Progress Not Perfection: Overcoming a Lack of Motivation to Exercise

By Daniel Unsdorfer

Exercising is hard work. Finding the time to exercise can be equally as challenging. And even when you do find the time, you still must put in the effort. Some days the whole process can feel as challenging as climbing a mountain. And it’s not just us amateurs who struggle with motivation – even the most seasoned athletes have admitted to struggling from time to time. How can we make this easier on ourselves?

Here’s a trick that helps with this feeling on the worst days. If you really don’t want to work out, tell yourself, “Okay, I don’t have to work out today.” But, you must change into your workout clothes. If needed, remind yourself that they’re probably more comfortable than what you are already wearing. Then, convince yourself to put on your workout shoes. Grab your headphones and make a playlist of songs that make you feel good.

By the time you’ve done all this, you’ve gotten yourself ready to work out. You’ve basically put yourself on the starting line. At this point, reconsider your decision to NOT workout. Remind yourself that you don’t need to work out for an hour or even 10 minutes. Just 5 minutes is better than nothing. Even 1 minute is better! Find that target that feels like, “Okay, I can do this.” Even if the workout is just 1 pushup, 1 squat, 1 minute of walking.

Then do it. Once you’ve done it, you’ve already started, which is the hardest part! Even if you stop here, it is better than nothing. But once you’ve completed that first minute of activity, you may decide you can go longer than planned. Maybe you realize this feels good – you have given yourself a break from a hard day and accomplished something. You may decide that you DO have more to give today. Maybe you crush it!

And sometimes it’s still hard, and that’s okay. We don’t do things because they’re easy – we do them because they’re hard. It’s not called “playing out”! We work out to make ourselves healthier – the effort, the struggle, and the pain that you feel is not wasted – you are feeling yourself change! This is what you want. Sometimes, you have to lean into the struggle and remind yourself that the most important thing to remember about exercise, and your health in general, is to focus on progress, not perfection.

You can also try these tricks if you’re struggling with motivation:

  • Is there an errand, task, or assignment you can couple with exercise? You can get a walk in while dropping off a package or listen to a podcast while on the treadmill. Use the kill-two-birds-with-one-stone approach. This approach will make both tasks easier to accomplish!
  • Don’t think of it as exercise. Dancing and sports are great examples of things we associate with fun rather than work. Moving our bodies is fun. Make your workout fun!
  • Plan a reward for yourself after you work out (or postpone a fun task until you have worked out). The anticipation will make it easier to get through it.
  • Schedule it. If you already know your day will be busy and make it challenging to workout, nail that time down on your calendar. It will be harder to delay or waver when you know you’re on the clock. Alternatively, give yourself a few options if needed. Something unexpected came up during your typical morning workout time? Have a backup plan to get a few minutes in later in the day.
  • Get some support. Ask a friend to hold you accountable and offer to return the favor. Engage in some friendly competition perhaps?
  • Remind yourself of how you will feel once you’re done. Generally, you will feel good and accomplished. Who doesn’t like those feelings? There are many days where I have not wanted to work out, but it is incredible rare that I have regretted a workout after the fact.
  • Finally, don’t let a bad day yesterday ruin today. Give yourself compassion – everyone slips up from time to time. But don’t let one slip up become two. Get back on that horse and keep moving!

Daniel Unsdorfer is a Senior Claims Data Analyst. He is a lifelong athlete and sports fanatic, and loves running, playing recreational soccer and dodgeball. Outside of sports, Daniel is passionate about technology, especially when it comes to organization and efficiency, and his sweet cat Jinx, who supervises his work day (when she’s not napping).

Ready to receive the latest in health industry news, tips and trends?

Sign up and we’ll deliver helpful, interesting content right to your inbox.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Request a demo

Learn how Vitality can help.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.