The paradox of motivation is that when you have it you don’t feel like you need it, and when you need it, you don’t feel like you have it.
That might be a frustrating reality, but, if you can understand how motivation works, you can limit those times when you feel stuck in a rut.
You might think you need to feel motivated in order to start something new or take on a big challenge, but that’s a myth. Motivation follows your actions and not the other way around, which is why it’s easier to feel more motivated after you start a new workout or diet. The first movement could be as simple as buying workout clothes, writing out your workouts, or hiring a coach. But, you need to get the ball rolling to trigger motivation rather than wait for a surge of inspiration.
Think of it like Newton’s First Law of Motion: A body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion will stay in motion.
The key, then, is not waiting until you are motivated to tackle a new task, goal, or habit. Instead, you need a trigger to help jumpstart motivation even when it’s non-existent.
The key is not waiting until you are motivated to tackle a new task, goal, or habit. That’s the rest stage. Instead, you need a trigger to help jumpstart motivation even when it’s non-existent.
Then, the key to long-term motivation is ensuring that what you’re doing is tied to something of greater purpose, meaning, or benefit.
If you find yourself trying to find the willpower to do something, it likely means you haven’t yet connected your actions to a greater purpose.
Want more motivation? Make sure that the payoff of your action needs to outweigh the pain of your inaction. When you can see your behaviors as a trade-off of a life lived or a life wasted, then you’ll have the motivation that lasts.
As an added bonus, once you hit that level with your fitness, you’ll unlock greater results. In one 2015 McMaster University study, people who focused on intrinsic reasons to exercise felt like they churned out better high-intensity interval training (HIIT) performances than those who zoned in on other reasons.
To help you achieve your fitness and nutrition goals, use these science-backed tips to help jumpstart action. They are not an endless well of fuel, but they will provide a kick in the ass to get you going — and then the rest is up to you.
1. Picture Where You Want To Be (Not Where You Are)
This sounds like a crazy magic trick, but it’s more than an illusion. If you see yourself as someone who exercises then you are more likely to exercise. If you see yourself as a couch potato, then you’ll be picking the crumbs off your shirt.
Research from Harvard and Yale suggests that your actions tend to follow the label you give yourself. “It’s like the ‘law of attraction.’ The more positive you are, the more positive you’re going to become,” says personal trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S.
Meanwhile, according to a series of experiments published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, building yourself up using the second person (think: “you” versus “I”) results in a greater motivational boost. Time to start talking to yourself and using a narrative that creates a mindset of the person you can become. Look to the future to help make it your reality.
2. Have Skin in the Game
According to a Annals of Internal Medicine study, financial incentives around losing money are 50 percent more effective at getting people to work out compared to financial incentives around gaining money.
“People place a higher value on something they own than on the identical thing they don’t own,” explains Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist and author of Mind Over Fatter.
So how much should you bet? A previous review in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that bets as low as $5 per week can do the trick.
The key? Make sure someone holds you accountable. Tell a friend or family member about the bet (or fitness goal), and then make sure they play the role of bookie if you don’t follow through.
3. Create The Ultimate Playlist
In a 2016 survey from Sonos and Apple Music, people were 22 percent more physically active during weeks they surrounded themselves with music than when they went sans tunes. What’s more, once you start moving, listening to your favorite music can help you workout harder and longer, according to 2015 research from Ball State University.
4. Rely on Social Accountability
Research done on Oxford University rowers suggests that when people work out together, rather than solo, they automatically double their bodies’ levels of feel-good endorphins.
That may be one reason why Michigan State University research shows we consistently push ourselves harder and churn out better workout performances when we sweat it out with a workout buddy.
5. Remember An Awesome Workout
According to research from the University of New Hampshire, remembering a positive workout experience can significantly boost your motivation to work out again. After all, previous research in Health Psychology shows that, most of the time, people tend to drastically underestimate how much they’ll enjoy their workout.
6. Write Your Goals
Research from Dominican University shows that you’re 42 percent more likely to follow through on your to-dos (like making your 6 am workout) if you’ve written them down. Meanwhile, according to a 2014 University of South Florida study, runners who set both short and long-term goals—and then tracked their progress—increased their weekly mileage.
Accountability and Support
At Born Fitness, we know every individual is unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all nutrition or workout plan. Our team can develop a plan around your lifestyle to help you reach your goals.
If you’re looking for more personalization and hands-on support, our online coaching program may be right for you. Every client is assigned two coaches — one for nutrition and one for fitness. Find out more here.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and the author of You Can’t Screw This Up. He is the founder of Born Fitness, and the co-founder of Arnold’s Pump Club (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Pen Name Consulting. An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was previously the Chief Nutrition Officer for Ladder, the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to The Huffington Post, Bornstein is “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and E! News.