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Find motivation to exercise by using self-compassion

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Do you struggle with motivation to exercise? Have you enthusiastically started a program or new routine but pretty soon after lose your mojo? The HIIT classes you signed up for in January? By February you’re coming up with all the excuses not to go. The 12-week Couch to 5K program? Haven’t opened the app in weeks. When you feel like you’ve lost motivation to exercise, the self-loathing creeps in. Despite your rational mind telling you how beneficial it is, exercise becomes the last thing you want to do. It’s a vicious cycle and one I’m very familiar with.  

It doesn’t have to be this way. By thinking differently about exercise and practicing self-compassion, it’s possible to find lasting motivation. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I hope what I share will encourage you to explore this for yourself. 

Why is motivation to exercise so hard to find? 

The reasons why we’re not motivated to exercise are complex. These are some reasons that resonate with me. Can you relate?

  • The very idea of exercise can be stressful, contributing to a lack of motivation. It’s worth remembering that exercise is not something you have to power through a few times a week to the point of exhaustion and soreness. It’s about finding what you enjoy and honouring what your body and soul needs at any given time. 
  • Other areas of our life affect our motivation: our diet, stress levels, sleep, hormones, and emotional state. A restrictive diet or a diet high in sugar and processed foods can impact on our energy levels. The drop in estrogen that occurs in peri-menopause and menopause can result in aches and pains, interrupted sleep and anxiety. All of these factors can leave us struggling with motivation to exercise. 
  • But perhaps the biggest factor contributing to a lack of motivation to exercise is this: That our goals are unrealistic and subconsciously imposed on us by society’s fixation with body shape and size. The reality is that exercise has very little correlation with body shape and size, unless you’re a professional athlete. That’s why you can slog it out at the gym or do a dozen Tabata workouts or heaps of ab crunches and booty exercises and your body shape really won’t change much. This can leave you feeling ripped off, full of self-loathing and definitely unlikely to want to keep exercising. 

…in a world

That profits off your self-doubt

To love yourself is a rebellious act, yo!

Bliss n Eso, Lighthouse

How self-compassion can overcome a lack of motivation 

If we apply a mindset of self-compassion, we can start to overcome these barriers to motivation. Some ways to do this are: 

Say “NO” to exercise you don’t like doing

Just because other people like a certain exercise it doesn’t mean you should. Plenty of people like running, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Likewise with high intensity workouts. It took me a few years to give myself permission to admit that I don’t like them, and don’t want to do them.  

If the thought of exercise stresses you, ditch the word from your vocab

Replace the word exercise with the word movement. Just aim to move your body in a way that you enjoy and that leaves you feeling fantastic. That could be hiking, cycling, lifting weights, swimming, walking or dancing. All of those things sound more appealing if you think of them as ways to incorporate movement, rather than ‘exercise’, in your life.

Substitute or modify the exercise

If you hate running or high intensity workouts get your cardio in a way you enjoy. For example, you could try power walking, After all, walking is the most underrated exercise!  

You might love yoga but dread doing certain poses. Be kind to yourself and modify the pose to make it right for you, or take Child’s Pose instead. It’s empowering to honour yourself by doing what makes you feel good. 

Give yourself the best chance of success

Know your tendencies, for example, if you’re really not a morning person then don’t force yourself to get up early and exercise. You’ll only end up resentful and unmotivated to continue. You could try exercising at the other end of the day instead.  

Treat your body well

Restrictive and fad diets only serve to make you feel worse in the long term. Your body needs energy to move in the form of a balanced diet that meets your nutritional needs and that you enjoy.

If menopausal symptoms are impacting on your motivation to exercise consider seeing a health professional for treatment options. There are effective and safe treatments that can significantly improve your quality of life. I’ve written about this here.

Exercise for physical and mental health not for aesthetics

This is so much easier said than done as we’re bombarded by images of what our bodies should look like, That is, slim and muscular. This leads to the view that you need to exercise to achieve this ideal look. It’s a force that we’re almost powerless against, such is the way it damages our relationship with ourselves and our compassion for our bodies. 

You deserve better. Unfollow, defriend or limit your time with anyone who makes you feel crap about your body shape and size. Follow and be inspired by the growing number of fitpros who are calling out body shaming, fat shaming, racism, and ageism in the industry. Nikki Naab-Levy and Shreen El Masry are great examples. Their message is one of self-acceptance and self-love, and that exercise is about nourishment, not punishment. 

Infographic by Shreen El Masry @beyoubefree

Check your goals

Lasting motivation to exercise can only come from intrinsic sources, that is, goals that are linked to personal development, health and wellbeing. In other words, goals that are not dependent on validation from others.

An example of intrinsic motivation is the joy you might feel by going for a walk in nature, or how confident you feel after a strength workout. Extrinsic goals like exercising to achieve a certain image can work in the short-term, but ultimately won’t provide motivation for lasting change.

Now’s the time to think differently about exercise

Motivation is something I’ve really struggled with. Exercise and physical fitness is just not in my DNA! I know, however, that it’s so good for me because since I’ve been exercising regularly my health, my stress and energy levels, and how I cope with this stage of life have all significantly improved.

It’s taken a few setbacks to learn what motivates me to continue to exercise regularly.  What’s made the difference is thinking differently about fitness and exercise. A way that challenges self-criticism and comparison to ideals that are unrealistic and damaging.

I hope you too can find ways to show yourself compassion, and discover a renewed and lasting motivation for exercise and reap its benefits.

Sally xx

Header image by Scott Webb on Unsplash