3 Science-Approved Ways to Motivate Yourself to Workout

Motivating oneself in the absence of true passion is arguably one of the hardest challenges people face day-in and day-out. Positive thinking, considering all the hoopla surrounding it, doesn’t work in the long run.

For the majority of people, a great deal of motivation is needed just to get through the day:

  • Motivation to bypass the snooze button in the morning and leap out of bed instead.
  • The internal drive to eat a tuna salad for lunch instead of that greasy Quarter Pounder.
  • Creating the drive needed to jump on your home gym for a much needed workout.

The good news is that there are a few scientifically-proven ways we can train our brains to make us do what we really want to. In this case to commit to a home workout schedule, without making it an agonizing ordeal.

1. Pay yourself – or get someone else to pay you money

Research out of the University of California at Santa Barbara proved that people who are paid to exercise find their way to the gym (or home gym) at least twice as much as those relying solely on internal motivators.

The study involved paying participants $100 for every gym visit, which might seem a bit steep if you’re working out several days a week. However, the amount you receive for each workout just has to be significant enough to motivate yourself. Twenty bucks is probably plenty.

Make the money completely disposable, allowing yourself to spend it on whatever you want. If you have a financially independent spouse or rich benefactor, have them pay you instead, to make it feel more like you actually came into money you didn’t have before the workout.

2. Develop a habit loop

This motivation method also involves rewarding yourself, but delves more into human psychology than a simple monetary benefit. Habit loops go back to Pavlov’s classical conditioning study on the habits of dogs and their immediate reaction to being fed a treat: i.e., salivating.

In the case of motivating yourself to workout consistently, the key is to create a habit loop that signals to the brain that it’s time to start working out. It can be anything you like, such as immediately making a pre-workout drink as soon as you step foot in the door after work, then directly going to your equipment and getting started. Do this without even thinking about it, and then reward yourself after the workout is over with something pleasurable such as:

  • The most delicious protein shake.
  • One of your favorite dinnertime meals.
  • A moment or two of reflection in your own favorite personal hideaway.
  • A drive around town or in the country with the music blaring.
  • An evening glass of wine or beer (just one though!)

Choose something that you’d do regardless if you were working out beforehand or not, but don’t allow yourself to have it until the workout’s done.

Studies show that while your workout can have plenty of variety, and that the reward afterward can also vary. However, the initial part of the habit loop that leads to the workout itself must remain the same, or the brain won’t associate the action with the need to workout.

3. Make yourself accountable for working out – make a real commitment.

Doing this has never been easier, with social media and the ability to connect with so many people around the world. The thing with goals, such as New Year’s resolutions, or fanciful promises to yourself written in a personal diary, is that without a witness, you don’t really have to follow through.

Do you? However, when witnesses are involved, the brain suddenly attributes more importance to whatever it is we need to get done. Our pride – our very reputation is now on the line if we don’t follow through.

Science has proved this one time and again, with the majority of studies showing that people are twice, if not three times as likely to keep a promise (to themselves or others) when a commitment is made in front of witnesses.

Creating a “commitment contract” is as easy as downloading an accountability app or making YouTube videos telling people your goals: i.e., say you’ll workout 4 days a week, uploading proof-of-workout videos on set days, then invite folks to rip you a new one, even call your house or text you, if they don’t see a video posted.

When all Else Fails?

When nothing else is working, grit and determination are your best allies. Forcing yourself to work out, in this case is the only way you’re going to get off your butt and get into shape.

Now watch the following video and get it done!