How You Can Motivate Yourself to Workout (and Stay Motivated Long-Term)

Dr. David Minkoff reveals the secret to harnessing true motivation.

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Photo by Chase Kinney on Unsplash
Photo by Chase Kinney on Unsplash

As a healthcare practitioner, I get a lot of clients who want to improve their fitness. That’s understandable since better fitness leads to better all-around quality of life, including better physical and mental health, improved sleep, and a longer lifespan in many people. But even with all these proven benefits, lots of folks have trouble sticking to an exercise plan. Whenever I run into those people, I love sharing this advice with them, as frankly, it can and often does lead to massive changes in lifestyle and happiness.

If you don’t like it, don’t do it

It’s simple advice, right? And pretty obvious, too. Or is it? By ‘don’t do it,’ I don’t mean you shouldn’t exercise, but that you should stop trying to exercise in a way that’s not fun for you. For some reason, many of us keep trying — and inevitably failing — to convince ourselves we should do things we find boring, painful, or just plain silly.

Jogging, doing yoga, and joining a gym is often near the top of recommendations for people who want to improve their physical fitness, but what if you simply don’t find those things enjoyable? Chances are, you’ll quit. What’s worse, you might even start to believe that you’re “just a quitter,” or that you don’t have it in you to succeed, when that’s actually far from the truth. Let me put it another way.

Fall in love with the problem, not the solution

This is common advice for entrepreneurs. “As a startup, figure out the problem you are addressing, and the users,” Waze co-founder Uri Levine once said. “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution, and the rest will follow.”

What did he mean? Well, the problem is what you’re going to spend every day working on. The solution is just your goal. If you’re not willing and able to do the former, you’ll never reach the latter. When it comes to fitness, you may have specific goals — a certain physique, weight, or ability. That’s your solution. But no imaginary future will be enough to keep you motivated through tough workouts. Instead, you need to enjoy what you’re doing today.

Here’s one more way of thinking about it:

Always focus on ‘process over product’

Artists and other creatives sometimes use this as a mantra to remind themselves that while having created something is a lot of fun, it’s impossible without a long-term commitment to the act of creating. Lots of people dream of becoming novelists, for example, but if you don’t love the act of sitting down and actually writing, then you won’t get very far.

This is why the ultimate motivation for working out is to choose a method that is enjoyable to you. You’re highly unlikely to get fit by going swimming if you hate getting in the water — you’ll just give up instead. Maybe you prefer tennis, or weight-lifting, or roller-skating. Maybe you prefer sitting indoors on a stationary bike and watching TV while you pedal. Whatever it is, finding that thing you actually like doing is the absolute best way to accomplish your fitness goals.

The ‘product’ is a healthier, happier you. But it can’t happen without the process — so find one you love, and sticking with it will be easy.

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