As a coach, it’s a great feeling to solve the fitness motivation puzzle for an individual athlete. Some will thrive on competition with peers while others may need a consequence or reward to maintain their focus.
But no matter what, an individual’s motivation is as unique as their personality. Dangling the proverbial carrot in front of someone only works if they’re hungry! Finding the motivation to keep our fitness routine going can be a real challenge...but it’s well worth the effort.
When looking at our own fitness motivation, we’ll need to search beyond the tasks themselves to get to the root of what sparks our behavior. It’s this “spark”, that once harnessed, can be used to sustain and maintain improved health and fitness habits over the long-term….our ultimate goal.
Last year, one of my young cross-country runners was fully content walking up the hills and avoiding physical exertion to the maximum extent possible. I tried all sorts of tactics and motivation techniques…to wits end. Even my “walkers club” (post practice sprints for those that walk during practice) had no effect. One meet, this runner unexpectedly knocked 3 minutes off her best time to which I gave a look of amazement to her parents. They smiled and said, “Well…she didn’t walk…so I guess we owe her ten bucks!!” So it appears that money is an effective motivator for all ages!
I’ve found that monetary and material goods are good fitness motivation tools for short-term goals, but they lose their luster for the long-term efforts.
Somewhere deep within, we each have some unique behavior triggers: things that inspire us.
Do you workout more often when you’re expected to?
If so, find a workout partner; sign-up for a running club; or join an intramural team.
Use positive peer pressure to your advantage! Do goals and tasks keep you on track? Then go hang a sign up in your locker with your goal; register for an upcoming running race; or schedule a doctor’s appointment in the coming months to record your health progress. Over time your goals and dreams may change, so you may need to try a variety of fitness motivation methods to see what works best for you at that point in time.
Another way to search for common motivators is by taking a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is a motivation model developed in 1943 whose premise is that we all have a common hierarchy of needs from hunger to self-esteem. If we aren’t satisfying the lower-level needs (hunger, thirst, bodily needs), than we’ll never be able to reach our goals at the next level (self-esteem / self-awareness).
Using this model in our fitness motivation puzzle, you can see where materialistic rewards are good for short-term goals only. But sooner or later, your fitness motivation goals will need to be based on a solid foundation of self-improvement and that vision you have of a better you.
A reunion or vacation may motivate us to lose 10 pounds in a month, but what will sustain our good habits to help us walk around the block when we’re in our 80s? Answering questions like these will help you find the keys to unlock the motivation conundrum.
There are many other motivation theories out there that get more into the human behavior aspects and the drivers behind them. One of them, McClelland’s Theory of Socially Acquired Needs, implies that based on our individual life experiences and socialization, we’ll each focus on one of three basic needs: achievement, power, or affiliation.
Other motivation theories will separate the “spark” into intrinsic and extrinsic awards. Intrinsic rewards are a defined achievement, while extrinsic rewards are more along the lines of self-satisfaction.
Ultimately it comes down to…What is it that you ultimately want? …a finisher’s medal from a marathon may get you that foundation of confidence and self-respect that you’re looking for …or involvement in a intramural league or club may be help you fill a social void in your life.
No matter what path you take to better fitness and health, you’ll increase the quality and quantity of your life – but you’ve got towant it to get it. Find out what will spark your motivation energy and get out there and try it! In the words of Garth Brooks, “How you ever gonna know if you never take a chance”.
Fitness motivation is a complicated puzzle that we each must solve if we want to get and stay fit. There have been numerous studies and theories developed, but there’s not one right answer. Just as some workers are driven by salary and others by a sense of purpose, we all have a unique set of drivers that can propel our fitness motivation levels to the point where we not only reach our goals but we change our long-term habits and perhaps even motivate those around us in the process.
If you want more information on motivation theories and studies, look into the work of Maslow, McClelland, Herzberg, and the management studies regarding goal-setting. It’s an interesting topic and one that holds a lot of promise to drive not only ourselves but those around us. Good luck!