I receive a lot of questions about how to stick with a fitness program over time. Specifically, people want to know about motivation and willpower. While those two concepts do go hand-in-hand, it’s important to recognize the difference between them: Motivation is your “why,” and willpower is your dedication to make it happen.
First, let’s talk about motivation -- your reason for wanting to succeed. When it comes to motivation, I usually think about the “why” behind my workouts: Why am I dedicated to working out most days? Why do I want to continue to eat protein and produce instead of chocolate all day? Why am I focusing on whole foods, and working on getting better-quality sleep?
For me, there are three main reasons (yours may be different):
- I want to be healthy and energized for my family.
- I want to be strong enough to protect my bones over time and engage in everyday activities. (For me, that’s hoisting my toddler “kettlebell” around all day.)
- I want to continue to see improvements in my fitness over time, so I know I need to continue to challenge myself.
Here are some tips for finding, and maintaining, your motivation:
- Have a concrete reason for doing what you’re doing. If you feel like you feel like you need to run this morning, take a second to think about why. Do you need the endorphins? Are you training for a race? Do you want to increase speed? Think about the why behind your workout, and that will light that motivational fire. Write down your “why” and keep it with you for the times when you might not be feeling like it.
- Create a balanced fitness plan. This will help to keep things exciting, help avoid workout dread, and enable you to hit the important aspects of training (strength, cardio, flexibility, intervals, and rest). If your workout motivation is general health, it’s important to have a balanced plan so you can avoid overtraining and promote results from your hard work. (Results also lead to increased motivation! When you see it working, you feel encouraged to keep going.)
- Think of how it makes you feel. This alone can be a good enough reason for why you’re doing what you’re doing. Eating well and exercising don’t just promote fitness gains and overall health; they can also dramatically increase energy and make you feel GOOD.
- Enlist buddy, group, or virtual support. These people can help to remind you of your motivation and provide a little kickstart or push when you’re feeling blah. Partner up with a friend or look online for groups with similar goals.
Willpower is where your motivation meets action. It’s your dedication to take the steps to achieve your goals, even when it’s challenging, and urging yourself to make the smarter choice, even when you may not feel like it. For some people, willpower has a negative connotation, especially when it comes to refusing treats, but willpower is not about deprivation.
Here are some tips for strengthening your willpower:
- Get enough sleep, eat regularly, and stay hydrated. If you’re exhausted, thirsty, or “hangry,” it can be much harder to make choices that align with your goals.
- Practice mindfulness. Meditation practice can help us to tune in with our intuition, and it can reduce stress and promote overall health.
- Just do it. Sometimes you may not feel like working out or meal prepping, but just do it. If you start and realize it feels terrible, you can always stop. Usually it’s the waiting or procrastination that makes things worse.
- Make it worth your while. If you’re exhausted and need an extra off day from the gym, make it worth your while. Foam roll, take a bath, do some gentle yoga or stretches, and give your body the restoration it needs. If you need a decadent dessert or extra-large glass of wine, do it and enjoy it! If you treat yourself from time to time and allow yourself to truly enjoy it (without guilt!), you won’t feel the need to go buck wild each time. Sometimes I want a couple of bites of dessert; other times, it’s two doughnuts. Listen to your heart and intuition.
A simple task for today: List some of the things that will motivate you as your healthy habits get challenging. Then, write down what you’re going to do to harness your willpower to push through.