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“The motivation myth”

Motivation is everything right? Well it turns out the answer is no. Whilst motivation can be the driving force behind action, according to Emma (our exercise psychologist), it’s like a unicorn; a lot of us are just waiting for it to show up. 

Beulah Aidoo

Feb 28 2023

3 min read

When we feel motivated to exercise, the psychological pro is that the action of exercising feels like it takes less effort. We seem to somehow “just do it” (thanks Nike!) and the process of exercising feels more enjoyable. With motivation, we’re more likely to workout again. 

However, when motivation is not there, a lot of us wait for it to appear and in the time spent waiting for it (which could be forever!), we could have already started exercising. Relying on something fleeting like motivation sets you up to have an on-off, inconsistent relationship with exercise. 

The psychological con of relying on motivation is that when we don’t have it, we don’t exercise. Then because we don’t exercise, we don’t feel good. And when we don’t feel good, we tend to have more negative thoughts. And if we have the negative thought that “I can’t exercise”, we probably won’t try doing it. And because we don’t try, then we don’t feel good… you can see where this is going.

Another reason we shouldn’t rely on motivation is because we might look for it in the wrong places. Motivation in its simplest terms can be broken down into two types, internal (or intrinsic) and external (or extrinsic). As the names hint, internal motivation is the motivation that comes from within us; for example, we might exercise in a particular way because the actual exercise makes us feel empowered or happy. Whereas, external motivation comes from things outside of ourselves; for example, we might exercise for reasons related to our appearance. In this case, it’s the external source that provides satisfaction, rather than the exercise itself.

According to Emma, while external motivation might provide a kick start for some to start exercising (weight loss being the most common), research shows external motivation does not set us up for a long term and consistent exercise routine. Because, when the external motivator is eventually removed or not present, exercising will stop.

Rather than relying on motivation, often the more reliable equation is “exercise = motivation”. You don’t need to be motivated to exercise but when you exercise, the internal motivation can kick in. Emma explains that the best approach for building a long term and consistent exercise routine is making attempts to exercise, finding out what you do and don’t like, finding what does and doesn’t work for you, and building a catalogue of internal motivators.

But still, we don’t end up relying just on this. Throughout that whole process of exploring exercise, you gain lived experience in not always feeling motivated yet going to a new exercise class, or not feeling 100% certain if something is for you but giving it a go anyway. 

When you eventually find the exercise style that hits your internal motivation, you’ll also find out through the exploration process that you don’t always need it!

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Article Summary

It's all about motivation! Or is it? Read our take on the 'motivation myth' here.

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