Ask LH: How Can I Motivate Myself To Exercise?

Ask LH: How Can I Motivate Myself To Exercise?

Dear Lifehacker, You hear so much these days about healthy living these days and exercise in particular. But how can you exercise when the idea of exercise holds no attraction at all?

To make it worse, my job takes me anywhere in the city or surrounds at differing times so a routine isn’t possible. So how are you supposed to do it? Having diabetes I’m supposed to exercise, but I just haven’t got the motivation. Any thoughts? Thanks, Exercise Excluder

Slob picture from Shutterstock

Dear EE,

This is quite simple really. You don’t want to exercise, so you don’t exercise. You make excuses to back that up (“I don’t have a regular routine”), but that’s not why you don’t exercise. You don’t exercise because you simply don’t like the idea. Trying to persuade people to do something they actively dislike is very difficult.

Given that, I suspect that no matter what arguments I came up with to address your specific excuse (whatever your daytime routine, what’s stopping you buying an exercise bike and cycling in front of the TV at home?), you’d produce some more. Why? Because you don’t want to exercise.

We’ve written before about how to motivate yourself to exercise. For many people, a medical diagnosis is the trigger that makes them embrace a regular (or irregular) exercise routine. Their desire to stay alive overcomes all those other triggers. But that doesn’t seem to have been the case here.

Your only chance of becoming motivated is to identify why you don’t like the idea of exercise, and come up with a strategy to overcome it. For example:

Why you won’t exercise How to beat that excuse
I’m so unfit I don’t want to over-exert myself. Take up walking.
I have no idea of what technique to use. Hire a personal trainer.
I find exercise boring. Listen to podcasts or watch TV.
I’m ashamed of my appearance. Rent equipment to use at home.
I don’t have any time to exercise. Get up half an hour earlier.
I don’t see the point of it. Carry on. It’s your body, after all.

Any other thoughts readers?

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I’d suggest you check out Can Too:

    They are a not for profit that trains you for runs, swims or triathlons. It caters for people of all abilities, and is very inclusive. In return you pledge to fundraise for Cure Cancer Australia.

    I grew up in the UK where sport and athletics was very elitist, so if you weren’t on the A team, you were pretty much excluded. Can Too is the complete opposite – they’re there to train you to achieve a goal, no matter your ability level. The coaches are fantastic and it’s an incredibly social, supportive, and encouraging environment. And it’s a LOT of FUN! And the fundraising commitment is good for that extra bit of motivation, knowing that you’re not just getting fit (and having fun doing it), but raising money for a good cause too. Well worth checking out the website to see if there’s a program in your area.

  • What about “I hate every form of exercise, I hate how it makes me feel, I hate how hot and sweaty I get, I hate everything about exercise”? Is there any way of sneaking around that? Because that’s my problem.

    • Does walking really make you hot and sweaty? You don’t have to walk quickly. Just the same pace you would walk to your car… walk that pace for 30-40 mins a day.

    • Sure. You stop being disingenuous. You haven’t tried every form of exercise, and ‘I hate how it makes me feel’ is too general to be helpful. Imagine you didn’t like being around other people, and you were trying to explain it to someone via phone. If you said ‘I hate how it makes me feel’ do you think that would be a reasonable or adequate explanation?
      You can hate getting hot and sweaty, and as senectus pointed out there is swimming as an option to address that.
      To be fair, there are combinations of things which will make it very difficult and require overcoming something (e.g. hating how hot and sweaty you get, and being afraid of water) it isn’t clear yet that this is the case.

  • As pointed out, probably the key thing is to identify why you don’t want to exercise. In my case, the blocker was that exercise had to be incidental exercise; it couldn’t take away time from anything else I did. When I was working in an office, the solution was to cycle to work. Because the train was always crowded, reading while on the train was difficult and so there wasn’t that benefit. Also, cycling shaved 20 minutes off my trip.
    When I stopped always working in an office, I had to come up with another way to make the exercise ‘incidental’, or at least not taking away from anything else I did. My solution there was to set up a stationary bicycle arrangement with a desk so I can use my computer, or read, or do pretty much anything I would normally do at a desk (except draw, because of the fine motor movements) while cycling. There is an initial cost outlay in the set-up, but depending on your skills it isn’t high. In my case, I built the desk myself but there are specialised exercise-bike-desks out there.

    The main thing, though, is to identify why you don’t exercise. Until you have some idea of that, you can’t address it.

    • This is some good advice. As someone in this situation (feeling like I have no time to exercise), it’s worth sitting down and working out what it is you do after work that is more important than health.

      I wish I could bike to work, but given that work is a 40 minute drive there and back, it’s not feasible..

  • Stop looking for motivation. It’s not a hobby. It’s shit that needs to be done.

    It’s like the dishes. I don’t enjoy doing them. I remind myself it doesn’t matter that I don’t like doing them.

    Treat it like work. You’d never tell your boss that you just aren’t motivated to do something would you?

  • If I ever buy an xbox this is the view the kinect will be transmitting to microsoft HQ.

