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Motivation For Exercise: A Mental Approach That Will Keep You Active

Updated on September 29, 2012

Don't Just Change You Mind, Change Your Mindset

Have you every caught yourself in the gym watching everybody else workout, wondering exactly why they're there? Tony's body might be over there grinding out rep after rep with the curl bar, biceps bulging, but where is his mind? How does he find the motivation to hit the gym with grueling intensity 5 days a week? Meanwhile Sandra's legs are pumping away on the stair-climber, but where's her brain? What's the mental approach that enables her to exercise hard almost everyday? Let's talk about finding motivation to workout, and what it will take to get you back on your "fitness feet".

Newton's Third Law of Motion might say that "to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction". That may be true, but I have a different way of thinking about action. I think that for every conscious action, there is a motive. Working out is no accident. The people that make time for exercise have their reasons, and those reasons are ever present in their minds, otherwise they would have quit long ago. Tony and Sandra obviously have their reasons for exercise, and if you're reading this, chances are you have reason to workout, too. Why else would your eyes be on this page right now?

If you've been to a personal trainer before, you've probably heard something similar to "keep your mind on the exercise", or "stay focused on every rep". This is good advice to help with performing a specific movement or a set of a particular exercise, but a lot of trainers miss the bigger mental picture. What about staying focused to workout in general? Thinking about keeping your back straight during squats is probably not going to motivate you when you're getting off of work and contemplating the cushions of your lazy chair. If, in this hypothetical scenario, you decide to go to the gym, it won't be because you changed your mind about the allure of relaxation, it will be because you changed your mindset about exercise.

As a personal trainer and fitness enthusiast, I hear the same questions from people over and over again: "Why do you workout when you don't have to?" and "Isn't exercise hard; why do you choose to do something that is difficult?" These inquirers have unknowingly hit on a key concept to finding the very motivation they question. You don't have to work out; it is a choice. And it's your choice; a choice that no one else can make for you. It's very empowering when you contemplate how in control you really are over your health and fitness.

It's important to realize that different people are different. And different people will have different reasons for working out. There's so much variety here that it's very hard for someone else to try and guess what your individual motivation is. The key thing here is that you should find your own reasons and not adopt someone else's. Somebody else's purpose for exercise will leave you saying "it's not worth it" after two minutes of exertion. And the truth is, it's not worth it; not for somebody else, not for their reasons or their convictions. You have to do it for your reasons. It's important to note here that you shouldn't try to force another adult to become fit or even healthy for that matter. A lot of people have the best of intentions for their friends and loved ones, and often reflect a very thoughtful and considerate sentiment when trying to get them to exercise, but ultimately it is each person's choice for him or herself. If you try to make an unwilling person exercise, you will only alienate them and cause resentment. I've seen it happen multiple times. Simply make exercise options available, voice your support, and then let them make the decision.

Can you identify why you want to workout? Figuring this out is vital to your consistent attendance to the gym and ultimately the achievement of your fitness goals. There's a lot of people out there that want to experience life with their kids and grand kids, so they find motivation to workout by thinking about their family. Others are desperately trying to avoid medical problems after a decline in health, and start exercising to elude irreversible conditions and symptoms. A lot of people feel better about themselves when they're exercising regularly and looking thier best. Still others simply want to lose weight; but the motivation behind these desires differs from person to person. You have to recognize this unique motivation and actively use it to keep you in a "fitness mindset". You must utilize whatever mental incentives you can to illicit the greatest physical dividends. Some people derive tremendous motivation from pictures; whether pictures of what they use to look like, pictures of their loved ones, or just pictures of people they want to look like. If this is a good motivator for you, put up some pictures in places you wil see them often; In the bathroom mirror, on your steering wheel, or in even in the fridge to help you remember to eat right. The important thing is to fashion an enviornment that fosters an attitude that brings you closer to your goals, whether that's strategic photo placement or watching clips of dive-bombing pelicans (whatever works for you); if it helps you stay motivated, it needs to be all around you.

With all this talk about finding your own reasons for exercise, I don't want to undercut the importance of a support system. And by that I mean having other people around who help motivate you in staying fit and reaching your goals. Having a workout buddy is one of the best ways to do this. But it's important to distinguish between working out with someone else and working out for someone else. Up to this point I've spent a few words talking about why you don't want to be exercising for somebody else. But having people around you that help you stay motivated for the right reasons can make all the difference in the world. We are all human, and humans need other humans. It's okay, don't be ashamed of dependence. But don't play the "I need support" card so much that you begin pinning your own success on someone else. Remember, you ultimately hold the key to your own achievement.

I hope this article has helped you view the mental aspect of exercise a little bit diffently. Maybe the next time you're sitting in the gym wondering where the Tonys and Sandras of the world find their incentive, you'll muster up a little motivation of your own. The lazy chair can wait, you've got a workout to get to.


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