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Fitness & Wellness

Becoming Better: Boost your motivation to exercise

Becoming Better: Boost your motivation to exercise

Jaini Nandu

Published: 7 Dec 2020 3:31 PM GMT

Becoming Better is a series that focuses on improving upon habits that are an essential part of who you are.

'Exercise your way to a Healthy Heart' - read, wrote, heard a million times but how many of us really exercise regularly? Benefits of physical activity are well-established. Howbeit, despite the numerous mental and physical health benefits and several public health campaigns like Fit India, etc, the physical activity levels in India are quite low.

There are many determinants of engaging in physical activity i.e. our exercise behaviour is contingent to a lot of factors such as our environment, social-economical background, biology and psychology.

Motivation is one of the psychological determinants that regulates initiation and consistency of exercise behaviour. It is defined as one's need and willingness to undertake behaviour or a task. It is a powerful guiding force that influences the frequency (e.g. how many days a week do we exercise), intensity (e.g. type of exercise; yoga versus power lifting), efforts and duration (e.g. short-term versus long-term) of our exercise behaviour.

Men, Trail Running, Trail, Ultratrail, Run, Fitness Motivation is one of the psychological determinants that regulates initiation and consistency of exercise behaviour.

Self Determination Theory of Motivation

Self-determination theory (SDT), developed by Edward Deci & Richard Ryan, 1985, provides a framework to understand the relationship between motivation and variation in one's effort, persistence, energy in their exercise behaviour. It proposes that human motivation varies in the intent to which it is autonomous (self-determined) or controlled. According to SDT, intrinsically motivated human is more likely to continue with physical activity for longer than extrinsically motivated individual.

Intrinsic motivation the most self-determined form of motivation means engaging in an activity or pursuing a goal because of personal satisfaction, enjoyment and there is a sense of mastery.

Extrinsic motivation is the need to engage in an activity because of external demands. Intrinsically motivated individuals exercise because of the sheer joy and satisfaction while extrinsically motivated individuals exercise out of compulsion, shame, and fear of judgement, ridicule or punishment, for weight loss or any reward.

Our motivation lies on a continue ranging from motivation, extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation.

  • Amotivation refers to no motivation at all; there is not drive or desire to do anything. Next on the continuum are four types of extrinsic motivations. Each motivation increases in its degree of self-determination.
  • External regulation is the less-determined form of extrinsic motivation that regulates our behaviour because of external rewards, punishment, compliance or conformity.
  • Introjected regulation, predominantly extrinsic motivation that guides human behaviour by interpersonal rewards such as pride or ego to avoid punishments like shame or guilt.
  • Identified regulation moves on the continuum towards being more internal in nature. Our behaviour is regulated by reasons important to us. Lastly -
  • Integrated motivation influences our when the behaviour is part of our identity or consistent with our identity to values.


Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation
Non-RegulationExternal regulationIntrojected RegulationIdentified RegulationIntegrated RegulationIntrinsic Regulation
No motivation at allExternal Punishments & RewardsAvoid shame & guilt

Pride & self-ego

Personal ImportanceCongruence with identity & valuesSatisfaction


Do not exercise at allExercise because you want to lose weightYou engage activity because all your friends exercise and you do not want to look stupid in front of them so to avoid shame.You exercise because you value its health benefitsYou work out because your consider yourself a fit and healthy and want to engage in behaviours that are I line with that thoughtYou exercise because you simply enjoy working out and feel satisfied

What is your exercise motivation?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to understand your exercise motivation

  • Do you identify as an exerciser? Why or why not?
  • How does exercise make you feel? What do you like about exercising?
  • What's at the heart/root of why you exercise?

Developing Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation can be developed by fulfilling three basic human needs- autonomy, relatedness and competence.

  1. Autonomy- It refers to an individual’s feelings of control of their actions, behaviours and goals. An individual should possess the freedom to undertake decision for themselves that contributes to their personal growth & development. For instance you can pick an activity of your choice or select a time of your choice
  2. Competence- It refers an individual’s desire to master a task and learn new things. For instance, you are more likely to continue exercise for longer period if you feel you have adequate skills to successfully accomplish the task at hand. The task should not be too difficult or easy it should be adequately challenging.
  3. Relatedness- it refers to individuals need to feel a sense of belonging and attachment to other people. For instance, find a workout buddy or take up group classes instead of doing it alone.

Quick Tip: Find an enjoyable activity

Adventure, Height, Climbing, Mountain, Peak, Summit An individual should possess the freedom to undertake decision for themselves that contributes to their personal growth & development.

It is a common belief that exercise should be painful but that’s not true at all! Although sometimes we do have to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone but that does not imply we need to always suffer to gain exercise benefits. In fact, intrinsic motivation is also developed when you enjoy the activity.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to find an activity that you fine enjoyable:

  • What type of physical activity do you really enjoy? Cardio, jogging/walking resistance training, functional training, yoga, playing a sport etc.
  • What types of workouts does your body respond best to? Which workouts leave you feeling energized even though you might feel “good sore” the next day?
  • Which workouts do you look forward to starting?

Also read: Becoming Better: How to develop mental toughness?

Also read: Becoming Better: How to overcome procrastination?

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