How to get motivated when you just don’t feel like it

Mastering motivation is a tricky thing. You can know you should do something, take the dog for an extra-long walk for instance, and even want to do it, but the mind has a wonderful way of wandering and distracting you.

Suddenly, washing dishes never seemed more fun! The beauty of the mind, though, is that you can control it.

Try one of these three tricks to help you get motivated to tackle whatever fitness goal you might have:

Create a ritual

Ever notice how professional athletes have little habits or superstitions that they continually practice; tennis players before they serve, or baseball players up at bat? University of San Francisco anthropology professor George Gmelch studied baseball players and found that performing superstitious rituals gave athletes a boost of confidence when in uncertain situations. Let’s say you’re training for your first fun run or have just signed up for a dance class and are nervous about mastering the foot work.  Creating a ritual for yourself may be what you need to get motivated and feel confident about whatever goal you’ve set.

Write down your goals

Think of it as creating a fitness to-do list: Instead of just saying, “I want to become more fit,” think of the specific goals you want to achieve: do 20 push-ups in a row, perhaps, or walk 10 kilometres. Clearly defining what you want to achieve —and how you can meet these goals — motivates one to stick to the plan and complete the task. “Self-defined, intrinsically important goals also seem more effective than externally defined goals, which are often motivated by sources of negative emotion, such as pressure from relatives or guilt,” writes University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson in a paper called The Benefits of Writing. “Goals that are specific and difficult lead to better performance than vague exhortations to “do your best” (and, of course, than no specified goals whatsoever).”

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Talk to yourself in the third-person

Ethan Kross, a psychologist at the University of Michigan found that talking to one’s self in the third person can help people better control their thoughts and behaviour. “Using one’s own name to refer to the self during introspection is a form of self-distancing that enhances self-regulation,” Kross writes. Instead of saying, “I should start swimming again,” try, “John, it’s time to get back in the pool.” It’s a bit of a mind trick, almost as if you’re distancing yourself from the part of the brain that’s reluctant to get up and go, but it can work.