Maybe you’ve been telling yourself that you need to make your health and fitness a priority for years. And maybe you’ve even started to create an exercise habit a few times.
But every time you try, you can’t seem to stop skipping workouts because you just don’t feel motivated to follow through and exercise consistently.
If so, you’re not alone. Many people struggle to commit to and implement a consistent workout schedule, especially when they lead busy lives and have a lot of responsibilities to juggle.
The problem is that the longer it goes on, the more frustrated you become and the more you start to feel the negative physical and mental health impacts of not having a regular exercise routine and failing to focus on your physical fitness.
And I often hear people who are struggling with this say things like:
“I just need to be more consistent.”
“I just need to be more disciplined.”
“I just need to get motivated.”
But these are all just statements — NOT solutions. What we really need are PLANS.
So if you’re reading this going “hey, that’s me!”, then you’re in the right place.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the possible under-the-radar reasons why you’re still struggling to get consistent exercise and how to stay consistent with working out.
You’ve got no concrete plan.
One of the main reasons people skip their workouts is because they haven’t planned for them. They figure they’ll just “get them in” at some point and they basically just wing it and hope for a convenient opening on their schedule to appear.
Essentially, they treat exercise time as a “nice to have” rather than something that’s really a priority to them — like an important meeting that has to happen on a regular basis.
You’ve got to schedule your priorities first. Otherwise, your priorities will get pushed out of your schedule but other things that may be more “urgent” but aren’t actually as important as taking care of your physical health.
I’ve also seen people make the declaration that they’ll just get up earlier so they can work out in the mornings but then fail to plan for getting to bed early enough that they can get up earlier. So they keep hitting snooze and saying they are too tired to work out.
Unless you’re a special unicorn who has lots of empty time to spare, everything you add to your schedule is going to displace something else. Make sure that you plan for that by moving things around or eliminating unnecessary tasks.
You may need to strategically deprioritize some other things to prioritize your health.
By taking a few minutes each week to clear and block off time for exercise, schedule your workouts, and plan what exercises you will do (or subscribe to an app program or hire a coach for custom programming), you can minimize the interference from time-management and lack of planning issues.
Planning is how you build an intentional life — rather than being pushed and pulled around by your circumstances and whatever “crisis” got tossed onto your plate for the day.
You’re planning for “ideal” conditions instead of your day-to-day reality.
Instead of building a routine around that once-in-a-blue-moon day when everything goes according to plan, plan for your reality.
Plan for the days when you oversleep and it’s your turn to get the kids to school. Plan for the days when you’re cranky because you worked late AGAIN last night.
There will always be last-minute meetings and important work deadlines. Don’t ignore your reality in your planning, expect it and plan for it. Be realistic about what your day actually looks like.
Stop pretending that it’s reasonable for you to expect to have an hour 5 days a week after work to go to the gym when you know your job has you working right up until dinner time most days.
And once you have a plan, have a plan for adapting your plan. What’s your plan B? If you end up time-crunched, what options can you give yourself to still get some exercise in? What’s the bare minimum you need to do to feel successful?
By building a workout routine around your perfect or near-perfect days, you’re creating an uphill battle for yourself.
Life is unpredictable, but anticipating potential obstacles can help you prepare for them. For instance, if you know you have a busy week coming up, plan for shorter workouts or workouts that can be done from home. By doing this, you won’t feel as discouraged and help you stay on track.
Your “why” isn’t relevant or powerful enough right now.
When you think of the benefits of exercise, you might picture some ideal version of yourself years from now. However, focusing on some outcome way out in the future is not always motivating in the present.
Motivational salience is a cognitive process that moves your behavior toward or away from a particular thing or outcome. Essentially, it’s a way of categorizing how powerful of a motivator something is.
Sometimes the things that motivate us are not relevant enough to us right now to overcome the other things we have to deal with. For example, the desire to look good in my swim suit 6 months from now is not a powerful or urgent enough motivator to get me out of bed to work out when it’s cold and rainy outside. That motivation is low salience.
Another example: wanting to still be active, hiking, and playing with your grandkids in your 60s and 70s. Noble goal. Low salience most of the time. It isn’t relevant or powerful enough now to push off what feels like other more pressing issues in the present.
Low salience goals are often just kicked further and further down the road.
Interestingly, a 2022 study found that focusing on weight loss as the purpose for physical activity will likely not lead to long-term exercise habits or a consistent workout routine. So even if you want to lose weight and that’s your why, you’ll need to dig deep to find another motivation with higher salience in order to sustain a consistent exercise routine.
To help stay motivated now, you need something with high salience — something that matters now, some outcome you need now, something very spicy. Choosing high salience motivation is a way to remind yourself that you don’t need to wait until your summer beach trip or when you’re in your 60s — you can have the benefits of your efforts right now.
Instead of focusing only on the long-term benefits of having a solid workout habit — like better blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease, stronger bones, weight management, and improved blood glucose levels and reduced risk for type 2 diabetes — pay attention to how you benefit immediately from working out.
