The Psychology of Motivation: Exercise Edition

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. This week I will be sharing some insight on the psychology of motivation, as well as some great tips and resources, pertaining particularly to exercise. Next week I will cover how to find the motivation to eat healthy (similar for sure but worthy of it’s own post!) 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!

10 Tips for finding motivation to exercise:

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/calendar. Having 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 SparkPeoplemy next DietBet, or my Plank ChallengeOne 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.

motivation1

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.

Motivation3

 

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.

MOtivation4

Comments

  1. says

    Love this post so much. I had no idea you went through that amazing weight loss; WOW! I have even more respect for you now than I did, which was already a ton. I’m not overweight, but I could lose the 15 pounds I put on since college and this post is really going to help me do so. Thank you thank you thank you.

    • Erica House says

      Thank you so much! I’m looking forward to writing more posts that pull on my psych background and personal experience with weight loss. I’m so happy to hear the post has inspired you!

    • Erica House says

      In a weird way I think physically loosing weight was the ‘easy’ part – the bigger challenge was revamping my mentality!

    • Erica House says

      When that light bulb went off for me I officially gave up ‘dieting’ for good. It’s amazing how people think they can just do ‘this’ (a certain diet or exercise program) until they get the results they want and then just stop!

    • Erica House says

      We can totally be internet besties :) #8 hit home for me the last few weeks since I haven’t been able to work out as much because of my knee and I was starting to get some pretty severe anxiety/stress building up. It was so frustrating! Luckily, it inspired me to get back into meditation since I need other ways to cope with stress that don’t involve vigorous exercise in case I get injured again.

    • Erica House says

      :D Thank you! I think I am happier with my improved mental state than I am physical appearance. Not that I’m dissatisfied with how I look – I’m just more proud of the adjustment I’ve done on my mindset the last few years!

  2. says

    Excellent post!! I really enjoyed watching the video and reading it. I thought that #10 was an especially good point to make. Being someone that is recovering from disordered eating issues, I am keenly aware how pictures of other people looking “perfect” affect how we feel about ourselves (even if I know that Photoshop helped to create the “perfection”, I still get sucked into thinking that is how I’m supposed to look). It is much healthier to stay focused on beng our own best selves. I am looking forward to your next video about motivation and eating.

    I just have to add that I love the adoring way that Salem was looking at you as you were speak toward the end of the video. He is adorable and looks so sweet! Of course, I am partial to black cats since I have 2 of my own that I rescued, but I think they are awesome!

    • Erica House says

      Lol – I did notice that he was staring longingly into my eyes at the end! He was a rescue cat as well. I adopted him and his brother after they were found in an ally together and were born with FIV. I should actually write up a post on him soon!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the video. It’s a bit on the longer side so I anticipate most people will pass it and just read the post. I debated on putting #10 on there since I know sooo many people love ‘fispiration’ but the negative effects it can have on people’s psyche is something I feel pretty strongly about. Everyone is different, but as you said, they usually act as a negative trigger for me versus providing any sort of actual positive motivation.

  3. says

    I love your videos! This is a great post. I use to be the “exercise for punishment” girl. It never worked and I never stuck to it. Thankfully, I was able to let go of that and learn to love it. I’m a bit addicted to the endorphins as well. I feel my best right after exercising!

    • Erica House says

      #Truth! Once people make that amazing transition from doing exercise because they *have* to – to doing it because they *love* to, there is no going back!

  4. says

    Great post, Erica. I used to dread working out, and now I realize it’s because I used it as a penance for bad eating. Now, I set challenges and goals for myself that have nothing to do with weight or size and everything to do with strength or endurance. And this helps me WANT to get my work out in. :) Also, I had to laugh at #9 where you write “create a plank of attack.” You might not have meant that, but I actually think it’s quite fitting, and I’m getting tickled trying to think about what an actual “plank of attack” might look like. Have a nice Wednesday!

    • Erica House says

      “I set challenges and goals for myself that have nothing to do with weight or size and everything to do with strength or endurance.” This is SO important! I should have encouraged everyone when setting SMART goals to think of things aside from losing weight. You become number obsessed and that can quickly turn negative.
      LOLOLOL I didn’t realize I put plank of attack. So Freudian!

  5. melissa a says

    Impressive before and after! Great post! I look forward to keeping the 1-1o motiviators in my mind, especially on the more challenging days!

