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How to Create Motivation (Even When It’s Not New Year’s)

Many of us use the arrival of January and the new year as a way to motivate ourselves to join a gym, set new goals, and commit to a healthier way of life. But is the simple fact that it’s January really the best way to create motivation?

Probably not.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with setting a New Year’s resolution, but finding a way to create the motivation to work on that goal for the whole year is a different matter. And what if your inspiration comes to you in May, July, or September? Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.

This article is all about the real ways to create motivation. Our ideas will help you stick to the habits that will make your goals become a reality.

So, here are five ways to create motivation whether it’s January 1, a cold Monday morning, a perfect-bed-warmth Saturday, or the middle of September.

1. Motivation Is Learned

A lot of us have it in our heads that we either are or are not “motivated,” that it’s something that comes from a source other than ourselves. But, in fact, motivation is learned. Through our experiences we (consciously or not) teach ourselves what we do and don’t want to do again.

This means you can teach yourself that doing the things that will take you toward your goal are things you want to do and will enjoy doing. A 2013 study published in the journal Memory demonstrated that when people focused on positive memories linked to exercise they were more likely to exercise again in the future.

What You Can Do: Remember times when you enjoyed exercising. What were you doing? How did you feel? Focus on those positive memories and even try to recreate them.

2. Motivation Is Based on Perception

Specifically, motivation is based on your perception of your abilities. Meaning, if you feel like you’re not any good at something, it’s hard to convince yourself to get up and do it. Similarly, if you feel your genetics are something you can’t possibly overcome, you’ll be less likely to make healthy choices—the experts have even shown this in research.

But if you feel like you’re getting better and better each time you go to the gym, the track, or the studio, then you’re more likely to show up. And if you understand that no matter your genetics, making positive choices does have a positive impact on your health, then you can make a difference in how to look, perform, and feel.

What You Can Do: Find ways to ensure your success by taking small steps. Run one block each morning. Each one vegetable each day. Provide yourself with opportunities to succeed so you begin to see yourself as a person who is healthy and capable.

3. Motivation Works Best When It’s Intrinsic

A simple way to categorize motivation and goals is to label them as “extrinsic” versus “intrinsic.” Extrinsic goals or motivations are things on the “outside”—wanting to look good in a swimsuit, for example. Intrinsic goals and motivations come from the “inside.” Things like feeling proud of trying something new or enjoying moving your body in whatever way fulfills you.

The power of intrinsic motivation is that you can feel good about the work you’re doing right now, regardless of whether or not you’ve lost any weight. And when you do lose the weight, you’re more likely to keep it off if the journey was about feeling good and enjoying yourself versus achieving an arbitrary exterior milestone. You’ll want to keep feeling good, whereas someone focused on the scale might immediately fall back to old (and less healthy) habits.

 In fact, a 2014 study of 321 college women showed that having a positive body image correlated with a desire to exercise more frequently—but focusing on exercise as a means to weight loss and improved appearance had the perhaps unexpected effect of lowering the women’s body image.

 What You Can Do: If you focus on your “insides,” feeling good, and liking yourself, then you’ll probably exercise more—and you’ll likely still get everything you’re after in the end.

4. Motivation Comes More Easily from the Process

 There is the process of working toward your goal, and then there is the actual outcome—the number on the scale, passing the finish line, or lifting the weight. But when you’re working toward your goal you have the opportunity to choose where you focus—on the process or on the outcome. The problem becomes that when we focus too much on the outcome, we spend a lot of the meantime thinking about how we're “not there yet,” and we tell ourselves that we’re “not” a lot of things.

On the other hand, you’ve probably heard the old saying, “The journey is the destination.” The same is true in fitness, and motivation comes easier when you’re enjoying every step of that journey. That’s not to say the journey will always be easy or “fun” in the traditional sense. But the overall journey should be a positive one—because otherwise your chances of making it to the end result become slimmer and slimmer. Said another way, you get to focus on what you “are” versus what you “are not.”

What You Can Do: Find ways to look for the positive and enjoyable moments in every day of training, eating, and recovery. Know that these seemingly small choices are the real experience and achievement and not the fleeting moment that will come somewhere down the line.

5. Motivation Begets More Motivation

 And the most powerful way to create motivation? Just get out there and do something—once you’ve done it, you’re more likely to want to get out there and do it again.

 What You Can Do: Something. Right now. And then do it again tomorrow

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