What’s the secret to feeling motivated to exercise?

August 12, 2021
This week blog is kindly written by Rebecca Tomlinson, an anti fitness-culture Personal Trainer.

I asked her to share the secret to feeling motivated to exercise. What follows is her message to us all.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Just Do It”, haven’t we? Nike’s famed tagline, attempting to give us the motivation to exercise.

The thing is, despite what Nike professes, an approach to exercise of “Just Do It” really doesn’t actually work to motivate us at all. “Just Do It” is heavily soaked in obligation… It basically says to us “just get it done. Push yourself regardless; tick it off the list; no excuses…”.

I mean, you can feel the weight of the obligation just reading that, can’t you? It feels so heavy and forceful; completely devoid of any desire, right?

The “Just do it” approach.

One big problem with trying to use something obligatory as a form of motivation is that it will always fail. This is because motivation comes from desire, not from obligation.

And with all the obligation and discipline that the “Just Do It” approach implies, it completely ignores every part of ourselves; our intuition, how we feel, how we want to feel… these aspects are completely ignored. They tell us that how we feel doesn’t matter. When you’re on a journey to intuitive living, it makes engaging with exercise in an intuitive way feel almost impossible.

Intuitive living is connecting with ourselves and our bodies as a way to make decisions that respect how we feel in any given moment.

“Just Do It” is the antithesis to intuitive living.

It asks us to leave these important parts of ourselves at the door, and to then leave the rest of ourselves in a sweaty broken mess on the floor all in the name of just getting it done.

The phrase “Just Do It” speaks for the whole of fitness culture.

Fitness culture is hard. It is heavy, restrictive, forceful, and oh so rigid.

No room for flexibility, intuition, choice, or anything really that would help us to enjoy the *actual* act of doing it, and not just the relief the moment that it’s over.

So, I feel you if you have struggled to engage with and be motivated towards fitness in the past. I see you if you want to develop a new, improved and intuitive relationship with exercise, but you’re not sure where to start.

moving the body more intuitively
Understanding motivation.

Developing an intuitive and easeful relationship with exercise is all about creating that desire to exercise, rather than feeling an obligation towards it.

In other words, when we create a desire to exercise, we will feel motivated, and we’ll never need to rely on tactics of force and obligation to “Just Do It”.

With that in mind, the first and most important piece of this journey is to reframe what we believe it takes for us to be motivated.

Understanding motivation is without doubt THE most important starting point for developing an intuitive relationship with exercise.

For me personally, the motivational strategy that I adopted back in the day; the one that the fitness industry told me to adopt, failed me.

I didn’t fail. It failed me; because I was told to keep looking outside of myself for my motivation.

Again and again, I was told that looking lean and toned, and working for consistently improving times / distances / weights etc. were the goals that I should be aiming for. But, in the end, it didn’t motivate me. In fact, it had the opposite effect; it broke me.

I am a Personal Trainer of 13 years, and fitness culture got in under my skin for the first half of my career. In fact, it got in so good that it had me hating exercise and resenting my job. It had me wanting to bow out, to quit. Eventually I did just stop exercising altogether for over a year.

The force, the pressure, the rigidity. It never felt worth it because fitness culture is so obsessed with the act of *fixing* ourselves. With improving our bodies, honing in on specific body parts to make them better, never ever feeling good enough. Not exactly a fast track to positive body image if we’re constantly being encouraged to point out the bits of ourselves that need bettering. Hardly motivating.

Sadly this is the approach to exercise that fitness culture enforces on us; trying to motivate us with things outside of ourselves i.e. *improving* how our bodies look, and *improving* how our bodies perform, with strategies of discipline, regime and punishment.

The fitness industry knows we will struggle when we adopt these kinds of motivational strategies. They know they don’t work. That we’ll find it hard to remain consistent. They know that in fact these strategies will do nothing but actually DE-motivate us.