And there are many immediate benefits of exercise that make it worth doing it now. Here are just a few:
improved mood and energy levels
better thinking and attention regulation
more creativity and problem solving
more confidence and feelings of overall well-being
better sleep quality
So take your pick and focus on that as a motivator.
Or better yet, come up with your own. After your next workout, take a moment to reflect in your car before you drive home and leave yourself a voice memo or written note that you can come back to later that describes the immediate benefits you actually feel in the moment.
Maybe you feel like a badass who can take on the world after a workout.
Or maybe that morning workout you felt too tired to get out of bed for when your alarm went off actually left you feeling more energized for the day.
Or maybe it’s exactly what you need to make time for when to help you clear your mind and focus before starting to work on a challenging task or big project.
Be specific about how the workout made your life better RIGHT NOW. Then use the recording or reflection as a reminder next time you need to be reminded of the immediate benefits of hitting the gym when it matters most.
Use that to intentionally grow your motivation so you can build a better association and relationship with working out by focusing every time you go on how it’s benefitting you in the short term and what you do enjoy about it.
You’re not giving yourself time to build the skill of showing up.
Often, when the spark of motivation hits us, we just want to dive right into the deep end. And that can backfire badly because we haven’t taken our time to develop the skills needed to keep going when it’s hard so we find ourselves white-knuckling your way through until we give up.
This is where people often think it’s a willpower issue. But it’s not. It’s a rookie mistake.
Instead of setting a grand, elaborate workout plan, break it down and start smaller with a workout habit that can be easily implemented and accomplished. By doing this, you can build your skills and confidence gradually.
Self-efficacy is a term for how much we believe we can actually do the thing we set out to do. The higher our self-efficacy when it comes to a specific task, the more likely we are to stick with it.
This is the “do it easy before you do it hard” principle. When you set the bar lower at the start, you give yourself quick wins which boosts your self-efficacy while also giving yourself time to learn and reinforce the skills needed to face more difficult challenges later on.
In other words, “do it easy first” is how you build the confidence to do it harder later. It’s how you show yourself that growth is possible.
First, you set yourself up for easy wins and then build off of that by improving step by step.
So if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your fitness goals, ask yourself:
How can I make this easier so I stuck with it long enough to get good at it so I feel confident later?
How can I make it easier to think this is easy?
Treat it like a skill you have to learn over time, not a one-and-done decision you have to make. Rather than jumping straight into the deep end, work on adopting a long-haul mentality where the name of the game is to stay in the game, not get it over with as soon as possible.
Consistency is like building a muscle — you have to get lots of reps with light weights in to get better and move to the heavier weights. So make sure you start small with in your fitness journey with reps that are doable or you’ll give up before you give yourself a chance to get better.
Your mindset about exercise and fitness is fixed.
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “I just don’t like to exercise” or “exercise isn’t fun”, I’d be retired already.
When we first start something new or when we feel that we’re bad at something, we don’t usually like it right out of the gate. And yet for some reason, we keep thinking that working out consistently will be effortless and we’ll never feel resistance to doing it.
When you have a fixed mindset about exercise, you see all the limitations — you hate it, it’s boring, it’s hard, you’re too tired, you’re out good at it, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t have time, you don’t know how to use all the equipment, you’re afraid of looking silly in front of other people, “I’m not athletic”, blah blah blah.
When you shift toward a growth mindset, you see possibilities — you might find something you enjoy, you might actually be good at it and if not then you’ll get good at it with practice and repetition, you’ll figure out how to make it work for your schedule through trial and error, you can hire a trainer to teach you the basics, etc.
Stop making (real or perceived) obstacles and internal resistance to exercise mean you’re failing – this is fixed mindset. And trust me, if you’re always looking for validation that you’re failing or doing it wrong, then you’ll find it because there are no shortage of obstacles in life and no matter how much you enjoy the gym, you’ll still have days where you’ll resist going.
When you catch yourself focusing on limitations, practice shifting toward possibility.
Yes, I said practice. Our brains have a negativity bias — they like to point out the negatives so we’re aware of any potential threats — so we have to use our higher intellectual function to shift out of that to see the possibilities for growth that exist for us.
Instead of the old “exercise isn’t fun”, try ”how can I make this more enjoyable?”
Need some ideas?
If you have a favorite podcast or Spotify playlist, maybe only listen to it when you’re doing a workout — that way you have something to look forward to.
If you like being outdoors, find ways to workout that get you outside in nature more.
Buy yourself some fun, flattering workout clothes that make you happy instead of wearing you old baggy sweats.
Stop making your workouts so hard and long that you have to keep fighting with your feelings of overwhelm — make it easier and shorter so you can grow your growth mindset with small wins. You’re less likely to despise it if you think you can actually do it.
Make it fun by experimenting with different types of exercise or finding an exercise buddy.
Embrace exercise as a process of growth and a quest to have some fun along the way rather than just a way to burn calories and lose weight.
But also remember that you don’t have to LOVE exercise — you can love what it does for you (see above re: your “why”).
You have negative feelings and/or beliefs about working out.
Some people have underlying feelings and homegrown beliefs about exercise that hold them back from committing to regular workouts. Something about working out just feels icky and they can’t get themselves to stick to a consistent workout schedule.
