Quit Making Excuses: 10 Tips for Finding Motivation to Workout

July 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Erica House in Life

While at Fitbloggin last weekend I attended a session on maintaining weight loss mojo. I was touched to see so many people in the group open about their struggles when it comes to working out. Many of the attendees were going through some serious life shit. Depression, injury, lack of time due to working & being in school…you name it. After the session ended I was speaking with a friend who vocalized her opinions and basically posed the question; what makes some people give excuse after excuse, and other’s rise to the occasion and just make it happen?

I’ve been trying to think of a good answer since then.

I’ve been where many of the attendees are currently; feeling so defeated I don’t even know where to start, depressed and hating how I look, and so busy working 3+ jobs I couldn’t even dream of finding 30-60 minutes a day to workout. Yet, one day, something clicked. After years of promising myself ‘this year would be the year!’ I finally woke up one day and had it. I started with making healthier eating choices, and going to a gym 30 minutes a day a few days a week. Two years later I was 50 pounds lighter, a few years after that I quit smoking, and I’ve been able to maintain both for years.

What makes me special? I’m not any more athletic than the average person, I didn’t medicate myself so I wasn’t instantly happy and more eager to workout, and last year when I was marathon training I was working 60-70 hours a week between three jobs.

I’m still going to try and find a better answer for what make’s healthy living ‘click’ with some people, while others can struggle their whole lives with it. In the meantime, these are my 10 best tips for staying motivated to workout.

10 Tips for finding motivation to exercise:

When it comes to eating right and exercising most people have a pretty good idea about what to do (move more) and eat (lots of veggies). The issue comes with finding the motivation to get out of bed and hit the gym, or pick up an apple instead of a candy bar. My tips here come from my education and experience as a Psychology Instructor and my own ability to find enough motivation to do this:

Before and after

Here is a video going over the highlights of what I’ll be discussing today. I apologize for the blurry quality. It took me 4 hours and many trials and for some reason my camera was not cooperating with me!

1. Realize this is for the rest of your life – not a temporary solution! It’s always surprising to me when I find people starting to exercise and treating it as though it will be a temporary state. Being fit is a way of life! Don’t start exercising under the assumption you can do it for a few months, get the results you want, and then stop. Enter into this new phase of your life with the understanding that it is a permanent life change.

2. Embrace the positive psychology movement: Focus on the benefits of working out, how great you feel and the energy you have. Don’t ever use exercise as punishment or you will start to avoid it! Make a list of all the things you love about working out: how you feel, the confidence you get, the energy you have, the results you see from weight loss and muscle gain. Keep that list posted somewhere and pull it out often!

3. Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. Don’t just say “I want to work out more.” You need to pick a specific goal (like a 5k) and create a plan to get there (like this great training plan from Hal Higdon!)

4. Keep an exercise journal/calendarHaving a visual record of my workouts has helped me in the past when I thought about skipping a workout and seeing the poor empty box on the calendar! Plus, it’s amazing to look at and see all the hard work you’ve done.

5. Use operant conditioning to reward yourself. The theory of operant conditioning is so simple: If you reward behavior it is far more likely to keep occurring. Don’t use food as a reward, ever. If your goal is a 5k, plan on buying a new outfit to run in the week of the race. If you just want to exercise 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week consider paying yourself to exercise. Keep an exercise jar at home and put $2 into it every time you complete a workout. Have a specific treat in mind you’d like to reward yourself with once you have enough money (like a heart rate monitor!)

6. Try new workouts! You need to keep things fresh or you will get bored. You also need to make sure your working out new muscle groups and don’t do the same routines over and over. Some of my favorite free workouts:

– Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred Level 1

– Jillian Michaels 6 week 6 pack

– Jillian Michael’s Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism

– Hulu’s Health/Wellness channels (hundreds of free workouts!)

7. Join an online community like SparkPeopleDietBet, or Challenge LoopOne of the most difficult things for me when I first started to lose weight was not having someone to share it with. Most of my friends weren’t interested in exercising or eating right so I had no one to talk to about what I was going through. Joining sparkpeople helped connect me with people who were actually interested in sharing new healthy recipes or crazy challenging workouts.


8.  Understand the incredible things exercise does for your mind and body. I’d say 50% of the reason why I exercise is mental. It’s one of the best anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-stress medications.

9. Identify your excuses and create a plan of attack. 

  • No time? Wake up at 5 a.m.
  • No money? Do a free workout online
  • Too tired to work out? Get over it! A moderate amount of caffeine pre-workout is fine and imagine the rush you’ll get after releasing those endorphins!

10. AVOID ‘Fitspiration.’ Research is finding that it actually hurts weight loss efforts. It’s too easy to get caught up in the social comparison trap (more on that topic soon.) I tried to go on Pinterest to find motivational quotes to use here and all I found were pictures of supermodels with 8 packs that made me feel like the 6 miles I ran this morning wasn’t adequate enough. Bump that. Inspire to be the best you that you can be. You are beautiful.



Want even more tips? I came across so many great articles researching this post:

If you have any tips to staying motivated please share them! I promise once you make exercise a habit (give it about one month) it will become something you look forward to and you will start to see the most incredible positive changes in your life.

MOtivation4A version of this post previously appeared on this site in January 2013.

What is your regular ‘excuse’ for not working out?
What do you think it would take to motivate you to make it a routine?

