February 12


Setting the exercise habit to keep motivation for your gym routine

Reading Time: minutes

The word habit is an interesting one. Biting your nails is a habit, and so is smoking. For most people, they're reflexive, unbending behaviours that can be very difficult to break. Can you get to that point with motivation for your exercise routine?


Possibly - but would this be a healthy habit? I don't think so.

Possessing the subconscious compulsion to exercise, with no ability to control its scale, wouldn't improve your life. It may improve your bench press.

To maintain the joy of exercise, we need to create a desire to work out, while keeping a sense of perspective. This allows for time off, for life to happen outside of the gym. So forget about pursuing your personal best with a zeal that destroys everything in its path. Instead, aim to create a sense of focus - regularity and purpose. One that motivates you in the direction of the gym instead of your couch. To run past the pub, not into it.

Recruit your subconscious

People usually seek out the services of a personal trainer for help with motivation and their exercise routine.

Your subconscious hold the key towards unlocking exercise routine motivation

They know their subconscious desire isn't enough. Knowing you should be doing something, even something you like doing, doesn't always get the job done.

If you want to establish a regular pattern of exercise, you need to recruit the subconscious.

Furthermore, we need to approach this process in a certain way. From the perspective of the unconscious brain, all behaviour has a purpose. It's intended to take us toward reward or drive us away from pain or danger. To accomplish this, chemicals we experience as feelings and emotions get dumped into our system to guide our actions. Chemicals like serotonin for rewarding experiences (the warm fuzzies) and adrenaline for the fight/flight stuff.

The trouble is, we can like the feeling of both.

That's why your exercise habit can become like smoking cigarettes. Our brains can get confused and end up seeking more of the bad stuff. You end up addicted to the pain of exercise, and not the pleasure it brings.

You might not be able to tell the difference...until something in your body breaks down.

Training your brain for motivation to complete your exercise routine

So how do we get the brain trained to release the warm fuzzies in response to exercise?

Try using a technique from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) called anchoring.

It's a process in which you associate something with a trigger. It's used in advertising all the time.

We can utilise this technique by linking the feeling of satisfaction, or motivation, or enthusiasm (or all three) to a stimulus. The stimulus can be anything, but smell works particularly well.

Our sense of smell works particularly well to anchor feelings of motivation towards our exercise routine

Sports stars and professional athletes use anchoring with smells for maximum motivation​ and performance

Our sense of smell is linked closely to the emotional processing part of the brain. You can't choose not to respond to it, it's automatic.

One way of doing this is to pick a smell you like that you can carry with you, on a hankie or a wrist band. Every time you feel motivated, take a moment to savour that feeling strongly and then take a few deep breaths of your chosen smell. After doing this a few times, breathing in the smell will automatically bring back the feeling of motivation. Top athletes use this regularly to help them enter their peak performance zone.

After a while, by 'firing' the anchor whenever you contemplate a training session, the feeling of motivation transfers to the thought of going training. What you've succeeded in doing is tuning the brain's pleasure principle into associating your workout with a pleasurable feeling. As we naturally do more of what we like, the urge to exercise becomes a healthy habit - but firmly within your control.

Focus on the rewards of your exercise routine and you'll find motivation

Something else that can help you get past the moment when the direction you take - the sofa or the gym - is hanging in the balance; a simple visualisation exercise.

Without even realising it, when you catch yourself fighting over what to do, your mind is flicking between the choices to decide which ones bring most reward. Between slogging it out in the gym after a hard day at work, or reclining in front of the TV - you can guess which one is likely to win.

The trick is to focus on two images that represent your conflict. However, instead of seeing yourself running along the road, or sweating in a BodyPump class, focus on the moment after the session. When you're walking away feeling pleased you made the effort. Perhaps feeling like a fitness superhero - superior to every other person who's behind the windows you pass on the way home watching Netflix and eating chips. Whatever works!

Focus on the reward of the exercise, not the struggle of it. Go beyond it in your imagination, not into it. And I don't mean fleetingly either. If you're struggling with your desire to be lazy, close your eyes and spend a few minutes visualising that rewarding moment. Look for where in your body you feel that sense of satisfaction. The more you practice, the more quickly the image and the feeling of motivation will come to you. And, of course, when you get it - anchor it.

Choose your exercise identity

Exercise can sometimes become a habit that we have for no particular purpose. This can often reduce our desire to do it.

Choosing the right exercise identity will unlock motivation to keep you going with your routine

Maintain your motivation routine by setting a specific exercise target. Additionally, give that target a very personal meaning.

If you're not currently working towards a goal, think of one.

It should be something definitive that you want to achieve. Not just about how you want to look in the mirror. Perhaps at the age of 34, you want to work towards a black belt in kickboxing by the time you're 37.

This will transform your attitude towards visits to the gym - and who you are by doing so.

Jim Courier, the tennis player, used to step onto the court and assume the identity of 'the warrior.' Whoever he was off-court, on-court he became a persona that was pursuing his goal - world dominance. When Beyonce steps out on stage to perform, she's no longer Beyonce Knowles mother of 3 and married to Jay-Z. She is now Sasha Fierce, her world-class, #1 best selling alter ego.

“​I am Sasha Fierce!”


The point is, to make your life special to yourself, and your exercise routine is part of that special identity. My exercise routine is geared to the level of fitness and flexibility I need and that's where my motivation comes from.

Our brains don't like to waste energy - so linking your workout to a goal satisfies its need for thriftiness. Linking your goal to your sense of identity increases your self-esteem. Just the simple act of changing the label you have for yourself can change your attitude towards something. Put on the sweat pants - and sweat - and you're an athlete. Walk around with that exercise identity and see how much more often you're picking up your gym bag.

Finding and maintaining motivation for your exercise routine

So, give some thought to what exercise identity would work for you. Nobody else needs to know unless you're confessing it in a sports magazine. You certainly don't need to wear your pants over your lycra to go to work. Get your subconscious on board, visualise your rewards and control your exercise habit.

Live for a while as if you're the kind of person who trains regularly. You will become that kind of person sooner than you think.

​Beat your bad habits

​Read my other article on how you can beat your bad habits for good...

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs. He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Have you tried one of my online workouts yet?