Fitness Tips

6 Reasons You Lack the Motivation to Exercise — And How to Fix Them

The biggest problem people face when adopting a healthy lifestyle is finding the motivation to change. Of course, many people don’t realize that motivation is their problem; they point the finger at external factors they feel are holding them back, like:

  • Not having a lot of spare time to work out
  • Not being able to afford a gym membership
  • Not having any equipment at home

But these roadblocks — while not making the prospect any easier — aren’t actually preventing them from exercising. The only thing that’s holding them back is themselves.

For example, nearly anyone can find 10–15 minutes to drop what they’re doing and do a bodyweight-only workout. They don’t even need to change their clothes.

They just don’t have the gumption to make up their mind and do it.

Image credit: MilanMarkovic on Depositphotos

So if you want to live a healthy lifestyle, but you can’t seem to muster the motivation to get started, it’s time to dissect your thought patterns and get to the root of the issue.

To that end, let’s examine the underlying reasons you lack motivation and figure out how to fix them.

Be forewarned; you’re in for a little bit of tough love. And although you may not struggle with all of these, be honest with yourself as you read through because chances are you will identify with at least one of them.

I know this because at one point in my life — not so long ago — I identified with pretty much all of them!

1. You’re Looking for Shortcuts

There’s a reason why you’ve read a million fitness articles with the word “hack” in the title.

You know the ones I mean.

Stuff like, “5 Hacks to Get Abs in 7 Days” or “Best Fitness Hacks to Get Shredded Fast.”

These articles are so plentiful because shortcuts are sexy. But while they’re great for attracting readers and making the writer money, they’re not so great for delivering on their promise.

I used to devour those articles too. But here’s the problem: There are no “fitness hacks.”

There’s no magic or mystery to how healthy living works. No matter how you slice it, it all comes down to eating a well-rounded, healthy diet and moving your body often.

It’s a boring answer that doesn’t make for an exciting read, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the truth.

The Fix

Come to terms with the fact that there are no quick fixes and commit to doing the work.

2. You View Exercise as a Negative Experience

If you dread exercise, there’s a minimal chance you’re going to engage in it.

I totally get it; it’s a tough one to grapple with because there are a couple of factors at play.

First is the physical factor: When you first start exercising, it feels hard, even painful. And who could ever learn to love that?

As it turns out, you can.

Because your body was built to move. And once you adapt to exercise, you will benefit from all the feel-good chemicals that come with it.

For example, the cocktail of dopamine, serotonin, and endocannabinoids that floods your brain during a workout is almost guaranteed to boost your mood. (It’s freaking fantastic!)

These days, my workouts are my happy place! But I had to get through those first few weeks of pushing my body to start appreciating it.

Second, there’s the mental factor: if you are exercising to punish yourself because you have low self-esteem or poor body image, your brain will always believe exercise is a negative experience because it’s grounded in negative energy.

The Fix

Embrace physical activity as a form of self-care instead of punishment. Don’t exercise with the expectation that it will change your body; exercise with the expectation that it will make you healthier and happier.

And if exercising feels too difficult physically, start with something more manageable, like dancing, walking, or swimming. Then, once your body is used to moving, start increasing the difficulty of your workouts.

3. There’s No Instant Gratification

When you want to lose a lot of weight and have a long way to go, exercise can feel discouraging because even after 40 hard, sweaty minutes, you look the same as you did before the workout.

And that can be demotivating for a lot of people because they want to make progress now. But even exercising for a couple of weeks is usually not enough to see physical changes.

It might make you feel like it’s not worth starting at all.

I was this person too.

After a couple of workouts, I’d always complain that “it wasn’t working,” and I’d give up, feeling defeated.

If that sounds silly, it’s because it is.

It’s like standing at the foot of a mountain and lamenting that you can’t get to the top in a single jump. So you never bother taking the first, doable step because you’re too overwhelmed by the mountain’s peak.

The Fix

Sticking with our mountain analogy, the key lies in shifting your gaze from the peak to the foot. Make that first, small step, and take gratification in that.

Then take the next small, doable step.

Your workouts don’t have to be fancy or complicated. They just have to be consistent.

So keep your long-term goals, but then ignore them. That is, focus only on what your goals are today, and celebrate each time you reach today’s goals!