Maybe you grew up in a house where the only time people made exercise a priority was when they wanted to “fix” something they didn’t like about themselves.
Or maybe you follow too many people who reinforce this belief with messaging around losing your “muffin top”or “belly pooch” or “thunder thighs” or “saddlebags” or any other unflattering way to refer to normal parts of a human body.
BTW – Those terms were invented by people who want to make you hate your body enough to pay them to help you fix it — it’s gross and they are getting very rich from the usage of these terms in marketing and YOU are paying the price.
If you’ve only ever experienced exercise as a way to punish your body or fix something you hate about yourself then yeah, sure, it’s gonna feel icky. I’ve seen it over and over again when people feel a lot of resistance to exercise.
If you’ve always associated exercise with a desire to avoid feeling badly about your body by “fixing” it, rather than an opportunity to grow, get stronger, and become more capable, then it’s probably not going to feel good for you to do it.
But the great thing is that you can change how you feel about things by managing your mind and internationally choosing new thoughts to believe.
Because it’s not the resistance to your workout routine that sabotages you, it is your reaction to the resistance. Don’t panic when you feel it — build your skills and self-efficacy to manage your mind and your behavior.
You can not want to exercise AND still get it done. It may be as simple as changing your thoughts from “I don’t want to do this” to “I want this done”. Shift your focus to how this is making your life better right now (more energy, better focus, improved mood, etc) and how doing this exercise habit today will make you different in some positive way.
And remember that most people won’t enjoy things the first time they try it. This is normal. It doesn’t mean you should never do it again. It’s especially true if you feel a lot of resistance to exercise because you’ve always associated exercise with a desire to change your body in order to avoid feeling badly about it.
You associate exercise and fitness with being uncomfortable and believe that discomfort is bad.
Exercise and challenging your body can be uncomfortable. Your heart rate speeds up, you start sweating, and it feels like your body is trying to tell you to stop.
All of those feelings are normal — especially for anyone who’s new to a workout routine. But it’s how you interpret them what you do with them that matters most.
Because yes, exercise is a stress on your body, but it’s a positive stress — one that creates positive changes in how our bodies respond to stress, manage blood sugar levels, regulate blood flow and body temperature, among many other things.
So the stress you feel and how you manage the feelings you feel about that stress can have positive effects on your growth and resilience.
And that’s where some people get hung up — they need to work on their relationship with discomfort and stress. Because not all stress is bad for you. So it helps to work on reframing these negative feelings that come up when you’re experiencing discomfort and stress during exercise as a sign of growth and strength that you are choosing.
When you have a low tolerance for discomfort, your brain is interpreting the sensations of discomfort as “bad” and that “I’m unsafe and going to get hurt”.
To see if this might be you, consider: what does an elevated heart rate and sweating mean to you? Does it feel like there’s a crisis? Panic attack? That you’re stressed? If the thought of your heart rate increasing and sweat made your heart rate increase and get sweaty, you might need to do a little physiological reinterpretation to work on managing your thoughts around those sensations so you’re not making them mean “psychological breakdown” just because you started pedaling on a stationary bike.
Improving your discomfort tolerance is a skill you can work on. Start with a workout intensity that’s low enough where you’re able to watch your brain’s reaction, acknowledge that your heart rate is increasing and you’re starting to sweat but these are all perfectly normal things to happen in a functioning human body. In other words, your body is responding to a physical stress appropriately. You don’t have to love how it feels, just get to feeling neutral about it — acknowledge it and move on.
Then, once you’ve got that, gradually over time increase the intensity so the discomfort progressively increases over time. This will help you build your self-efficacy at managing discomfort at each level of intensity, rather than throwing yourself into the deep end and hoping you figure out how to swim.
It’s all about changing your relationship with “hard” because not everything that’s hard or uncomfortable is bad for us (despite what the reactive parts of your brain might be trying to tell you at the time). And if you pause to see those irrational reactive thoughts happen, you can use the higher intellectual parts of your brain to reframe them and remind yourself that this discomfort is not about survival, it’s about growth and thriving — and those are things you’re choosing so you’re right where you need to be right now.
Skipping workouts can become a habit — meaning that every time you do it, it gets easier to skip again. But with some curiosity and planning, you can break this cycle and finally start prioritizing your health.
Remember to plan ahead, anticipate obstacles, and make the outcome of exercise more relevant to the present. Start with realistic and small goals to build your confidence and see exercise as a process of growth and consistency as a skill you’re actively building.
Don’t let old negative beliefs about exercise hold you back or make you avoid the discomfort and stress that are meant to help you grow and build resilience. Keeping these tips in mind, you can take charge and stop skipping your workouts.
Working out consistently isn’t a choice — it’s a whole bunch of small, daily choices. So focusing on one choice or one day at a time and you’ll eventually become skilled at it.
And then skills covered in this post are exactly what we teach step-by-step in real time with expert feedback and community support inside StrongHer in 6, our signature group coaching program. In it, we guide you from inactive and WANTING to prioritize your health to active and actively BUILDING the skill of prioritizing your health.
Check it out here to get the details and sign up to be in our next cohort.