The Two Ways to Self-Motivate When You Don’t Feel Like Working Out

Screw This

I don’t feel like working out today. Sometimes I feel motivated. Not this time.

I have no shortage of good excuses to skip my workout: The weather outside is frightful and inside it’s so delightful. I’ve got some work to finish up. I think I feel a cold coming on. It’s getting late. Also, didn’t Kim want me to help with dinner?

Take the day off. Just this once…

But I know I ought to get some exercise.

So what do I do?

I have two options:

  1. The childish technique
  2. The grown-up technique
Motivating myself to workout with the bribe of beer
“A couple more hill sprints and that beer’s yours…”

Option #1 When You Don’t Feel Like Working Out:
The Childish Technique

This is the option most people tend to turn to when they don’t feel like working out.

You motivate yourself to exercise the same way parents get their kids to clean their rooms, practice piano, or otherwise do what’s best for them: with bribes/rewards, threats of punishment, or guilt-trips.

So, to get my butt moving today, I can try:

  • Bribes: “If I work out, I’ll treat myself to a beer with dinner.”
  • Threats: “No TV this evening unless I work out.”
  • Mind games: “I’ll overpay $199 for a 6-week program. That’ll hold me accountable.”
  • Guilt trips: “What’s wrong with you? Quit being a lazy sack of lard.”

The childish self-motivation technique sometimes works.

Just as some kids’ early moaning and groaning about having to take piano lessons can metamorphose into a passion, some reluctant exercisers transform into fitness junkies.

But not often.

Usually, it backfires. And that’s because it conditions us to perceive working out as something we have to do, not something we want to do.

So as soon as we cut the cajoling, our desired exercise “habit” escapes. And it gets harder and harder to recapture every time.

That’s why I’m not going to bother with this childish technique to motivate myself to work out today when I don’t feel like it.

I’m going with Option #2, the grown-up technique.

Aside: Easy For You to Say…

Some might read this and think, “Easy for you to say. You already have a six-pack. And you’re a blogger with few real-life responsibilities and tons of flexibility to work out whenever.”

Fair enough. My life is indeed pretty sweet. This does make it easier to find time and motivation to work out. And, who knows, maybe I also have some exercise-favoring gene that you don’t.

But I didn’t emerge from the womb craving burpees, either. I trained myself to want to train myself.

And the grown-up technique is the one that has worked for me.

“A couple more hill sprints. Make ’em count.”

Option #2 When You Don’t Feel Like Working Out:
The Grown-Up Technique

Two quotes sum up my go-to grown-up method for motivating myself to work out when I don’t feel like it:

Stop viewing decisions as choosing what to do, and start viewing them as choosing who to be.

Random Reddit user

And,

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Putting these quotes together, self-motivation to work out comes down to one simple question:

Who do I choose to be?

Do I choose to be unhealthy or healthy?

Less than 5% of American adults do 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and only 23% meet the CDC’s minimum guidelines.

I’m part of that healthy minority. And I want to stay there.

me-celebrating-lifes-not-a-competition
I want to win at life.

Do I choose to be a failure or successful?

“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

I’ve thought a lot about what “success” means to me. For me, it’s winning at life and fulfilling my personal mission statement.

I can’t succeed in doing so without physical fitness and the mental well-being that comes with it.

Do I choose to be a push-over or relentless?

If I give in and don’t work out today, I’ll lose a bit of the momentum I’ve built up by pushing myself to work out even when I didn’t feel like it in the past. And if I keep giving in, I’ll eventually become a push-over.

But if I do the opposite and go work out, I’ll build momentum. And the more momentum I build, the more relentless I become.

Looking at my phone with a photo of my future self on  it
I use these exercises to remind myself to look out for Future Me’s best interests.

Do I choose to be selfish or unselfish?

My 100-year-old future self is counting on me to stay fit and fight aging so that he can hold his great-grandchildren and walk up and down stairs without support.

Choosing not to work out today wouldn’t help. It would hurt him, but benefit my unmotivated current self. That’s selfish. I’d rather be unselfish.

Do I want to be ungrateful or grateful?

I get to work out.

The opportunity to exercise for its own sake is a privilege that many people in the world will never have. Those less-fortunate people would shake their heads at my sorry excuses for not wanting to work out and my lack of gratitude for the charmed life I’ve been given.

Thinking about what workout to do
Less thinking. More doing.

Do I want to be inaction-oriented or action-oriented?

An inaction-oriented person has to choose to work out.

Their default is to stay cozy and comfortable and delay working out to another day.

An action-oriented person has to choose not to work out.

Their default is to get off their butt and do what’s good for them. They want to avoid the negative consequences of inaction like less energy, loss of momentum, and poorer mood. So they only choose not to work out when they have no other option.

Do I want to be a child or a grown-up?

I may feel like a lazy, unmotivated, excuse-generating, sack of crap sometimes. But I know what’s best for me. I don’t need childish techniques to get me moving.

Cheesy photo of Chris atop a mountain looking out
Just like this photo, believing I am successful, unselfish, grateful, etc., is cheesy. But it works.

No BS

Don’t confuse these statements with hokey positive affirmations.

I genuinely believe I can be successful, relentless, unselfish, grateful, action-oriented, healthy, and grown-up. Because I believe it, I act accordingly. And every time I do so, I solidify my chosen identity—and my body.

What about you?

Who do you choose to be?

I’m not going to treat you like a child and try to coerce you one way or another. Do whatever you want. And then be whoever you want.

I’ll leave you to it. I’ve got to go work out now, anyway.

Intense partner workout exercises cover image
This is way better than doing cable presses in the gym.

One Last Thought

Maybe another reason you don’t feel like working out is that your workouts suck.

Most people’s do.

They huff and puff going nowhere on treadmills, do push-ups with form that causes more harm than good, and waste their time with willy-nilly frilly exercises. Such workouts are monotonous and won’t deliver results. No wonder people don’t feel like working out so often.

Two recommendations on this:

  1. Don’t just do whatever. Ensure you’re doing the right movements the right way and programming your workouts to deliver results faster. Hire a coach, ask an experienced friend, film yourself, and/or self-educate.
  2. Do what’s fun. Ditch the gym and go outside. Throw rocks around. Play sports. And see our Health and Fitness page for inspiration.

Keep Motivating Yourself to Do What’s Best For You

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Chris and Kim

Kim and Chris started The Unconventional Route in 2018 to share their adventures fighting complacency to win at life. Today, over 150,000 people a month visit the site and thousands more explore a dose of uncomplacent ideas with them every 10 days in their free newsletter, Consider This.

2 thoughts on “The Two Ways to Self-Motivate When You Don’t Feel Like Working Out”

  1. Working out is only as effective as the amount of effort that goes into it. I feel like one of the best ways to stay on track, in this respect, is by rewarding oneself. A treat every now and then goes a long way.

    Reply
    • Hey Rob. Totally agreed that you get out what you put into your workouts. If a tangible reward motivates you to work harder, great. I find the intangible rewards of proving to myself what I’m made of plenty enough to get me working out like a madman. And those rewards stay with me, unlike the tangible ones.

      Reply

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