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How to motivate yourself to exercise - even when you don't want to

April 06 2022 6 min read


Motivation to exercise can come from wanting to lose weight, to be healthier, or to feel more energised.

 The tricky part? Sustaining that feeling of motivation over a period of time.

 The truth is that feeling unmotivated is perfectly normal. Even Olympians and Paralympians waver at times in their motivation.

 But if feeling unmotivated is so common -- even with elite athletes -- what can you do to combat it?


A theory often utilised in elite sport is the Self-Determination Theory by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. Deci and Ryan argue that in order to have the highest quality of self-generated motivation, there are three psychological factors you need to tackle.

These 3 factors are:

- Perception of autonomy

- Competence

- Relatedness

Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.


 If you don’t feel in control of something, you’ll believe that you don’t have the power to change it. That’s the reason why many smokers aren’t motivated to quit, despite the health risks; they believe that their addiction to nicotine is beyond their control. Similarly, someone who doesn’t believe they’re in control of their weight will see exercise as pointless.

 To increase your perception of control, you need to remember that it’s your choice to exercise. Having this mindset helps you become accountable to yourself, so that when you don’t feel like exercising, you can challenge yourself, rather than succumb to your desire to have a relaxing night in, instead.


In all areas of our life, we get a real buzz from having our achievements recognised.

The problem with exercising is that these achievements aren’t quite as clear cut as they are in, say, work or school. Without setting tangible goals, it’s difficult to take stock and appreciate the progress you’ve made, and you often won’t have an authority figure there who can outwardly recognise your achievements.

To feel a sense of accomplishment, you need to set clear targets. And once you’ve hit them?


If you’re on a mission to lose weight, celebrate in a way that doesn’t involve food; perhaps treat yourself to some new clothes now that you can physically see the results of your hard work.

By consistently celebrating your achievements -- however small they may be -- you’ll condition yourself to push that little bit harder to reach your next goal.


The truth is that humans are social beings. Training alone might be fine at first, but eventually it will take its toll on your motivation.

A great way to combat this is to start taking regular classes and chatting to people there. Get on first-name terms with someone you really click with, then arrange a workout session later in the week. Few things motivate you to get to the gym more than knowing someone is expecting you.

You should also make sure people know about your goals, too. Telling a friend or member of your family that you want to lose weight or build countable, which will help push you that little bit further. You’ll want to have something good to report the next time they ask about your progress