4. You See Food as an Adversary

Let’s face it, many of us see healthy eating as this overwhelming list of things we can’t have.

But the limiting beliefs you have around food can significantly affect how motivated you are to eat healthily.

For example, I used to eat like a mouse to maintain a calorie deficit and lose weight. I’d skip breakfast, eat a 300 calorie salad for lunch, and by dinner time, I was starving. More often than not, I’d end up binging.

Likewise, I’d try to deprive myself of all “bad” foods, like chocolate and dessert, which also lead to a sugar spree sooner or later.

But your diet should be something that works with you, not against you. Food nourishes your body and enables you to stay healthy and perform your best.

Food is your friend, not your foe.

The Fix

Remember that food is there to nourish and support your body.

Eat three regular meals a day, and don’t try to “save” calories or deprive yourself of entire food groups. Instead, stick with whole, minimally processed foods and get enough protein at each meal to increase satiety.

If you’re trying to lose weight, keep your calorie deficits small — no more than 500 calories per day — and leave room for small treats. For example, I eat dessert every night, but I keep it around 200 calories max.

5. You’re Focusing on The Wrong Benefits

We all want to feel good about ourselves, which is why so many people get caught up in the physical benefits of exercise. Yet, there are so many other beautiful perks of getting in shape that have nothing to do with how you look.

I’m not just talking about the long-term stuff either, like living longer and staying healthy.

I’m talking about the mood-boosting effects, like having more energy, more confidence, and feeling all-around happier.

And if you dig down, isn’t feeling happier the goal, to begin with? After all, why else would you want to change the way you look?

When you drill down on the real reasons why you are doing something, that’s when you will find the motivation to chase your goals.

The Fix

Do your homework and figure out your real why is when it comes to exercise.

If you’re having trouble with this, try a visualization exercise where you take five minutes and imagine what life will be like after you’ve achieved your fitness goals.

Get granular with the details; think about who you are with, where you are, what you are doing, and how you feel. Then, use those feelings to make an action plan towards becoming that version of yourself!

6. You Don’t Realize that Action Comes Before Motivation

Here’s the kicker: if you’re sitting around waiting for the motivation to pull on your sneakers and go for a run, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time.

Maybe forever.

That’s because motivation usually comes after you take action. That first move sets the ball in motion, and you’ll feel motivated to continue, especially when a feeling of success follows that first action.

For example, say you want to run a half marathon one day, but you’ve never jogged a day in your life. Your first action could merely be putting on your shoes with the goal of walking half a mile. When you achieve that goal, it motivates you to walk a full mile the next day.

Then you feel motivated to try jogging it. And this loop continues until six months later, you’re crossing the finish line of your first 13-mile race.

Entrepreneur and author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, calls this phenomenon the “Physics of Productivity” because, like an object, motivation tends to keep going once put in motion.

The Fix

Set your “motivation ball” in motion by taking a small action towards your big fitness goals. For example, if a hard HIIT workout with weights is too intimidating, start with five minutes of bodyweight exercises — or whatever you can commit to, no matter how small it is.

You may need to push through it a few times, but soon you’ll start feeling motivated to do more — and that’s a beautiful feeling!

Final Thoughts

Honestly, there are no shortcuts when it comes to creating positive change in your life. So put yourself in the driver’s seat and be honest about where your lack of motivation stems from so you can start taking action.

The main takeaways to remember are:

  • There are no shortcuts
  • Your body was built to move and wants to exercise
  • Keep your long-term goals on the horizon, but your focus on what you can do today, right now
  • Food is your friend, there to support and nourish you
  • Understanding your true why will drive you to take action
  • Small, achievable actions beget motivation, which begets bigger actions, which begets more motivation!

So why not start right now? If you can, put down your phone or computer and get moving.

Go for a walk, or bang out a five-minute workout. If you can’t, then commit right now to taking your first small, achievable action.

Then go forth and claim your motivation!

Originally published on

Corrie Alexander is a former ISSA-certified personal trainer, home fitness advocate, and founder of The Fit Careerist. A proponent of personal growth and a self-proclaimed fitness app-junkie, Corrie shares tips and product reviews with the goal of helping others on their own fitness journey.

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