Get the App

9 ways to hack your motivation

by Dr. Jenn Bennett

  • Share

Sports and exercise can be hard work. It can be challenging, painful, and sometimes unfair. We all face times when we don’t want to do something but, nonetheless, know we have to.

The most successful athletes are quite often the ones who manage to stay motivated to train, even when they don’t want to. While there are many things in life that are out of our control, motivation is not one of them. There will always be conditions, people, and situations that can affect your motivation, but staying motivated is within your control, no matter the conditions.

1. What makes you tick?

Everyone will differ slightly in what drives them, and one person’s motivation will not be the same as their teammates’. Start by getting a sense of where your motivation comes from. When are you at your most motivated, and when are you at your least motivated? Where were you and what were you doing in those times? How confident and capable did you feel? What were you thinking about? How well-supported were you? How in control did you feel? What was your attitude like? Answering these questions will give insight as to where your motivation stems from so you know how to find it again.

2. Choose your attitude

Moods can come and go like thoughts and clouds in the sky, but you always have the power to choose your attitude. Research shows successful athletes have an innate sense of positivity and get their motivation from within. They find a way to enjoy the process and embrace the challenge whatever it brings.

3. Get out of your mind and into your body

If a particularly arduous training session seems overwhelming, the mind’s motivation centers can falter, causing you to give up before you’ve even started. In times of challenge, our minds love to tell stories on past and future failure, hardship, and struggle. Research has shown that mindfulness can help you to minimize that voice and detach yourself from unhelpful thoughts. By strengthening the connection between your body and mind, you can tune into a more pleasant side of training. And by increasing your awareness of your body and movement, you are also better able to predict how your body will respond to changes in circumstance and how to manage them appropriately.

4. Connect with your values

Passion is a natural fuel for motivation. If your goals aren’t truly connected to your deeper values, or you don’t believe wholeheartedly in your mission, you’ll have to summon a huge effort to motivate yourself through training. We naturally invest more effort and find more enjoyment in activities that are connected to what we value. Make sure your goals are truly aligned to what’s really important to you in life.  

5. Know your purpose

Even some of the best athletes in the world don’t enjoy the process. They see it as a worthwhile means to an end to win the next big competition. Some sports require us to be able to execute compulsory skills or perform within the restrictions of rules. This can require hours of unpleasant, repetitive training to try and perfect movements solely to meet external criteria. To be successful is to have a bigger sense of purpose and identity worth training for.

6. Be fully present

Living in our minds and thinking about training can force our attention to unhelpful thoughts of the pain we might experience, the discomfort or challenge that a hard workout brings. Our minds might go into overdrive predicting the most unpleasant experiences that lie ahead should we continue, begging us every step of the way to stop, bargaining and willing us to give up. The result? We are defeated before we’ve even begun. The more present you become, the more likely you are to experience the positive aspects of each movement as it unfolds, moment-by-moment. Tune into all of the sensations available to you. Listen to your body and let your body—not your mind—tell you when to stop.  

7. Have a plan

Motivating yourself to do something can be pretty tough if you don’t have a plan for what it is you want to do. Goals are a proven way to increase levels of motivation, confidence, and adherence to training. Start off by identifying your end goal that you want to achieve, then write out a plan for how you are going to achieve it. By knowing what affects your levels of motivation, you can make sure your plan meets your needs, energizes you, and keeps you interested.

8. Visualize success

Whether you are going for a run or about to climb a mountain, visualizing yourself enjoying the journey and achieving your goals can increase your motivation for action. Your central nervous system doesn’t recognize the difference between imagination and reality, so seeing yourself succeed triggers the same sensations inside as if you are actually doing it, increasing your confidence in your ability to succeed!

9. Reward yourself

Reward feeds motivation and enjoyment. Recognizing small achievements towards your bigger goal can provide a great source of intrinsic motivation. Meditation will allow you to appreciate each moment, each milestone, each success for what it is. Be kind to yourself in times of challenge and congratulate yourself for small successes. Small steps cover big distances—enjoy the journey.

This piece was produced in partnership with Nike Training Club. To get started on your fitness journey, download the NTC app here.

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.

Dr. Jenn Bennett

Dr. Jenn Bennett is a performance psychologist specialized in the mind-body connection. She completed her doctorate in the psychology of performance blocks, and the use of less-conscious methods as treatment. She is an applied practitioner working in elite sport and business. She is also a researcher exploring emotion-based problems affecting the body and mind, and the use of mindfulness for health, wellbeing, and performance.

Meditation Made Simple

Meditation Made Simple

Start Meditating