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How to Stay Motivated: My 5 Top Tips

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

A man exercising in cold weather

It's that time of year again!! The good intentions of January and our New Years resolutions are but a distant memory. It is cold outside, work is weighing you down and you haven't been seeing the results you wanted from your workout routine. The simple solution would be to give up and revert back to your old ways.

Look, we all struggle with motivation at times. Our capacity to push through the times we feel tired or drained fluctuates depending on many factors - physical, psychological, environmental and hormonal - so it can be tough to remain in control of it all. There are times, however, when we simply just have to get on with it, so being able to self-motivate becomes an important skill to master.

Here are my 5 top tips to stay motivated:

1. Understand "Motivation"

"A problem well stated is a problem half solved" - Charles Kettering

When we experience a lack of motivation or "drive", it is important to try to understand what the cause is. Common factors such as fatigue, low mood, depression and high-stress levels can all negatively impact your motivation levels. Some of these are easy to address, others not so much. If you are tired then a power nap can do wonders - easy. If you think you could be depressed then seeking professional help could change your life.

One interesting theory on the topic of motivation is that of "ego depletion" - with the term "ego" used in the psychoanalytic sense - proposed by American social psychologist Roy Baumeister. The theory likens the idea of willpower to that of a muscle that can be trained, can fatigue and has a limit to how much it can be used. This could explain why dieting or following a gruelling exercise regime is harder when you are mentally drained and/or have spent the day self-motivating at work or at home.

Understanding where your lack of motivation comes from is the key to regaining control of your mind and body.


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2. Be Honest With Yourself and Others

"A problem shared is a problem halved" - Unknown

Once you have identified that you are lacking in motivation, the next step is to avoid shouldering the problem alone. Honesty is the best policy. Being open and honest about your situation places you in a position where you begin to accept that something needs to change. Blindly continuing down the same path you have been taking will only lead to more of the same problems. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt, and when you feel like you're up to your neck in deep water maybe it's time to change something.

Confiding in friends, loved ones, colleagues or a professional not only presents opportunities for support and external motivation but also means you will be held accountable for your actions. Besides, a friendly kick up the backside never did anyone any harm!

3. Keep An Eye on the Long-Term Goal

"Preparation for tomorrow is hard work today" - Bruce Lee

When motivation wanes, willpower can step in. Motivation is the desire to take an action. Willpower is forcing oneself to take said action and, at its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

Eating a slice of cake won't kill you today - neither will smoking one cigarette, or having one drink. It is the accumulation of bad habits which, over time, can lead to serious negative consequences; it's easy to give in to temptation when the negative impact is far away.

Focus on your long-term goal in order to make short-term sacrifices.

4. Negotiate With Yourself

"Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping" - 12 Rules For Life, Jordan Peterson

Don't be your own tyrant. You need to be able to negotiate with yourself when it comes to taking action. You wouldn't force your friends, employees/colleagues or loved ones to work relentlessly without reward, so why do it to yourself? Treat yourself the way you would treat someone you truly cared for.

Don't want to train today? Treat yourself to a sports massage at the end of the week or month if you don't miss a single workout. Struggling to stick to your diet? Buy yourself a nice new item of clothing once you lose your target weight. Finding it hard to focus on a work task? Treat yourself to 15 minutes of social media or TV time for every 2 hours of concentration...whatever gets the job done! Just make sure your reward isn't detrimental to your goal. Treating yourself to a milkshake after a hard workout doesn't quite do the trick!

5. Create a Path of Least Resistance

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart” – Confucius

Let's say you want to wake up early in the morning to work out. You go to bed too late because you're busy scrolling on your phone. You struggle to wake up only to realise you haven't got your gym clothes ready (they might even need a wash!) and your trainers are hidden away somewhere. Once you're up you realise you haven't gotten your work bag ready, you forgot to pack your lunch and you didn't check your route to the gym. What is likely to happen in this scenario?

If you leave opportunities to give up on a difficult task, chances are you will fail. Diets don't work if you're surrounded by temptation, you can't work hard if your phone is buzzing away next to you and you can't stick to an active routine if you make it impossible to streamline the process from going from comfort to discomfort - your bed to the gym is the epitome of this!

Create the path of least resistance in whatever task, challenge or habit your wish to accomplish. Don't make it hard for yourself, it's easy to quit when there are multiple opportunities to do so.

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John Maitland is a personal trainer with over 15 years of experience. He has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEO's, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.

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