Motivation is a key part of our lives, influencing individuals to actively pursue and achieve their goals in many areas of life, whether it be business, sport or parenting.
The relationship between motivation and exercise remains to be a popular topic of discussion, with societies continuing to report low levels of physical activity (Buckworth et al., 2007; Kuroda et al., 2012; Rodgers et al., 2010), despite the considerable amount of research supporting the numerous physiological and psychological benefits of exercise at an individual and societal level (Duncan et al., 2010; Kuroda et al., 2012; Rodgers et al., 2010).
There are many factors that may influence an individual to engage in exercise, including social, environmental, cultural and psychological factors (Rodgers et al., 2010). In recent years, psychological factors have been of particular interest as they allow for manipulation or intervention to increase an individual’s likelihood to engage in physical activities. So, while reading the below, I encourage you to think about what motivates you to exercise, and if you are struggling to get motivated, perhaps consider which factors may help you!
Psychological components of motivation to exercise are best understood through Ryan and Deci’s seminal theory on motivation: Self-Determination Theory (SDT). According to SDT, there are three overarching categories of motivation: amotivation, extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Amotivation describes the absence of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (“I exercise because people say I should”), extrinsic motivation describes external factors influencing motivation (“I exercise because I want to look good”), and intrinsic motivation describes internal factors that motivate an individual (“I exercise because it makes me feel good ”) (Kirkland et al., 2011; Kuroda et al., 2012; Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Understanding the way in which you are motivated can be useful in bettering your approach to exercise, whether you are already exercising or are looking to start! Keep in mind that extrinsic motivators, such as accountability to others, are typically the causal factor in an individual taking up exercise. While intrinsic factors, such as self-confidence, are not always the initiating factor of exercise, rather it is the reason people often maintain an exercise routine.
If you are looking to begin an exercise routine, or are feeling in a rut with your current one, I would suggest first by identifying a few external motivating factors that you resonate with. For example, it may mean finding an exercise buddy to keep you accountable. I also find it helpful to consider what movement you enjoy. It’s important to remember that any movement is good movement! Finding an exercise that you enjoy will help keep you motivated on your exercise journey – whether it be yoga, walking, pilates or boxing, the list is endless and it’s important you do what suits YOU! As you adjust to an exercise routine, it is likely your motivation may become more intrinsic, and you may want to move your body simply because you know it makes you feel good.