You’re too tired. It’s too cold outside. The gym is so far away. Your sofa is calling you. We’ve all likely found excuses for not working out when we’re not in the mood.

“Low motivation to work out – or just not being in the mood – is common and normal,” says Amanda Capritto, an ACE-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach at Trainer Academy, who is based in Miami, Florida. “Even as a fitness industry professional, I am rarely fuelled by motivation alone.”

Relying on motivation to fuel any behaviour change can indeed be a pitfall, adds Greg Chertok, a certified mental performance consultant in New York City who works with athletes and coaches of all levels on mental toughness training.

High performers don’t wait for motivation to strike. Rather, they identify actions that align with their values and commit to following through by creating routines that encourage them to do so, he says. “We’d all be pretty unimpressive exercisers, romantic partners, or professionals if we only did the right thing when we felt like it,” he says.

That’s not to say that motivation is useless or that working out should often feel like a drag.

Research shows that intrinsic motivation in particular – or the drive to do something simply because you like to and not for some far off and theoretical reward like a “bikini bod” – is key to adopting an exercise routine you can sustain for life.

“Doing something for the sake of the task itself instead of boosting your ego works best,” says Sam Ryan, a masters-level sports and performance psychologist with the Clontarf Rugby Club in Dublin.

But given that yes, there are going to be days you don’t feel like sticking with an exercise routine, here’s how experts say you can overcome a “meh” attitude and get moving.

1. Dig Into Your Why – Particularly the Immediate Payoff

It bears repeating: If you’re only exercising because you think you should, you’ll rarely be in the mood.

But paying attention to the tangible and more immediate gains – like heightened mood or feeling a sense of accomplishment or more energised – compared with the longer-term ones (even the very valid ones, like longevity, disease prevention, and weight management) can mean that you’ll be motivated to work out more often than not because you’ll likely reap those benefits during the exercise itself.

“Switch from an achievement goal to an experiential goal, so that it feels like something that is going to nurture you and your day, as opposed to something that feels like a chore,” recommends Michelle Segar, PhD, a sustainable change researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

2. Ask Yourself, Why Not?

Saying you’re not in the mood to work out is often a guise for procrastination, Chertok says. So ask yourself: What am I trying to avoid? Physical discomfort? Judgement from others at the gym? Once you can name the real reason you’re not in the mood, you can address it. Maybe you remind yourself that progress only comes from discomfort and plan to wear something that makes you feel more confident.

If your reason is more basic – you’re not well-rested, fuelled, or hydrated – address those needs and see how you feel, suggests Domenic Angelino, an ACE-certified personal trainer at Trainer Academy, who is based in North Providence, Rhode Island. “If you have low energy, try having a healthy carb-dense snack to increase your blood glucose and prime yourself to feel more motivated to work out,” he says.

3. Prioritise Workouts You Genuinely Enjoy

If someone is struggling to come to class consistently, it’s often because that particular workout doesn’t light them up, explains Cesar Vasquez, a NASM-certified personal trainer and Les Mills national presenter based in Somerset, New Jersey. “I may direct them to something they enjoy,” he says, like a dance class instead of strength training or a mindfulness-centred workout like yoga instead of high-intensity interval training.



4. Focus on Just Getting Started

Identify the first few steps to get started with your workout and commit to them. Maybe you tie your shoes, do a few jumping jacks, or start the car.

“Play music from your favourite playlist or have a pre-workout snack you enjoy,” Ryan says. “Build a habit that signals your body into action, staving off the necessity of calling upon willpower.”

Once you get started, you’ll likely want to continue. “The reality is that motivation often comes after starting something, not before,” Chertok says.

5. But Don’t Push Through

There’s a caveat though: Building up motivation by taking small steps is different to forcing yourself to complete a workout you dread.

“Going against what you want to do will lead to you developing more negative associations with being active,” Angelino says. “That’s not ideal and will not serve you long term.”

Even knowing that you’ll feel better after your workout isn’t the best fuel if you dislike the workout itself, adds Dr. Segar, the author of The Joy Choice: How to Finally Achieve Lasting Changes in Eating and Exercise.

“Pushing through it is a recipe to develop a greater disdain for exercise.”

So if you’ve started your work out and still aren’t motivated to continue, try a different activity or call it a day. “Give yourself grace and really honour and be aware of the fact that you’re making a conscious choice because of what you’re feeling today,” Segar says.

6. Switch It Up

Angelino recommends creating or following two basic workouts: one for the upper body and one for the lower body. Then make four versions of each workout: a long and short one you can do at the gym and a long and short one you can do at home.

“Instead of forcing yourself to adhere to working out in a specific way, it’s much more effective to tailor the way you work out to how you’re feeling and your life circumstances,” Angelino says.

You can also create options for exercise by cycling through various workouts you enjoy or feel in the mood to do on a certain day. Maybe you dance in your living room instead of going for a jog, or you take a long walk in the neighbourhood if you miss a fitness class.

“When you say, ‘I’m not in the mood,’ what you’re saying is, ‘I don’t feel like doing what I plan to do,’” Segar says. “It’s all about getting creative and rethinking what the options are.”

7. Skip the Workout and Move More Instead

If you don’t feel like doing an official workout that requires a change of clothes and a list of exercises, you can still reap the benefits of physical activity by incorporating more movement into your day. Walk to take care of the errands on your list or do a few burpees in your living room, says ACSM-certified personal trainer Jorge Cruise. “It’s a matter of doing something that’s realistic, whether it’s eight minutes or two hours,” he says.

Research shows that as little as two minutes of vigorous physical activity at a time – totalling just 19 minutes a week – is linked to a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease, and early death.

More movement is linked with more benefits to an extent. The bottom line is that some is better than none.

8. Take a Rest Day or Week

Sometimes not being in the mood for exercise means you should take some time off. At the extreme, declining motivation and low energy can be signs of overtraining syndrome, a potentially dangerous condition, per the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

“If you’re feeling a deep-set fatigue and that’s what’s causing low motivation, you may be better off going for a walk or doing some light stretching in place of your usual workout,” Capritto says. “Rest is an important component of a fitness routine.”

SOURCE: Everyday Health