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“I hate exercise with every fiber of my being.” This is what a client said to me once. The amazing thing was she was walking on a treadmill once, sometimes twice, a day. Knowing what I shared with you in the last blog, I was curious about these seemingly contradictory facts. As we chatted more, it made sense.

She had been an athlete all her life. She prided herself on toughing it out, pushing her body through pain and discomfort, not giving in. She was motivating through sheer will-power, but it was taking its toll. She was open to a new mindset, ready to Rethink Exercise.  As we spoke about the difference between athletic training and healthy-person training, I saw the lightbulb appear above her head. She left our conversation saying “I think I can have a casual friendship with exercise now.”

Condition for self-motivation #1: Autonomy—the ability to know what you need, and how to get it.

When you shift from exercising to meet external goals to exercising to feel and function better, you have autonomy.

Internal external

  1. Completely External: ”I am exercising to win a step or weight loss competition.” “My doctor/spouse is making me exercise.”
  2. Demonstration of self-worth: “I have to keep up with others in my group to save face.” “I need to prove to myself I can still do this.” “I want to look better than my classmates at the reunion.”
  3. Value in an external goal: “I am exercising because I want to lose weight.” “I want my blood sugar to go down.”
  4. External goal with strong connection to personal values: “I exercise because I want to ski with my kids.”  “I want to lower my risk of dying early to be around for my family.” “I want to age well so I can stay in my home.”
  5. Completely intrinsic: “I exercise because I feel and function better when I do.”

To get to four or five, you need to first know what you value and how exercise can help you achieve it. This may sound easy, but answers like ‘weight loss’ or ‘to be healthy’ don’t tap into values. You need to go deeper, get to the heart of what you really want. For my client, she was still exercising for the external ‘wins’ that keep athletes pushing their body beyond limits. When she updated her Why for exercise, the internal motivation gave her more autonomy.

Equally as important, however, is knowing how to exercise so you get what you really want from it. If exercise goes against how the body is designed, it does not feel good, and you slide backward into needing external motivators to ‘make you do it’.

A strong connection to what you value and science-based exercise know-how gives you autonomy and you are one third of the way to confidently self-motivating for exercise.

Rethink This Week: Where do you fall on the 1-5 continuum of self-motivation for

  • Strength training?
  • Stretching?
  • Cardio?