energy music to make the time pass more quickly and get your heart rate pumping.
When it comes to fitness, there are plenty of options available. There's CrossFit, HIIT, aerobics, pilates, yoga and spin classes. Don't be afraid to try them all until you find a routine that really gets that spark going inside of you.
Forcing yourself to do things that you really don't like all the time is counterproductive. The key is to want to get up in the morning to go to that CrossFit or pilates class you love.
We're not saying that it won't be hard or that you'll never have to do push-ups or burpees somewhere along the way. Progressing in your personal fitness isn't easy. Even when doing workouts you love, you’ll sometimes struggle to get through them.
But the point is to turn your fitness plan into something that fulfills you.
Enlist a support system
For many people, a support system is a vital part of staying motivated and driven. Sometimes, it's easy to blow off promises that you've made to yourself. But when you get other people involved, skipping your commitments gets harder.
Tell those around you what your goals are and how they can help you get there. Find a workout buddy or a private group on social media you can turn to when you need a motivation boost.
When you announce your goals to the world and say them out loud, it keeps you accountable and helps you stay on track.
How a WAG Coach Helps You Stay Motivated
Many people think that a WAG nutrition coach is just there to provide you with initial guidance on your fitness journey. While that's certainly part of it, it goes way beyond that too.
A WAG coach serves as your personal accountability and support partner. On days that you don’t feel motivated, you have someone there in your corner, rooting for you, who you can check in with.
A coach can also provide feedback and serve as a mentor to help highlight what you're doing well and where there are areas that you can improve.
As you work through your fitness program, it's normal to start seeing stalls in progress. You may feel like you're no longer seeing bodyweight changes or that you're not leveling up in your fitness game. While these stages are part of the process, you may notice your workout motivation starts to wane when your results slow down.
During these times, a WAG nutrition coach can help adjust your routine or simply talk you through the process to keep you on track.
Join Team WAG
Love what you learned but still want more guidance and support? Hire a 1:1 coach who will get to know you, your lifestyle and your unique needs and create results that you can sustain long-term. If you're not quite ready to go all-in on hiring a coach, check out our Macro Calculation Cheat Sheet & 18 Tracking Tips and Tricks for macro counting!