A New Perspective on Motivation and Exercise

Today’s guest post was written by Robin Long. Robin discovered Pilates, which turned into a passion, and eventually her career.

Exercise. We all need it. We all benefit from it. Sometimes we love it and sometimes we dread it. Regardless of how we feel about it day-to-day, there’s no denying that in order to reap the full benefits of exercise it must be done with consistency over time.

Wouldn’t it be great if getting in shape were a one-time event? Like buying a car? You make the purchase and you’re set for a good 10 years. If only …

Alas, fitness requires consistent repetition and must be maintained on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

If you’re like me, sometimes it’s just hard. Hard to stay motivated and hard to stay the course long enough to make and sustain lasting physical changes. I struggle with motivation as much as the next person (yes, even though I’m a fitness professional), but thankfully there’s a secret to uncovering motivation that actually works. It’s unique, it’s personal, and where it comes from may surprise you …

There are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation = doing something because you enjoy it and enjoy the way it makes you feel. The reason comes from within, rather than from external factors.

Extrinsic motivation = doing something for rewards, praise, or a sense of obligation.

Now take a moment and think about why you exercise.

Do you workout because you feel like you SHOULD in order to please your spouse/parents/friends/etc.? Do you go to the gym because that’s what others do, so you SHOULD too? Do you watch what you eat and exercise so that others notice and compliment you on your body?

Or, do you exercise because of the way it makes you feel? Do you exercise because you feel better in your skin after a hot yoga session or because you actually (gasp!) LIKE it?

Take a moment to write down what it is that drives your motivation for those times when you struggle to get out the door. Get specific. Why do you exercise? Are you motivated by internal or external factors?

Research shows that those who rely more on intrinsic motivation are able to sustain activity for longer periods of time, avoid burn-out, remain consistent, and in the end, achieve higher levels of perseverance and well-being.

Those who rely primarily on external factors for motivation are prone to giving up, burning out, and ultimately losing motivation as time goes on.

Clearly, it’s not just generic motivation that keeps you moving forward toward your fitness goals, but rather the quality and source of the motivation you rely on day in and day out that leads you to success.

On a personal note, I believe this is why Pilates completely transformed my relationship with exercise. I LOVE doing Pilates. I’ve now been doing it consistently for years, rarely lacking motivation. I don’t do Pilates because I should, but because I love going to class, I love learning new exercises, and I love the way I feel when I’m done. That’s more than enough motivation to get me to class and keep me going week after week. For once in my life it finally feels easy!

So what does this mean for you?

While intrinsic motivation is proven to provide the best results, it is possible to find a healthy balance between the two types. Intrinsic motivation is often overlooked, and it may play the biggest role in your success, so keep that in mind next time you’re ready to throw in the towel. External motivation is not necessarily negative, but it should be balanced with intrinsic motives that come from within, free from outside pressure.

Action step: Make it a goal to find one form of exercise that you LOVE! Find something you find enjoyable, something you would do even if it weren’t considered exercise. Remember, you don’t have to be a gym rat to stay in shape! Try new things, explore what you love, and find the motivation from within.

Robin Long is a Pilates instructor and the creator of The Balanced Life, a website dedicated to helping women take a balanced approach to health and fitness. For encouragement, tips, and online Pilates workouts, visit Robin’swebsite, follow her on Twitter, or connect with her on Facebook.