Negative Inspiration Not Wanted

Motivation to exercise and to stick with a fitness routine can be incredibly hard to come by for some people. I have spoken to many people who have a hard time “convincing” themselves to go to the gym, or who feel like they have to “trick” their bodies into working out.

I feel fortunate, because for me, exercise comes naturally. No, I’m not saying I’m good at everything I try (not even close), I’m simply saying that the motivation for exercise comes naturally — it’s just a  part of my day, a part of my life that helps me to feel complete.  I know that I’m pretty lucky to feel this way, but why do I feel this way and others don’t? Is it something that I’ve created myself, or is it innate? I’d bet on the former, but let’s dig a little deeper.

So why is it that so many people have a hard time finding the motivation to move and to sweat?

That is something I don’t think we’ll ever completely know the answer to. But I do know one thing that doesn’t create good, sincere, long lasting motivation:


I was recently at a fitness class where the instructor told the group that we were working our triceps because “women want to wave with their arms, not with their flab”.

I’m not kidding when I say I almost walked out of the class right there. Inspired? No, I was infuriated.

There are so many wonderful reasons to move and to work out, so many beautiful reasons that do not include putting ourselves down. You know what? I’ve been working out for years, and I still get a little jiggle when I wave, unless I’m actively flexing my triceps as I do so (and that would look pretty awkward). But this isn’t something that bothers me, and it’s certainly not the motivating factor to my workouts.  I don’t work out because of parts of myself that I hate, I work out to improve the parts of me that are already pretty dang awesome.

Every single part of you is what makes you You. You are not that photoshopped fitness model, you are not Gisele, you are not that world class Cross Fit athlete or elite endurance runner. You are you, and that’s what you have to work with. So your arm jiggles a little bit when you wave at someone? So what, you’re human. We aren’t all bronzed gods and goddesses made of 100% muscle.

You know what motivates me to work on my triceps? The fact that stronger triceps lead to better push ups, a stronger bench press, and more ease in my job which requires a good amount of physical activity and heavy lifting.

Would it have killed her to say something along those lines? “We’re working on our triceps to improve our strength for push ups!” motivates me a heck of a lot more than hearing someone put everyone down for something they really can’t control.

And maybe that’s the key. Maybe we need to look less at whether or not we are motivated, and more at what is behind our motivation. I’m no social scientist, but I have a pretty good idea that the more we use negativity to fuel the things we do, the less of a chance we have at making those things long lasting habits. The more you tear yourself down and punish yourself through workouts, I’d wager that you’ll be less likely to continue that workout or routine in the long run.

If you were forced to eat your favorite food every time you did something perceived as “wrong”, it probably wouldn’t be your favorite food for long now, would it? When it becomes a punishment, I don’t see how it could possibly be enjoyable long term. See where I’m going with this?

So if you’re working out, do so from a place of inspiration and potential progress, not from a place of hate and shame. And if you’re the fitness instructor who is shaming ladies into “better” bodies, what are you teaching them about how they should feel about themselves in the long run?

What if their arms always have a little “jiggle” when they wave — should they keep punishing themselves for eternity? What if they can go from doing 1 push up to 15, yet they still have a little wiggle — personally, I think we should be applauding that progress, not punishing the aesthetics (and genetics).

So it may be a long shot, but I really feel that someday we may be able to close this motivational gap when it comes to exercise. And I would bet that the key to that will be avoiding those negative spaces in our brains and embracing our potential as strong women (no matter which bits may wiggle or jiggle).

So tell me, why do You exercise? Where do you find your motivation?

6 thoughts on “Negative Inspiration Not Wanted

  1. Bahh! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! I touched upon negativity recently on my blog because I think it’s so important to show people that if you have a negative feeling about something, you’re less likely to enjoy it and keep going. It’s a vicious cycle! in my classes, I try to tell people why we are doing things for physical strength reasons, no for physical appearance reasons, because the strength is what’s important and if you master that, the appearance piece will come. but again, genetics is what really determines how we ultimately look because even in the best shape, i’m not going to look like someone else who may also be in the best shape. Realizing this has helped me stop the comparison game and helped me to focus more on working out for health and strength and enjoyment over physical appearance. I, too, rarely need motivation to workout or get to the gym- the act of working out is something I ENJOY, a lot, actually! And these days I workout to feel strong and empowered, rather than just to be skinny, and that’s a great feeling.

  2. YES!

    When instructors say things like that it bothers me too!

    I’m motivated to work out to feel better & stronger. (And it helps that I chose workouts with a social aspect, so I’m usually meeting someone there.)

  3. I’m all about exercising to keep a piece of mind… helps me relax and start my day off on the right foot (literally) 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on No diet forever lifestyle and commented:
    This is excellent ! I have to reblog and spread that goodness !

  5. YES. You did a great job turning that moment of fury during that class into inspiration for your blog. I almost walked out right with you, I was seriously fuming. Beautifully written!

  6. wow this post hit me so hard. thank you so much.
    a few days ago i was telling a friend that I don’t htik I’ve ever exercised because I enjoyed doing it, and my self consciousness and shame has ruined many activities i have tried.
    i was able to manage myself for a long time, to go from being an obese child who hated moving, then lost weight with weight watchers pretty healthfully, started running cross country and playing basketball (this is all in middle school), and then trying to lose the last twenty pounds i starved myself and since then haven’t been able to stick with any kind of regimented plan. i kept myself within a healthy range for a long time but going through an identity crisis with grad school, moving abroad, etc i just lost control and have put on a bunch of weight, which seems ot be melting away slowly as my mindset improves. for a brief period before this weight gain, i was thin without even trying to be during a time that life seemed authentic and simple and yes, i was in france teaching english in the countryside, so it was a lot less stressful and just easier.
    now i think i’m moving beyon dhte shame and want to change my body and get fit- for me rather than for some abstract ideal. tried surfing yesterday and my lack of flexibility in the hip flexors made it really tough. would rather get healthy so i can surf than for a friend’s wedding or some other bullshit reason. also hope i will one day be able to stick with some kind of fitness activity and not give into shame about my body or performance or geting off track- tried crossfit and liked it but i felt like i never got any better plus sprained my ankel (from something else) and never really got back into it.
    it’sso hard, i used to be able to run but running is 60% mental (or more) and the mental is the hardest part these days! its hard to motivate myself from a place of love.

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