But they still promote them because they know that when you fail, you’ll ask them for help… you’ll search out their workout programme, or gym membership, or fitness challenge, or motivational app, or supplements, or sparkly new apparel… all at a price of course.

The fitness industry is a $100 billion dollar a year industry. So you can see why they want us to view exercise and fitness in this way. It makes them money.

So, if you have struggled with your motivation to exercise, please know it is not your fault.
A woman exercising in the back garden

What it really takes to be motivated to exercise.

I want to share with you the truth about what it actually takes for you to be motivated to exercise, so you can start off on the right foot and be led intuitively, leaving fitness culture far far behind you.

Here it is.

Your best, most intuitive motivational strategy is:

The way you want to feel.

Yes, that’s right.

I know it sounds simple, and frankly in a world that wants to complicate everything it’s an act of rebellion to go the simple route, right? But the truth is that we are motivated towards doing something…anything, when that something makes us feel good.

This is what is called intrinsic motivation. It comes from inside of us.

When we do something that makes us feel good, we are way more likely to keep doing that thing.

Moving your body is one of the most powerful ways to connect with it and to help you feel good. Using “To Feel Good” as your goal will make you feel way more motivated to exercise than force ever will.

I know that fitness culture has taught us that the way we feel doesn’t matter, that we have to leave that to the side in order to get the job done. However, I am here to call time on that approach and remind you that your intuitive power, the way you feel, the way you want to feel…is more important than anything else, even the way that you move… (I mean, Simone Biles’s recent decision to withdraw from the Olympic games has shown us the power of putting how we feel over achievement.)

Because you can use how you want to feel to dictate the how of your movement. And this can change each day, as we are human beings with feelings and emotions, so we can use these feelings and emotions to guide us. We can include flexibility and choice into our movement decisions which allows us so much more freedom.

This is how movement becomes intuitive.

How do you want to feel?

Start with your desired feeling; which could be any number of feelings, for example, grounded, connected, uplifted, focused, calm, open, supported, strengthened, powerful…. and then choose a form of movement that will help you to feel that way.

Different forms of movement can bring about different kinds of feelings so gaining awareness of the positive feelings and sensations for different forms of movement will help you build your very own toolkit of feel-good moves.

Building a repertoire of different movements provides you with so many options for you to choose from that it completely eradicates any approaches of force, restriction or obligation. It’s all about desire. Here is a resource I created to help with just this.

Feelings-focused fitness; fitness that feels good is the best motivator for exercise.

Because when you are focused on the good feelings you can create with movement, you will be connected to something positive, you will be strengthening your intuition, you will be providing yourself with choice, and you will therefore be way more likely to do it again.

Let’s change “Just Do It” to “Do It To Feel Good”.

How do you want to feel today?

About the author of this article
A picture of the author of this article: Rebecca Tomlinson

In 2008 Rebecca re-trained as a Personal Trainer, but working within a gym environment immediately submerged Rebecca into the oppressive culture of fitness that forced an approach of rigidity and punishment, and none of it sat right with her. Now, as a Personal Trainer of 13 years, Rebecca runs her PT business exclusively online to help clients to reject diet and fitness culture, to see the power of fitness to feel good, and to embrace a values-driven and feelings-focused approach to fitness. Rebecca also runs her fitness membership, Motivated, where members can access unique workout videos designed entirely around how you want to feel, to help you connect to your body and intuition, to have confidence in your fitness decisions, and to provide you with choice and autonomy. For more info visit: https://www.rebeccatomlinson.com/  

Written by Donatella Porceddu

I am a registered psychologist and life coach specialised in binge and emotional eating, body kindness, and mindful eating. I empower women to become the best version of themselves through my comprehensive approach, which combines personal coaching and psychology, leveraging my client’s strengths and building around their opportunities.

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Donatella Porceddu Psychologist & Eating Coach specialised in Binge Eating, Overeating, Emotional Eating, Food freedom, anti-diet approach. 1:1 support through my Make Peace with Food program.

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