The Spark to Start: 5 Unique Tips for Getting Motivated to Exercise

Updated: May 17, 2018

writing by Alexandra L. Edwards, photograph by Taryn Graham

On a cloudy, cold morning, it may seem more rewarding to eat a doughnut with coffee or tea, maybe even both depending on the morning, than to go outside and exercise. When you feel more like a paperweight than a cheetah, how do you get motivated to get outside and exercise?

Most of us know we need repetitive exercise that increases our heart rate for optimal cognitive function and overall health, but so many still struggle to do it. Having the habit set, learning all of the new exciting neuroscience that goes beyond “runner’s high” that John J. Ratey, MD talks about in the book Spark, and remembering how it makes us feel are great motivators, but may not always be enough to curve our attention away from the immediate reward of coffee and comfort food.

Here are a few unique methods to make the choice your “future-self” would appreciate:

1. Mindfulness, Meditation & Visualization

Whether you carved out 15 or 60 minutes of your day for cardio, practice self-forgiveness and kindness rather than guilt. Allow yourself to calmly sit for a few minutes of meditation and mindfulness, then visualize your obstacles and a solution. If you realize that you’re lack of energy or motivation is from lack of sleep, maybe a 15 minute power nap is more appropriate at that moment. If it is laziness, try compromising with yourself with going easier than your original plan or reward yourself afterwards. Start as small as needed. Even just getting outside and watching others running or cycling for inspiration, is better than nothing at all. Doing something towards your goal everyday with consistency is more important than doing nothing at all.

2. Creative Documentation

Exercise boosts creativity and creativity has the power to boost motivation. It is important to enjoy what you do and how you do it. Exercise doesn’t have to be all pragmatic, completely stripping away the art side of it. If you’re not into the more artistic forms of physical activity like dancing or Taiko drumming, get creative with documentation.

Some examples may be making an album of photographs or composing a short melody inspired by your repetitive rhythm every day that you go out and run. You can write about your experience in a journal or work towards publishing a memoir such as What I talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. If you enjoy drawing, you can start a sketch book and draw something from memory after each exercise session. If you’re doing a project you enjoy, on those days it doesn’t seem motivating to exercise, the desire to keep the momentum going on your project everyday may provide that extra nudge you need.

3. Get out of the Gym & Get Outside

There are measurable benefits to being outside in nature. Exercising in itself balances

neurotransmitters, but you can get additional benefits by exercising outside. There has been formal research done by the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine for having contact with nature. Being outside in nature has been shown to lower cortisol (also known as the "stress hormone") levels, strengthen the immune system, help blood pressure, maintain healthy levels of vitamin D, increase dopamine, and more.

If you want an added dopamine boost, try going off your normal path. Sometimes you’ll come across unexpected surprises and create memorable experiences.

4. Try Something You’re Not Good at and Get Good at It

Facing a weakness or something you think you won’t like, can be powerful and even life-changing. You may look at people running and question why they’re doing that because it looks like a miserable experience, but exploring weaknesses can be powerful and you may find yourself addicted to something you never thought you’d like. When you learn something new, you are also rewiring your brain.

5. Reward Yourself Afterwards

Okay, now you can have the doughnut — if you even still want it.