After confinement, many people express on social media that suddenly have lost motivation to exerciseO.
The truth is, motivation just goes back to normal. As usual, motivation is a battle of different options . In normal circumstances, exercise fights against many other attractive leisure activities, such as going for a drink, going to the movies, or spending time with friends. But during the most severe part of the quarantine where you had to stay locked up all day, the only option to exercise was from home. But now, the odds of motivation shifted in favor of exercise.
The running of the bulls around the world also acted similar to a new year, a new school term, or a birthday. Important dates and events can disrupt routines and provide a chance to start over, which is why many of us start exercising. But, like this year’s resolutions, our motivation steadily faded over time.
The type of motivation required to initiate a new behavior is often very different from the motivation required to maintain one. Most people start exercising because they know it is good for them, and outside pressures (like TV commercials or friends) tell them to do it. The “should do” reasons are an effective way to initiate a new behavior.
But as the confinement decreased, barriers to exercise reappeared, such as being able to spend time with friends or the need to take children to school. Relying on “should do” reasons in these scenarios requires considerable mental effort and willpower.
Unfortunately, one of the most interesting aspects of human motivation is that We don’t like the feeling of effort and willpower and tend to avoid it.
Going to eat out, children, fatigue and work win the battle over exercise. The motives to “do” are terrible for maintaining exercise behavior.
Even some people who exercised religiously are reporting loss of motivation. But again, the kind of motivation that drives your exercise may explain why this has happened. People who exercise to seek approval from others or to boost their self-esteem often report increased anxiety and body dissatisfaction, despite high levels of exercise. The lockdown (and gym closings) may have increased these negative feelings because the situation meant that people were not getting the compliments and ego boosts they were seeking.
To stop these motivational declines, a dual approach is needed that facilitates exercise in the short term while developing strong long-term motivation. When it comes to long-term motivation, many psychologists believe that your identity is one of the most resilient systems of motivation. Identity can often be a vague term and difficult to describe, but simply put, the goals of “being” are more motivating than those of “doing.” So instead of “doing” exercise, focus on “being” someone who exercises.
These “being” motives require much less mental effort to act upon, and you will naturally look for opportunities to demonstrate your “exerciser” identity. It is less mentally exhausting to “be” an athlete, compared to continually trying to “do” exercise, because attention is naturally directed to opportunities to exercise and away from other temptations. Somehow this is not fair. Those who have exercised for years and see themselves as athletes find it very easy to be motivated to exercise. Those of us who don’t see ourselves as athletes but want to exercise require a lot of mental effort and willpower to get out of the house.
How do we start again?
This process takes some time, so we also need quick motivational fixes as we develop our identity as a healthy athlete. In the short term, the guiding principle should be to minimize the effort required to exercise:
- 1. Plan your exercise for when it is easiest to do. For many, this may mean exercising as early as possible the day before temptations and obstacles that take effort to overcome begin to appear.
- 2. Make exercise easier. Take your sportswear out of the drawer and prepare it the night before. Plan an exercise that doesn’t require traveling to a specific location. Do all the things you can beforehand so that when the time comes, starting training is easy.
- 3. I divided the exercise process into parts. For example, changing into sportswear only requires a little effort. Getting out the door just takes a bit of effort. Before you know it, it’s harder not to exercise than it is to exercise.
- 4. Do what you enjoy doing. It’s simple and requires minimal motivation to repeat the exercise that felt good. If you want to jump rope or dance instead of lifting weights or jogging, it’s better to do what you want to do and it takes a lot less mental effort than trying to force yourself to do something you think you should do.
While many of us don’t expect any more social restrictions, this could provide another opportunity to develop a healthier lifestyle. A focus on “being” an athlete and minimizing mental exertion will lead to fewer sudden declines in motivation for long-term exercise.