  6. says

    Great post, girl! I really love that you emphasized several times (in different ways) that this isn’t a temporary thing. It’s permanent, and if you want your weight loss (and health) to remain permanent, then it can’t be rushed nor can it be temporary.

    I did a post on SMART goals, and it’s been one of my most popular posts. I think having smaller, achievable goals is incredibly INCREDIBLY important, because having just one big, farther-off goal can be overwhelming and discouraging. So, amen to that!

    Fitspiration….I recently did a post on this, because I’ve seen tons of debate on it. Fitspiration is different for everyone. For me, it’s a picture of a woman running with a great quote attached to it. Like Nike ads. Love ‘em. For others, it is that skinny model with laser-cut collarbones and an 8-pack. Do I think that second image is good for self image? No. It’s not. Because it does open up room for comparison, and that’s damaging. But if you find yourself inspired by a strong, healthy runner or a specific quote, then be inspired. It’s healthy! There’s a word for the type of firspiration you speak of: thinspiration (or thinspo). Fitspiration is the inspiration to become fit in general. At least for me and most people I find myself surrounded by. :) (And to me? It’s all about the “fitspiration” you find in yourself and in the support system you have.)

    PS: Congrats on such a great weight loss success! You look fabulous. :)

    • Erica House says

      It took me 2 years to lose the 55 pounds. People look at me in shock when I say that but really – those two years are going to pass no matter what and the slower the weight comes off the more likely it’s going to stay off!

      I LOVED your post on Fitspiration. I agree that I can appreciate fitspiration, but there is a very fine line between that and thinspiration. Whenever I try to go find quotes/images to use in the blog I can’t help but come across as many (if not more) unhealthy/unrealistic images than I do truly motivational or inspirational ones. We need to start our own movement!

  7. says

    Love this post. I just started reading your blog, and I can’t wait to delve into it more! I much prefer working out in the mornings, but it’s hard to make time for it. But you’re right, I need to “get over it.” I’m also really excited to participate in your plank challenge!

    • Erica House says

      Thank you! I hope I didn’t sound to harsh when I said ‘get over it’ but there really is no other good advice! It’s HARD to get out of your comfy warm bed in the mornings to workout but once it became a habit for me it’s something I go to sleep looking forward to. So many of my students/friends struggle with this and there is just no easy or quick fix. #GetAfterIt

  8. says

    Great list! I like how you’re combining exercise/psychology. It’s what makes your posts so interesting. Also, great job on the weight loss.

    • Erica House says

      Thank you! There is such a natural marriage between mental health (psychology) and physical. I’m excited to explore many more topics with this duo!

  9. says

    All of the points in this post are things that have helped me lose the 50+ lbs. that I have lost in the past year and a half or so.
    I completely agree about just going through the motions until eventually it becomes a habit and you can’t imagine not doing it. When I started out I had a rule that if I didn’t feel like working out I’d give it 10 minutes. If I didn’t want to, then I could leave, but about 90% of the time I stuck to it.
    I had extras of EVERYTHING in my gym bag so there was never an excuse. I kept a crappy mp3 player, extra headphones, money for a water bottle, extra socks, bra, and underwear. Anything that I could potentially forget and would hinder my workout.
    If you REALLY want it, you will make it happen. The biggest challenge for some people is getting to that point.

    • Erica House says

      “I had extras of EVERYTHING in my gym bag so there was never an excuse.” SUCH a good tip! I’ll never forget the time I drove to the gym before work only to realize after that I forgot my bra at home :/ Had to text the bosslady I was running late and stop by Kohls lol. Congrats on maintaining the 50 pound weight loss!

    • Erica House says

      It’s been a few years now so I don’t feel like much of a ‘before-and-after’ story anymore! But, thank you :)

  10. says

    The long run, that cuts it for me. In relation to your first point, that’s probably my biggest motivator. The vision of my goals is certainly a biggy which keeps me on track, and it also makes me smile when I know what’s coming :) The vision of my goals in the future has definitely helped me to become a more conscious decision maker as well, because all my actions must align with my top 3 passions (only 1 of which is actually exercise and the like), and if they don’t, well then I don’t think that they’re worth it.

    The mindset behind it all is such a great boost, and I can’t help but smile or even laugh when I’m writhing in pain from the burn, but that’s just awesome!

    I may have only mentioned those 2, but all of these are great points, thank you, Erica!

