Sometimes it’s as hard to motivate yourself to work out as the exercise itself. There are days it seems almost impossible to muster up the energy to do anything other than veg out on the couch. Yet there are people who squeeze in at least a little exercise every day. How do they do that, and can everyone else get some of that magical motivation?
You might be in luck. Researchers may have finally figured out how you can motivate yourself to work out. The trick? Just stay focused on the here and now.
Know the Benefits
“People will not commit to exercise if they see its benefits as distant or theoretical,” Dr. Michelle L. Segar, author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, told The New York Times. “It has to be portrayed as a compelling behavior that can benefit us today.”
In her book, she talks about using exercise to enhance happiness rather than as a way to achieve a physical goal in the future. A study published in Psychological Health found that 335 older adults aged 60–96 exercised more often when they placed an emphasis on how it increased their quality of life, as compared to those who exercised solely for health benefits. If you think about the positive energy and sense of accomplishment you feel when you exercise, you are more likely to lace up your workout shoes and go for a run. If you are concerned about the impact your run could make on your health 10 years down the road, you’re more likely to procrastinate.
Focus on Immediate Rewards
In other words, thinking about going for a run today in hopes of being 10 pounds lighter in 2 months is less likely to help you wake up for a jog before dawn than if you think about going for a run as a way to see a friend or exploring a new part of town. It’s these kinds of immediate rewards that researchers say are more likely to keep you coming back for more exercise.
Over time, these immediate rewards are compounded and you begin to see the long-term rewards that come from the way you motivate yourself to work out. Rather work out indoors? Put the focus on increasing your energy, improving your mood, or lowering your stress level, and you might be more likely to motivate yourself to work out. “I like to think of physical activity as a way to revitalize and renew ourselves [and] as fuel to better enjoy and succeed at what matters most,” says Dr. Segar.
Need more inspiration? Here’s a video by Tony Horton about how to get motivated when you don’t feel like working out.