4 Scientifically-Proven Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise

NOTE: These are SCIENTIFICALLY-PROVEN ways to motivate yourself to exercise. Focus on #3, this tip is VERY important!

Are you looking to turn your on-again, off-again exercise routine into a more consistent thing? Many well-intentioned exercisers desire to attend more strength training or Spinning classes, but struggle with finding the motivation it takes to get there on a regular basis.

Knowing that exercise is good for you and that you should do it regularly isn’t always enough to get you in the groove and become the type of person that says with enthusiasm, “I’ll have to take a raincheck on brunch today. I have to get my daily run in instead.” Work out gurus tell you you have to “want it bad enough” or that you have to do something 21 days straight in order for it to be second nature. But, what about day 22 when it’s cold out and you’d rather just stay in bed and sleep an extra hour instead of getting in that run?

Work Out Motivation for the Exercise Consistency 

The good news is, psychologists and economists have been extremely interested in figuring out what makes us do the things we don’t necessarily enjoy doing on a regular schedule. Many a study has been done, and here’s some of the best proven strategies to help make exercising a consistent thing in your daily routine.

4 Scientifically-Proven Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise

1. Reward Yourself with Something Real

Smoothie

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If the goal of weight loss or better health isn’t enough to keep you going with a regular work out routine, motivate yourself to keep it up by rewarding yourself with something tangible after each exercise session. A smoothie perhaps, or an episode of your favorite show might just be the push you need, according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Hobit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

In his book, Duhigg talks about neurological “habit loops” in which a cue is given to trigger a desired behavior. For instance, the cue might be setting your work out shoes next to your bag, which encourages you to attend your exercise class, which in turn leads you to your just reward. “An extrinsic reward is so powerful because your brain can latch on to it and make the link that the behavior is worthwhile,” he explains. “It increases the odds the routine becomes a habit.”

The reward (motivation) is essential because as time goes on, the brain associates the sweat and pain of your workout with that “I-feel-amazing!” feeling you get after a great exercise session. You essentially train your brain to realize that the workout itself is the reward, and before you know it, you won’t even want the treat you’ve promised yourself for exercising regularly.

2. Commit to Exercise Regularly… Literally

running

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You can say you’re going to work out religiously all you want, but research shows that you’re more apt to stick with it if you literally commit to the task.

When we say “literally,” what we mean is, in front of friends or by signing an actual contract. By upping the ante in this way, you make yourself responsible for your own actions. You could say something like, “Every time I skip my Pilates class, I’m going to pay a friend $20.” By making the act of exercising more costly, you’re more likely to keep at it, according to Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University.  “I say I’m going to make a commitment to do something for a certain amount of time, such as exercising 30 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks. If I don’t do that, I’m going to pay some kind of penalty, whether it’s monetary or the embarrassment of having friends know I didn’t live up to my word.”

By studying the people who use the site Stickk.com to create online contracts, Goldhaber-Fiebert and his partners discovered that users who created longer-term contracts were more likely to stick with the commitment versus those who signed short-term ones. “We have to get past the initial experience of displeasure in order to recognize the longer-term benefits,” he says. “The challenge is designing tools to help make that happen.”

3. Expand on Positive Thinking

Power of positive thinking

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Believers in positive thinking have promoted the act of visualizing the desired outcome of certain behaviors as motivation to achieve goals. For instance, when you’re deciding whether to get out of bed early or not to get a run in, it helps to visualize how good the sun is going to feel on your skin as you run. Or, how proud you’ll be when you see a sleeker, thinner you in the mirror.

However, according to Gabriele Oettingen, PhD, psychologist at New york University and author of the new book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the new Science of Motivation, such motivational fantasies are only successful in helping you achieve your goals if they are accompanied by realistic problem-solving methods.

After figuring out what it is that you want to achieve and seeing yourself reaching that goal in your mind’s eye, you have to also figure out what it is that’s keeping you from reaching the desired outcome. This technique is called “mental contrasting” by Oettingen.

Mental contrasting works like this; say you’re too tired after work to go to the gym. “After you imagine the obstacle, you can figure out what you can do to overcome it and make a plan,” explains Oettingen. So, as an example, you could switch your gym time to mornings or lunchtime, or maybe you could bring your work out clothes with you to work and go straight to the gym rather than stopping at home first.

4. Pay Yourself for a Job Well-Done

reward yourself

If you’re still struggling with sticking to a regular workout routine, it might be time to bribe yourself with some cold, hard cash. There’s a reason they say, “Money talks,” and who couldn’t use some extra moolah, right? Research done on the effects of offering monetary incentives in exchange for exercise shows that people who knew they’d receive $100 for going to the gym actually doubled their attendance rate. “You just need to get people to keep doing an activity, and paying them money was effective,” explains study author Gary Charness, PhD, behavioral economist at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

If you don’t have anyone willing to sponsor your exercise efforts, don’t worry. You can always download the Pact app. The Pact app is a community of like-minded users just like you who will actually pay you to keep to your workout schedule. If you miss a scheduled session, the app automatically charges your credit card or Paypal account. When you ultimately achieve your goal, you get paid from a community pool funded by you and others who stumbled along the way to achieving their goals.

pact health app

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how you become a regular exerciser, but you’ll know you’ve arrived when you can no longer imagine not working out. Call it an enjoyment, an addiction or an escape; the important thing is you’re doing it for you and your’re doing it regularly.

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