    P.s. I’m now on your plank challenge, good luck! ;) Oh, and have a fantastic rest of the week!

    • Erica House says

      You are fostering such an incredible dedication to health and wellness early on in life so I’m sure you will never run into any long-term motivation issues! Long term visions are key – for me, exercise is the best form of health insurance.
      So glad you joined the plank challenge. I’m getting started on the challenge early and did 2 minutes today!

    • Erica House says

      :D That made me big smile. Thank you! Post like this take hours and it’s always so nice to know people appreciate it!

  11. says

    Erica you are just so super fabulous- I LOVE this post and I LOVE the vlog!!! I can totally relate to everything you say and I think this post will help TONS of people!!! You are beautiful on the inside and outside too!!

    • Erica House says

      I love you!! This comment just put me in the best mood :) I am exhausted after teaching my night class and I love coming home to such nice feedback. So glad you enjoyed it!

  12. says

    Thanks so much for this post! I really needed some motivation right now to get my butt back on track! I have used those excuses for too long, too tired, no time etc…. and you are so right i just need to focus and get back on track :)

    • Erica House says

      I wish there was an easier answer for those problems but there just isn’t! Got to get out there, get moving, go through the motions – and the day will come when “I have to” changes to “I want to!”

  13. Kim says

    I love this post! I’m relatively new to the healthy lifestyle blogging world, but this post is one of the best I’ve read. I’d actually like to share this on my Facebook page for others, but I don’t want you to think that’s creepy!

  14. Sarah says

    Number 7 is something to think about.
    None of my friends are interested in fitness at all, and this may be why I have ended up reading so many blogs like yours.
    I really appreciate that you obviously take a lot of care and time to write quality content.

    • Erica House says

      Thank you so much for noticing how much time I invest in my writing! This post did take me about 4 hours with reading articles, writing and shooting the video. I absolutely love it though so it never feels like work for me. I would encourage you look into a site like SparkPeople to find others online to share your health journey with. It makes a huge difference in staying motivated and committed!

  15. Olya says

    Ah! I had to print this post out! I’ve lost 22 pounds 8 years ago by becoming a vegetarian (first following G.McKeith diet plan, and then for ethical reasons) and being active. But since I moved in with my mom and she started cooking childhood favorites (using meat, cheese, and mayo), I got confused and did not say no at the time, and the weight came back on! Then I got into bodybuilding and got even more confused, because they recommend eating tons of animal protein while lifting heavy. I forgot why I became a vegetarian in the first place! Only recently I have re-read “You’re what you eat” book that reminded me about everything i lost along the way, and now I follow a vegan diet, while still doing weights. I have to constantly remind myself not to expect miracles and fast results. I’m going to try to persuade myself that my mindset has to be changed in regards to exercises, and already deleted ‘fitspiration’ board on Pinterest (I mean, Oh my God, it makes so much sense and it HAS been making me feel discouraged because I will never look like them, even if I exercise 12 hours a day!). Thank you, Erica, you are a true inspiration!

    • Erica House says

      Congrats on deciding to go vegan and pursue a healthier lifestyle! I know it’s not easy, especially when you are at home and have access to all that amazing home cooking/snacks. I think you will notice a HUGE improvement in your mental state now that you’ve gotten rid of your ‘fitspiration’ board. I’ll be writing another post soon on social comparison but I got over a lot of my negative body issues once I got rid of cable and quit reading a lot of womens magazines. The only person I will ever compare myself to, is myself!

  16. says

    Great post! Can’t wait to see your eating healthy tips. I know for me personally a mix of all 10 tips you give helped with the motivation, weight loss and staying on track. After a year of constant working out I find rest days the hardest. Because my body and mind feels like it should be doing something more even though I spend my rest days being active as well. And I can see I’m not the only one ;)

    • Erica House says

      I’ve started meditating more partly as a way to help keep me stress free on rest days! I’ll also sometimes ‘cheat’ and go outside for a walk still. I can’t help it, I need to feel active and I especially enjoy the fresh air outside!

  17. says

    You have had so many good posts lately. So inspiring and so much truth! I’m really enjoying your Plank Challenge and hope it becomes a habit after a month.

    • Erica House says

      Thank you! I have been on a roll lately :) I attribute a lot of it to that reader survey I did. People said they wanted more psych-related posts, so I’m trying to deliver!

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply