Now 2016 is fully upon us, many of us will have noticed an increase in the amount of people in your local gym. A diverse range of individuals, some of whom may never have taken part in any exercise before, will be busting a gut on the cross trainer, hoping to burn off the calories from over Christmas. The 1st of January brings with it a burst of motivation, in stark contrast to the end of January when the gyms are back to how they were just before Christmas. Motivation to take yourself to the gym or to go out on a run starts to decrease when teamed with having to balance it with a work life, social life or family life.  Understanding motivation and how to maintain motivation is the key to establishing a lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise for the long term.

Motivation represents one of the most important variables within sport and exercise, known to be one of the most important elements that facilitate exercise participation and a positive experience (Vallerand, 2004). The two main types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is evident when individuals engage in exercise purely for the pleasure and satisfaction of participation. An example of intrinsic motivation would be when an individual takes part in a spinning class because they enjoy it and find it satisfying when they complete the session. The psychological needs that underpin intrinsic motivation are the needs to determine one’s behaviour, the need to feel competent and the need for relatedness (Adie, Duda & Ntoumanis, 2008). When these basic needs are satisfied, an individual will have high intrinsic motivation, striving to learn new skills, get fitter and adhere to exercise regimes.

Extrinsic motivation involves individuals taking part in exercise for some kind of reward that is external to the activity itself (Vallerand, 2004). An example of extrinsic motivation would be when an individual partakes in exercise in order to beat someone in a competition or perform better than their personal best. Further to this, a number of types of extrinsic motivation exist on a self determination continuum (Deci & Ryan, 2011). External regulation, the lowest level of self determination, refers to behaviour that is regulated through external means such as avoiding constraints or achieving rewards. Introjected regulation refers to when the individual begins to internalise the reasons for exercise, exercising to avoid feeling guilty. When the behaviour becomes valued and important to the individual, for example when an individual exercises to get fitter and run for longer next time, it is referred to as identified regulation. Finally, the highest level of self determination is integrated regulation which refers to when an individual exercises because it is good for their health.

“If a reward—money, awards, praise, or winning a contest—comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right.” Alfred Kohn.

For maintaining motivation, intrinsic motivation is extremely important. Extrinsic motivation is not sustainable alone because as soon as the reward is taken away the motivation disappears. If the rewards stay at the same level, motivation will slowly drop off and to get the same motivation each time, the reward needs to get bigger. Individuals who have the best motivational outcomes such as persistence, a positive attitude and excellent concentration are those who are both extrinsically and intrinsically motivated (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011). If you are a person who regularly takes part in exercise by going to the gym or attending classes, you may be motivated by both an internal satisfaction and enjoyment of exercising but also because you want to be better, fitter and more able to exercise harder each time.

Once a basic understanding of motivation is developed, it is always handy to know ways to keep the motivation high and not dip as the weeks go on. One important area within exercise adherence involves a situation that we all may find ourselves in; high risk situations combined with a lack of coping resources. In other words: finding the time to continue exercising when you are faced with the daily challenges of family life, work life, going on holiday, poor weather, stress and travelling. This is known as the Relapse Prevention Model (Marlatt & Gorden, 1985). Identifying these situations and developing strategies in order to deal with them early on will prevent lapses or relapses in an exercise regime (Jones & Rose, 2005).

Often, many of us do not feel like exercising; the mere thought of going to the gym after work or early in the morning fills us with dread. Part of the Relapse Prevention Model is to help individuals question their “all-or-nothing” thinking, for instance, when an exercise session is missed, many individuals decide to wait until the following week or even month to resume their regime with the all too familiar, “I’ll start again on Monday”. The negatives thoughts that lead to this can be replaced with more realistic and positive ones by being aware of how the negative thought lead to the behaviour of missing that gym session or not going for that run. It is important to challenge those thoughts! Think about what you would say to a friend that has the same negative thought and is contemplating not continuing with the exercise, and focus on the positivity you would give to them.

It is also useful to remind yourself why you started exercising in the first place. Write down all the reasons you want to start exercising and when the going gets tough read through them and think about why you started in the first place. Continue to set goals, short term and long term, which will help you get through the days, weeks and months and keep your mind focused on that final aim, making it easier to overcome any hurdles along the way. Write down at the start of each week a goal that you want to achieve by the end of the week, and do the same for each month as well as having one big goal that you want to achieve by the end of the year. All the short term goals will help you to reach that long term goal.

Some people find that a good motivating tool is to take a picture of themselves at the start of an exercising regime and have it on their mirror at home so on days when you don’t feel like exercising you can look at the picture and get a boost of motivation.

Finally, remember the balance of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. It is great to have a motivation that stems from wanting to be a bit competitive and be beat people or be able to set personal bests or received rewards, but the most important aspect of exercising is the intrinsic enjoyment. There is nothing that will keep you exercising more than the internal drive that is rooted in enjoyment. Enjoy what you do, and it won’t feel like a regime or a ‘chore’, it will make you wonder why you haven’t been doing it all along.

ReferencesShow all

Marlatt, G. A., & Gordon, J. R. (1985). Relapse prevention: A self-control strategy for the maintenance of behavior change. New York: Guilford, 85-101.

Jones, C. J., & Rose, D. J. (2005). Physical activity instruction of older adults. Human Kinetics.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2011). Self-determination theory. Handbook of theories of social psychology, 1, 416-433.

Karageorghis, C., & Terry, P. (2011). Inside sport psychology. Human Kinetics.

Adie, J. W., Duda, J. L., & Ntoumanis, N. (2008). Autonomy support, basic need satisfaction and the optimal functioning of adult male and female sport participants: A test of basic needs theory. Motivation and Emotion, 32(3), 189-199.