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The Mental Framework for Overcoming Low Motivation

Discussions about staying motivated are age-old in the realm of physical fitness. A lot of people who wish they were in better shape just can’t seem to muster the drive to exercise frequently, if at all. "How come I can’t stay motivated?" they ask, believing they must be flawed because they’re not perpetually excited to exercise. Eventually, when they give up altogether, a lack of motivation is what they attribute their decision to.

On the other hand, I figured out pretty quickly after I started training that motivation is optional if I’m truly committed. To be sure, my motivation is usually high, but I haven’t relied on that to keep me consistently working out. Why? Because I don't think I have a more advantageous option than working out.

Not working out has zero upside. Furthermore, I’m not interested in relying on pills, treatments, and surgeries to improve myself and sustain my health. The longer I can keep myself out of pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals, the better. I’m fine with having a routine checkup, but I’m certainly not going to elect to ingest a chemical or get operated on for something I can accomplish naturally and safely through my own efforts. That conviction that working out regularly is the best and most preferable option available is what produces my commitment to doing so.

The truth about motivation is that it can be fickle, especially when it involves sustained effort over a long period of time. I’m not knocking the value of motivation when I assert this. It’s just how it is. Let me assure you that no matter how much you hear me ranting and raving about staying in shape, I have days when I’m less motivated than usual to follow my own advice. So, we’re all human. There will be days when we feel invigorated and days when we don’t. “Feel” is the operative word because motivation, in simple terms, is driven by our mood on any given day.

Here’s a first principle: our commitment cannot be subordinate to our moods. This goes for fitness and any other area of life. If we’re really committed to doing something, we get it done come hell or high water, notwithstanding circumstances beyond our control that prevent us from doing so. And if we must postpone it, we make up the time and effort at the next opportunity to do so.

That said, there’s a mental framework that can be applied to overcome low motivation.

Acknowledge your resistance
Take action anyway
Shift mood
 Affirm commitment


The two most important steps are at the beginning because they shift momentum. The first is to acknowledge the resistance you feel due to your low mood, and the second is to take action in spite of it. Acknowledging means to feel for the purpose of becoming self-aware, much like seeing yourself from the third person’s point of view. That allows you to transition from feeling the mood to thinking about it, so your objective mind can take control of your behavior. Without fail, it will remind you about the commitment you made, and that will spur you to take action.

The beauty of this framework is that the next three things happen mostly involuntarily. If you relate this back to working out, you’ve probably experienced how your mind starts to focus once you start working out. At some point during the session, your mood begins to shift in a more productive direction. And then, when your workout is done, dopamine does its job and makes you feel better about yourself for exercising discipline. Hence, your commitment is affirmed.

You need not capitulate to low motivation. There were important reasons why you made a promise to yourself. So apply the framework and keep the promise.

Sayonara until next time.

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