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26 Responses

  • This describes the difference between my husband and I and I still can’t figure it out either. He seems to need the stars to align perfectly before going out to run. From his perspective he is just a poor self motivator and needs outside structure to hold him accountable to workouts. And the smallest life intruder becomes an excuse to skip. It’s clearly not a priority, but I’m not sure how he can make it one! He wants to exercise, just can’t bring himself to do it consistently. I can’t help but think a fear of failing is in there somewhere. Like if he’s consistent but doesn’t make progress with fitness like he hopes. Good post!

    • Erica House says:

      I think a lot of people don’t stay consistent because they have a fear of failing and it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. They don’t want to set big goals, work hard, and potentially fail in front of family/friends, so they half-a$$ it and have an ‘excuse’ to blame it on should it not work out.

  • Kat says:

    Preach it sister!

    • Erica House says:

      I still loved your session! Just had a lot on my mind after it (and I’m so glad we were able to talk more about motivation/wanting to change on one of our runs.)

  • Great tips! I kept an exercise journal (long before there were apps for that!) back when I first started losing weight. It really helped. And mixing it up as been key.

    • Erica House says:

      I STILL write down my exercise every day. I used to write calories as well, but I really don’t care to track that anymore since I’ve been hoovering around the same weight for years now. I love being able to see my workouts though!

  • Make small changes. Big change is overwhelming and a motivation crusher. I find clients stay motivated if they can feel successful on a regular basis.

  • Jenny says:

    Great post! You’re so stinkin cute! :) you know my motivation is to lead by example for my daughter. (I sound like a broken record I know) :) A fit mom makes for a fit family! <3

    • Erica House says:

      I watched that video last night (it was taken in Jan 2013) and I can see now why some people asked if I was eating enough … I was a littttle to thin for my tastes there!

  • I love this! Thanks for the great tips! I totally agree that you don’t have to be better than anyone else, just better than yourself!

  • Helen says:

    I love these tips, Erica! I totally agree with the Fitspiration and trying new workouts. With Fitspiration, I end up in that comparison trap, which is a terrible feeling. New workouts, on the other hand, is fun. I don’t get bored of my normal routine. lol. I recently got into BUTI yoga and it’s so much fun! It combines yoga and tribal dancing.

    • Erica House says:

      I seriously have to keep most fitspiration off of my facebook/instagram feed or I feel obligated to go out and run 10 miles every day. I’ll need to check out BUTI! I tried Insanity for the first time last week and loved it, so I may look into adding that program to my marathon training starting soon.

  • Great tips! Especially love thr first and last one. While I’ve never been overweight, my lifestyle was far from healthy in my early 20s- smoking, drinking, alcohol and caffeine all the time, and taking Adderall which interrupted my sleeping habits and moods. I stopped smoking and taking the med cold-turkey after some relevations and that’s when things clicked for me. Right now I’m doing light exercising and adding more cals to my diet to gain so,e weight, but overall my body and mind has felt SO much better the past few years when I chose to truly follow a healthier lifestyle. Thanks for a great post!

    • Erica House says:

      It’s interesting that you said you had this ‘clicking’ moment. That’s the only way I can describe it to others when they ask how I managed to make this a permanent lifestyle shift. It just clicked. I gave up all my excuses, knew I could do it, and put in the work. I just wish I knew what made people click!

  • I love this post! These are such great tips! Some people just don’t realize that working out is a lifestyle, which is why I really don’t understand why some people only exercise when they have an event coming up, such as a wedding or vacation. Then when the event is over they go back to their old ways. This is a very helpful post and I’ll be sure to share it with others!

    • Erica House says:

      UGH. I also don’t get the ‘diet’ mentality. If you cut back to 1,200 calories a day + exercise a ridiculous amount to lose weight what do you think will happen when you go back to ‘normal’? It’s amazing how many people think they can just diet/workout to their goal weight and then stop. I don’t understand why anyone would want to lose weight for an event, and then not feel good enough to want to maintain it after!

  • Amanda says:

    Great tips! I think a lot of people view exercise as something that has to be super intense, but when I was just getting back into running after a 4 year hiatus from it, I kinda just chugged along. As I got more in shape I was able to go faster and feel like I was getting more fit. It seems a lot of people view running as something that should feel painful, when it’s actually the opposite! When just starting out, it just has to ‘get done,’ not be speedy or intense. For me, running is very meditative and the speed has come from the consistency of doing it. A friend and I were talking about how if everyone got through the 2 week-1 month long ‘hump’ of exercising when you’re first getting back into shape, most people would keep at it! It’s just getting through that little bit of time that feels hard in the beginning of an exercise program.

    PS I’ve been reading for the past few months but this is my first time commenting. I love your blog, you always have interesting content. It’s a very enjoyable read.

    • Erica House says:

      Amanda – thank you for reading! I always love hearing from my silent readers :)

      Yes, running should be FUN. If people hate it they aren’t going to want to continue doing it! I remember how awkward it felt when I first started out (15 minute miles with lots of walk breaks.) But, as you said, about a month or so into it I started to see an improvement and I haven’t stopped since! I think having a friend or loved one to motivate you helps a lot also.

  • I believe it is a thing of the subconscious mind which sabotages the will to lose weight in its effort to keep the status quo. The idea of permanent lifestyle change must be totally embraced and
    internalized. Who succeeds in this does not need to count calories or exercises anymore.

  • maggietrl says:

    Hi Erica! I loved reading this. I just started really working to change toward a healthier me this week and I have had multiple people ask me what changed and I never know how to answer them, because I don’t even know what changed. I love the ideas you have though, and am linking this article in my blog post for tomorrow (onestepalafois.wordpress.com). Thank you for helping me put this into words!

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