Fitness Corner: What motivates you to work out?

What is the thought that gets you exercising?

What is it, exactly, that makes a sedentary person decide that they want to get active? Or an overweight person decide they want to shed some pounds? Or a person decide they want to start lifting weights?

It’s a decision that comes from a thought that motivates action. We don’t just go out for a run without thinking to ourselves, “I’m going to go on a run.” Any action we take or activity we decide to embark upon starts with what we are thinking.

The simplicity of this scenario can work to our advantage. The downside is that our thoughts can just as easily tell us we don’t feel like going on a run, and make it seem like a great idea to skip it. This is why it’s important to find the thought that will get you going and keep you moving. This applies regardless of whether or not you work with a trainer or coach, or have support elsewhere. Ultimately, your own brain kicks your own body into gear.

Here are some of the thoughts that my clients had that motivated them to work with me to reach their fitness goals:

“I want to be in better shape when I turn 50.”

“I want to be a stronger, faster athlete.”

“I want to make the golf team.”

“I want to lose 30 pounds.”

“I want to hit the ball further.”

So, when it’s cold, grey, rainy and dark out, and you’re tired, and you didn’t get enough sleep or you worked all day and just want to sit on the couch, what do you choose to think that gets you exercising regardless?

Find that thought that pushes you into action.

Here’s how:
1. What is your motivating goal? It should be realistic and feel like it is attainable within a certain time period. (I recently set a goal to run a 5K as a way of motivating myself to get back into running regularly. My timeframe is six months, giving me time to train smartly, which really means injury-free.)
2. What thoughts are you thinking about this goal? Write down all thoughts you can think of. Some might be negative, some positive, but we’re searching for the one that feels like you want to take action by thinking it. (My thoughts range from “I’m doing this 5k even if I can only walk it” to “I’m going to run a full 5k and beat my time from two years ago, watch me!”)
3. Choose the thought and try it on. See how you feel. Then envision a time when you really might not want to get moving, and see if that thought might motivate you anyway. If it does you’ve found your thought. (I can see myself crossing the finish line and that motivates me. The thought that resonates the most with me is “I am training to cross that finish line no matter what.”)
4. Put it into practice. Know in advance that as fired up as you are about a goal, there will be times when you just won’t want to take action. Understand and acknowledge that you will feel that way, then plan to go do it anyway. (In my case, I have started training already, by running only 1 minute a couple of times on my walk. I am already out walking, so no reason not pick up the pace for a few minutes, even though there is some effort involved.)
5. Envision the future. It can be as simple as imagining what you will feel like after your workout. Or you can imagine where you intend to be in a month, several months or a year. Your thought should correlate to that future you are imagining. (My immediate future is completing the 5k. But I intend to keep running beyond that at least a couple of times a week to support my long-term health goals and I can easily see that transition occurring.)

And finally, the most important aspect of all of this is to commit. Pick a date and take action. Because if your thought is powerful enough, and your desire for your future outcome is strong enough, you have the ability to make it happen. We all do!

— By Pritam Potts

Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at

  1. Pritam, thank you! Good article. You are right on about the “back up thinking that goes on – the devil, when the weather is bad or you don’t feel like doing it. I was an athlete for many years and then I ran and exercised on machines until I was 75. Now the only thing that I do is walk 2 miles everyday (about 35 minutes) with moderate hills. I also carry a steel water bottle in each hand, (3.5 pounds each) and exaggerate my arm swings. That tones me along with the benefits of the walking. Since I was 75, when I had a diabetic scare, I have drastically changed how and what I eat. I have lost 70 pounds and have been stable for about 5 years. That has made a huge difference in my physical, and mental health. I will be 84 in July and am still working and doing my own hardwork. Most days I look forward to my walk. When “the devil” starts talking to me (usually when it is very cold) I think about the benefits that I enjoy. Thanks again. Enjoy Texas! I have lots of family connections there. Great place to live. Ben Cain, Edmonds, WA

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