Why we can't be trusted with our own exercise motivation (1)

Have you ever said things like, “I need a someone to make me exercise. I can’t be trusted to keep myself on track”?  To get and stay motivated to exercise we are often told to get a  trainer, or a partner, or do a fitness challenge, or use an activity monitor.  Sure, we all need a push so we are not lazy, right?!

It’s not that trainers, challenges, and activity monitors don’t work. They will get you motivated and can help you reach a goal. The problem is they do nothing to build the skill of self-motivation. Then when you don’t put on your activity monitor, or can’t afford the trainer any longer, or the fitness challenge ends, your motivation does too. You end up in feeling ‘lazy’ and searching for a new trick to make you exercise.  More importantly, you are left believing you can’t be trusted to motivate yourself for exercise.

If the trust in your ability to self-motivate has dwindled over the years, it’s not you. It’s because we, as a society, have come to depend on these external sources for motivation. It’s so common to hear the advice, even from well-meaning professionals, to get an exercise partner or hire a trainer or join a fitness challenge to keep you accountable, we just assume that we can’t be trusted to stay motivated and need help. It is clear from research that it is the other way around.  We can’t be trusted because we’ve become so skilled outsourcing our motivation.

The scientific research shows that all of those external motivators—the trainer, the monitor, the rewards—are great for temporary sources for motivation, but internal motivation is the kind more likely to last.1

Relying on external motivators to ‘make you’ exercise only distances you from your internal sources for self-motivation.

What would happen if you stopped outsourcing your motivation? Imagine being so confident in your own self-motivation skills that you knew deep down that you could stay motivated for exercise? Research is saying loud and clear, IT IS POSSIBLE. You CAN stay motivated for exercise. And the best part is, it takes WAY less mental energy than outsourcing your motivation!

Just like any skill, though, it takes time, but in the end, self-motivation is a much more reliable way to protect something as important as your health and wellbeing. The first step is being aware of how much you rely on these external motivators and assessing your self-motivation skills.

In the next few blogs, we will see how it is possible to stop outsourcing exercise motivation and start building confidence you can be trusted to keep yourself motivated for exercise.

Rethink Exercise:   What external motivators do you rely on to ‘make you exercise’?  Activity monitor, trainer, gym membership, ‘seeing results’?



  1. A New Look at the Science of Weight Control: How Acceptance and Commitment Strategies Can Address the Challenge of Self-Regulation. Evan M. Forman and Meghan L. Butryn. Appetite. 2015 Jan; 84: 171–180.