6 Science-Backed Fitness Motivation Tips That Really Work

The paradox of motivation is that when you have it you don’t feel like you need it, and when you need it you don’t have it. 

One of the biggest myths is that you feel motivated before you start something new, but that’s typically not the case. Motivation follows action and not the other way around, which is why it’s easier to be motivated to complete behaviors you’ve done before rather than one’s that you’re just starting.

Think of it like Newton’s First Law of Motion: A body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion will stay in motion.

The key, then, is not waiting until you are motivated to tackle a new task, goal, or habit. That’s the rest stage. Instead, you need a trigger to help jumpstart motivation even when it’s non-existent.

The key is not waiting until you are motivated to tackle a new task, goal, or habit. That’s the rest stage. Instead, you need a trigger to help jumpstart motivation even when it’s non-existent.

Once you do, it’ll be easier for the motivation to grow as you take action and begin to work towards your goal. Then, the key to long-term motivation is ensuring that what you’re doing is tied to something of greater purpose, meaning, or benefit.

If you find yourself trying to find the willpower to do something, it likely means you haven’t yet connected your actions to a greater purpose.

The idea is that the payoff of your action needs to outweigh the pain of your inaction. When you can see your behaviors as a trade-off of a life lived or a life wasted, then you have motivation that lasts.

As an added bonus, once you hit that level with your fitness, you unlock greater results. In one 2015 McMaster University study, people who focused on intrinsic reasons to exercise felt like they churned out better high-intensity interval training (HIIT) performances than those who zoned in on other reasons.

To jumpstart your fitness motivation, use these science-backed tips to help jumpstart action. They are not an endless well of fuel, but they will provide the kick in the ass to get you going — and then the rest is up to you.

1. Picture Where You Want To Be (Not Where You Are)

man sitting on couch with beer and tv remote

This sounds like a crazy magic trick, but it’s more than an illusion. If you see yourself as someone who exercises then you are more likely to exercise. If you see yourself as a couch potato, then you’ll be picking the crumbs off your shirt.

Research from Harvard and Yale suggests that your actions tend to follow the label you give yourself. “It’s like the ‘law of attraction.’ The more positive you are, the more positive you’re going to become,” says personal trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S.

Meanwhile, according to a series of experiments published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, building yourself up using the second person (think: “you” versus “I”) results in a greater motivational boost. Time to start talking to yourself and using a narrative that creates a mindset of the person you can become. Look to the future to help make it your reality.

2. Have Skin in the Game

two hands shaking on a bet

According to a Annals of Internal Medicine study, financial incentives around losing money are 50 percent more effective at getting people to work out compared to financial incentives around gaining money.

“People place a higher value on something they own than on the identical thing they don’t own,” explains Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist and author of Mind Over Fatter.

So how much should you bet? A previous review in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that bets as low as $5 per week can do the trick.

The key? Make sure someone holds you accountable. Tell a friend or family member about the bet (or fitness goal), and then make sure they play the role of bookie if you don’t follow through.

3. Create The Ultimate Playlist

person holding headphones and an iphone

In a 2016 survey from Sonos and Apple Music, people were 22 percent more physically active during weeks they surrounded themselves with music than when they went sans tunes. What’s more, once you start moving, listening to your favorite music can help you workout harder and longer, according to 2015 research from Ball State University.

4. Rely on Social Accountability

man doing crunches while woman holds his feet

Research done on Oxford University rowers suggests that when people work out together, rather than solo, they automatically double their bodies’ levels of feel-good endorphins.

That may be one reason why Michigan State University research shows we consistently push ourselves harder and churn out better workout performances when we sweat it out with a workout buddy.

5. Remember An Awesome Workout

man sweating and smiling

According to research from the University of New Hampshire, remembering a positive workout experience can significantly boost your motivation to work out again. After all, previous research in Health Psychology shows that, most of the time, people tend to drastically underestimate how much they’ll enjoy their workout.

6. Write Your Goals

a notepad that says "goals" next to a cup of coffee

Research from Dominican University shows that you’re 42 percent more likely to follow-through on your to-dos (like making your 6 am workout) if you’ve written them down. Meanwhile, according to a 2014 University of South Florida study, runners who set both short and long-term goals—and then tracked their progress—increased their weekly mileage.

Accountability and Support 

At Born Fitness, we know every individual is unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all nutrition or workout plan. Our team can develop a plan around your lifestyle to help you reach your goals.

If you’re looking for more personalization and hands-on support, our online coaching program may be right for you. Every client is assigned two coaches — one for nutrition and one for fitness. Find out more here. 

READ MORE: 

How To Overcome Lost Motivation

Mindset, Motivation, & Mistakes: Interview With Martin Rooney

Finding Happiness