    If I don’t get an hour of walking in the morning I can’t do anything else for the rest of the day. If you dont want to do anything for whatever reason I don’t really care too much…….just don’t complain that your pants dont fit!! (im looking at you dad)

  • Blaket and I are on similar wavelengths here. One of the major issues seems to be the idea that you can’t exercise until you’re motivated, so you’re looking for motivation. That’s procrastinating. Learn to tell yourself to suck it up when you don’t feel like exercising. Have this conversation:

    You: “I don’t want to.”
    You: “What’s your point?”

    I tend to find that once I’m there, I might as well just do it. Put your sneakers and your ugliest old t-shirt on and start moving – even if it’s just a walk around the block. Once you’re there, you might as well stay there for half an hour to an hour. I joined a gym a little while ago and I have days where I don’t feel like being there but I force myself to smash out a heavy run or complete the set, even if I feel like I’m dying. I also have days where I’m not really feeling it and I’ll take it easy. I think those are important so I don’t associate exercise with dread.

    Forget motivation. Aim for self-control. It’ll serve you better in every single area of your life.

  • I can’t stand running/jogging etc. Its boring as hell for me.

    So instead I play sports. Its more motivating to actually do it every week and you push yourself physically during it as well (because otherwise you’ll lose…you don’t want to lose do you?!).
    Plus its more fun. And there’s the social aspect of it as well.

  • Don’t think about it; like the ad says ‘just do it’. The more you think about the exercise you’re about to embark on, the more your brain finds reasons not to do it and if you let it go, you find yourself thoroughly resolved to avoid it.

  • My motivation is vanity. 100%. I exercise to look good. I know it’s meant to be about fitness, and that’s an excellent side effect for me, but the reason I started walking, started running, and then started lifting weights… all just to look good.

    • 100% same here. I was never the muscly, jock type. I struggled. But i woke up one day and thought i dont have any excuses left to not do this. Plus I wanted to impress the hot girl at work. So…its still a work in progress but i already feel way better about myself now training 4 times a week.

  • Make it an obligation. Go with a friend who’s too shy to go on their own without you, or a personal trainer who’s really good at guilt-tripping you and/or will charge you for scheduled no-shows.

  • Dear Exercise Excluder,

    Don’t exercise then and 10-20 years later, just wait till the inevitable happens where the doctors either have to amputate your leg due to diabetes or you become blind due to glaucoma. Then you would have a legitimate excuse not to exercise, not being able to walk or see.

  • Buy a really top quality (heavy) exercise bike and put it in front of the television, preferably between the TV and couch. Not kidding. You can watch DVDs, play console games, etc.

    I can kinda relate. At some point in our lives we all put on some weight and have no time nor motivation to deal with it. And we find all the excuses under the sun to avoid it.

    I’m well on the road to recovery. I have lost a heap of weight, but I still have some to go. What did I do? Well I tried a lot of different methods that didn’t work, but I kept on trying. What has got me here is I joined a gym. Yeah I know, shock horror. Go back a year and tell myself I am a gym member and guess what I’d say? But I picked a gym where I’d feel more comfortable ,the gym at the nearest university. Very little muscle jocks, and they have their own space away from normal people. But a lot of the people going are workers at the uni who are at all levels of fitness. For every adonis there are at least 5 normal people and 2 people like us.

    My strategy was to enjoy myself when I was there. That started off with not pushing myself physically much at all and just going regularly. I listened to audiobooks to zone out. Even if you don’t push yourself that much, you do find yourself getting better over time. So I think the main goal is to just do something. You don’t even have to push yourself like a hero. You don’t have to get some dickhead personal trainer who can only count to 5 to yell at you.

  • I’m the same. Hate exercise, and hate sport. Hate sport cause of the elitism and thuggery, hate exercise cause it’s boring, exhausting and painful as I am not fit and I=’m fat. I enjoyed yoga though to think of it I enjoyed the yoga pants more (when they were on other people).

    My motivation lately to get back into exercise is to think about skills i can gain from it or other things it can add to my life (apart from the obvious ones). I have been thinking I’d like to be proficient in hand to hand combat, climbing and archery. You know, for the apocalypse. So getting those skills is one reason I’ve gotten back into it. The podcast or audio lecture idea is great as well.

    Additionally start progressively implementing it into your life, and have it an equal footing with other responsibilities. You’ll soon find the space for it and over time it’ll become a regular thing.

    Con a more disciplined friend or family member into exercising or go tag along with them when they exercise. Maybe your aunt Sharon walks the dogs every afternoon. Walk them with her, it may be a sure fire way to get in her will or catch up on family gossip. Turn exercise into a bit of a socialise or something fun. If you slack out your friend/ or family member will more than likely push you to do it.

    Another reason could be sex, I have noticed every time I go exercise with my ex (we are both still single) it always ends up turning into sexy times after. Maybe you could engineer something similar?

    Instead of renting equipment or paying for gym membership, maybe use that money to buy a new record/records every week. listen to them while walking/ jogging. Soon you’ll be able to put any hipster to shame with your extensive knowledge of the music scene.

    Keep it interesting by changing what it means for you and why you do it and how you do it.

    Do it for the lols

  • at 135kgs i decided to outsource my exercise and form the new habit by buying a block of ten ‘boot camp sessions’ or group fitness classes at a fitness studio. I figured if i cant keep an appointment with myself i can definitely offload the accountability onto someone else. Their experience is a bonus.

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