Why Motivation Doesn’t Matter: Five Steps to Firing Up Your Exercise Mojo

When You’ve Lost Your Exercise Motivation…

… Don’t wait on exercise motivation to get started (or get back at it)!

I want to share a short story about a client, who I’ll call “Melissa.”

Like many of my clients (and myself!) do at times, Melissa recently went through a period of struggle with exercise motivation. In general, she felt “blah” and couldn’t get herself out the door to exercise… or to eat healthfully, either!

After a few weeks of this, Melissa confided in me what she was going through, and we were able to work around some new challenges. But in the process, I was able to connect with her on this very important tenet of my coaching programs:

Exercise motivation doesn’t matter all that much.

Sure, motivation feels great! But when something has become a long-term habit and routine, you’re not going to feel excited to do it every single time. It’s that simple. It would be like expecting to feel butterflies every time you make eye contact with your spouse of 20 years.

Just like hoping romantic feelings will magically re-kindle themselves tends to backfire, waiting to feel motivated to start exercising again is a recipe for never getting started. You may waste a long time, and experience serious backwards steps in your health and fitness in the meantime.

Plus, motivation tends to be a product rather than a fuel. In other words, motivation happens because of our actions – not the other way around.

But wait – don’t stop reading this blog post now! I don’t want you to click away thinking that I’m talking about “buckling down” or muscling through a boring routine using force of will.

Instead, let’s look at five steps for re-kindling your exercise routine (and some excitement!) without waiting for motivation to strike.

Step 1: Express self-compassion and self-understanding.

It’s super annoying to get on a fitness kick and then fall off the wagon…. but it does tend to happen to everyone now and then. Even personal trainers put on weight or otherwise get out of shape every once in awhile. It happens.

So don’t beat yourself up – instead, recognize that this is a behavior that you want to change, not an inherent flaw in your character!

It is far less overwhelming to tackle a behavior change than to assume that you have to change something about yourself or your personality.

Step 2: Be an investigator – has anything else about your lifestyle changed?

This is incredibly important. When you get down on yourself about your willpower or motivation, you may be missing that something external has changed in your life, like…

  • Your work schedule
  • The season of the year or the weather
  • Your sleeping patterns
  • Your workout buddy or exercise class
  • A medication dosage
  • Your overall health (unrelated to fitness)

You may find that it’s not an issue of motivation – you’re simply unable to make it to your regular exercise class because of a change in schedule, or maybe the short winter days aren’t conducive to your favorite activity of outdoor running. It’s easy to lose perspective and not notice when these things happen, and blame ourselves.

You may have been chalking it up to willpower, but the means and opportunity may be more important than motive in this case! Environment is crucial when it comes to exercise motivation.

Step 3: Ask yourself: “How Can I Adapt My Routine?”

At this point, you may have to acknowledge to yourself that you have fallen off the fitness wagon and that it may take a little work to get back into regular a routine until it feels normal again.

Analyze the obstacles that you found in Step 2, and make a game plan for how to work around your new life circumstances.

  • If your work schedule has changed, perhaps join a new gym or start going to a different exercise class.
  • If the short days are affecting you, try running after work instead of the morning.
  • If your sleep has gotten way off, take a look at nighttime routines to see where you could patch up your circadian rhythm for optimal health.

But if these simple fixes don’t seem to be the ticket, then maybe consider Step 4…

Step 4: Switch it up!

Sometimes, all you need for a little motivation pick-me-up is some variety. If you’ve been slogging through barre classes for months and are feeling bored and unmotivated… then maybe you should do something different, like reinvigorate your focus on strength training or join a new gym with a bigger variety of classes.

Special note: if you work with a personal trainer, be honest with them that you need something new to focus on! Most personal trainers have a wide range of skills and can be very flexible in varying up your workouts!

Step 5: Get real about results that matter to you.

Have you heard the saying, “What gets measured gets managed?” (Gretchen Rubin has some great tips about this, too!)

This refers to the fact that we tend to perform better when we track results. Think of yourself not just as a recreational exerciser, but as an athlete! Pick a goal for yourself – something that matters to you – and make a plan to accomplish it. Track your metrics and outperform yourself! This will automatically boost your exercise motivation because you’re holding yourself accountable.

For example, I find that my running clients do best when they wear trackers and watch their distance and pace. They’re more “motivated” to run partly because they’re motivated to improve their race pace or mileage!

Here are some ideas for tackling a real-world measurable goal:

  • Sign up for a race, triathlon, cycling event, powerlifting meet, or other public competition
  • Set a strength goal for yourself, like a certain number of pull-ups
  • Set a realistic goal for body composition that you’d like to accomplish in 3-6 months

What do I mean by “real world”? In this case, something that you could put on Instagram. Not saying you should or have to, but the idea is that this is something that you could communicate to others and have a verifiable outcome. Because let’s be honest – results (and public events) are incredibly motivating!

… So what about my client Melissa?

I’m happy to say that Melissa did get her mojo back.

Within a week of sitting down with me to discuss obstacles, goals, and mindset (because not all of my client sessions are actually workouts!), she found it easier to get to the gym and stay on track.

You don’t have to wait for motivation to magically strike – you can re-kindle it yourself with a little focus, creativity, and self-compassion!

Most of all, as I said first, don’t beat yourself up. No one feels excited about exercising all the time, and I find that the winter months are particularly hard on most of us up here in the cold.

But you can help yourself, achieve more, and feel better about yourself in the process!

What about you?

Have you gotten stuck in a rut? Which of these suggestions are the most helpful to you? Anything you would add? If you’d love to chat about this one-on-one with me, get in touch!

Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

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