10 Tips to Motivate Yourself to Exercise Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

You know that exercise is good for you. You’ve seen the research showing that it can help you reduce your risk of today’s most serious diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. You also know it helps you feel more energized and confident. However, some days, you don’t feel like doing it.

What do you do then? If you decide to skip it, you may feel guilty a few hours later, and you’ll also miss out on the benefits. Worse, you may decide you want to skip it tomorrow and the next day until you get completely out of the groove. Then, it’s even harder to get it back.

If you can get yourself started somehow, you’ll probably feel better as exercise has a way of boosting those “feel-good” neurotransmitters in your brain. But, it can be tough to convince yourself of that when you’re dragging after a long day at work or struggling with a particularly stressful time in your life.

Next time you’re tired, in a bad mood or don’t feel like going another round on the treadmill, try these tips.

1. Give It 5 Minutes

Sometimes, you have to trick yourself. Tell yourself you’ll do only 5 minutes of your workout. You’ll walk, jog, bike, lift weights — whatever it is — for 5 minutes only, then you’ll quit.

Giving yourself this easy out can be what you need to get up off the couch. We can all move for at least 5 minutes. The magic is that once the 5 minutes is up, you’ll probably want to keep going. Exercise is like that — it becomes its own reward. The trick gets you started, and then you’re off and running.

Even if you do quit after the 5 minutes, 5 minutes of exercise is better than none!

2. Turn on Your Favorite Upbeat Music

Studies show that music makes exercise more enjoyable. In 2018, researchers tested participants while they were walking either listening to music, a podcast or nothing at all. Results showed:

  • Those who listened to music experienced a 28 percent increase in enjoyment over those listening to nothing
  • Those who listened to music also experienced a 13 percent increase in enjoyment over those listening to a podcast

Lead author Marcelo Bigliassi noted, “We showed that music has the potential to increase beta waves and elicit a more positive emotional state.”

If you’re not feeling like it? Turn on your favorite tunes to get yourself moving.

3. Shake It Up

Sometimes, the reason you don’t feel like exercising is that your exercise routine has gotten boring. Clocking multiple miles on the treadmill or exercise bike can be convenient, but it can also leave you dreading the next time you have to strap on your athletic shoes.

The fix can be as easy as signing up for a class that gives you a chance to try something different. Try Zumba, dancing, spinning, or other workouts at your local gym or, if you want to stay in the comfort of your own home, try a new DVD or online workout. Another option is to join a local sports team or try a new outdoor activity like rollerblading, skiing or tennis.

4. Change Your Workout Time

Think about “why” you don’t feel like working out. Is it because it’s the end of the day and your willpower is spent? Maybe you’d be better exercising first thing in the morning. You may dread setting the alarm a half-hour earlier, but imagine the benefits: you get up, exercise and it’s done. You’re good for the day. It’s all downhill from there.

Maybe you are a morning exerciser but, lately, you’ve been struggling to get in your 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. In that case, you could do better exercising on your lunch hour or after work before you go home. Look at your schedule and see if another time might work better for you.

5. Join a Group

Scientists have discovered that we get more benefits from our exercise routines when we do them with other people. Would you also believe that it helps lower stress?

Researchers studied medical students — known for experiencing high-stress levels — who exercised either alone or with a group. Results showed:

  • Those who worked out with a group lowered their stress levels by 26 percent and improved quality of life
  • Those who exercised alone experienced no effect on stress

Exercising with other people tends to keep you accountable too. If you don’t feel like it one day, you know that the other people in the group will be asking where you were, which can be the motivation you need to get going anyway.

6. Tell Yourself You’ll ‘Go Easy’

What do you think about when you imagine yourself exercising? Do you imagine the hard work, the pain in your muscles and the fatigue? If so, that could be what’s holding you back from wanting to exercise today.

Instead, tell yourself you’ll do a “light” workout or that you’ll “take it easy.” If you usually run, jog instead. If you usually lift weights, choose lighter ones. If you usually go hard over the road on your bicycle, enjoy a breezy ride instead.

Maybe you are fatigued and need a lighter workout, but even if that’s not the case, you may notice yourself pushing it more once you get into it. It’s like the 5-minute trick — you convince yourself that it will be easy today, which helps you get started, but once the blood is pumping, you become motivated to do a little more — especially if you’re listening to some upbeat music. Either way, you get the benefit of exercising, regardless of how light or heavy the workout is.

7. Get Dressed

You don’t feel like working out. You’re tired. You’ve had a humdinger of a day. Allow yourself to complain all you like while you’re getting your workout clothes on. You’re tired of having to push yourself so hard continually. (Change your socks.) You wish that sometimes you could take some time off. (Put on your shorts, sweats or yoga pants.) Your muscles are worn out today. (Slip on your sneakers.)

Keep going until you’re completely dressed for exercise, then stand up. Chances are, the clothes will inspire you to do at least a “little” bit of exercise. There’s something about putting on an outfit that affects the brain.

In a 2012 study, researchers reported that clothes have a definite effect on our psychological processes. Participants who wore a lab coat were found to perform better on attention-related tasks than those who wore regular clothes. Study author Hajo Adam noted that the results could be applied to many other fields, including fitness, stating, “I think it would make sense that when you wear athletic clothing, you become more active and more likely to go to the gym and work out.”

Another trick to try: get some new workout clothes. That’s likely to motivate you to want to try them out.

8. Offer Yourself a Bribe

If you go workout now, you can watch that television show you like or can get your favorite latte at Starbucks. Alternatively, you can get take-out tonight instead of having to cook.

What reward would work for you? Whatever it is, use it to motivate yourself to get going. An immediate reward is best — something you can enjoy right after you exercise.

Another thing to try is to set up some sort of financial reward system for yourself. In a 2016 study, researchers asked 280 people to get in at least 7,000 steps a day over a 13-week period. They then tested three different financial incentives:

  • The participants in the first group received $1.40 each day they hit the goal
  • Each person in the second group was entered into a daily lottery but was eligible to receive the rewards only if he or she reached the goal the day before
  • The participants in the third group were given $42 each up front each month, but $1.40 was taken away each day the goal wasn’t met

Results showed that group 3 — the ones who risked losing money — exercised more than the other two groups.

You can do this for yourself. Put $60 in a jar each month, and every day that you decide not to exercise, remove two dollars and give them to someone else. When you go to that jar to remove the money, you may decide to exercise instead.

9. Stand Up

This may seem simplistic but, sometimes, it’s all you need. Usually, when you don’t feel like exercising, what are you doing? You’re sitting down or otherwise immobile. If you’re on the couch, it can be very difficult to imagine yourself running or lifting weights. So, stand up. That’s all — stand up. You can do that — it’s easy. Once you stand up, however, your body will go through changes, which will also affect your mind. Take a few steps, maybe to get a glass of water and start moving.

A body in motion stays in motion as Newton’s Law says. Sometimes, all it takes is the simplest movement to start a cascading reaction.

10. Remind Yourself Why You’re Exercising

In the beginning, all you’re thinking about is the routine, and it can be easy to skip that, so direct your thoughts to the bigger picture: why you are exercising in the first place.

Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe you want to feel better. Maybe you want to fit into that dress you love. Maybe you want to age well and stay active.

Whatever your reason is, remind yourself of that. Picture yourself as that energetic, vital person you want to be. Often, that will be enough to compel you to get after it.