The science of making New Year’s exercise motivation last

How to get enough exercise in the busy seasons of your life (2).pngAhh, that fresh start feeling of a brand new year.  Your mind is now free of that holiday to do list and your body is ready to get back to healthier eating and sleeping.  This wave of motivation feels great and hopeful.  Let’s give it a boost and talk about what science says about making that New Year’s motivation last!

Create a habit loop:  Neuroscientists  have spent decades studying the brains of people in many different scenarios and have come up with a simple explanation for habits.  As described in this TED talk by Judson Brewer, MD PhD, the brain is hardwired to do what leaves you feeling better and avoid what makes you feel worse.  This gravitation toward instant gratification is there to keep us safe.  Avoiding plants that gave you a stomach ache and traveling to get to a safer location was what helped our ancestors survive.  Using this with exercise in our modern day life means  listening to your body. Just like our ancestors, trusting your body is the best guide. That takes letting go of the idea that more is better and pain is a sign of progress and letting your body signal your brain that exercise is something it wants to keep choosing to do again and again.

Be Kind (to yourself):  Over and over in many studies, criticism has been show to work for motivation in the short term and to burn out motivation in the long term.  Putting a picture on the fridge to make you feel bad about yourself so you go to the gym is one common self-criticism strategy.  As described in this TED talk by Kristen Neff, PhD, studies have consistently shown that using the same encouraging and supportive tone with yourself that you use with those you care about is the way to make motivation last.  Notice how you talk to yourself before during and after exercise.  Shift the tone to be encouraging, empathetic and supportive.  Contrary to popular belief, this will not make you ‘wimp’ out, it will actually help you sustain motivation.

Motivate yourself:  Studies show that having someone push you will help you reach a goal, but once that push is no longer there, motivation will go too. As described in this TED talk by Daniel Pink, the more lasting way to motivate is from the inside out.  Relying on steps, calories and miles to motivate you will work, but more lasting is being motivated by how you feel and how it connects to what is most important to you in life right now.   By listening to your body and using supportive self talk, you can be your own best personal trainer and inspirational speaker rolled into one!

It takes time to build these skills, but it is the way to lasting motivation.  If previous years you have relied on other people, self criticism and ignoring signals from your body in order to get to a goal with exercise, notice where it has led you.  If it led you back to trying to get motivated again, this year, make a resolution not to waste time with temporary sources of exercise motivation.  Why not invest the time and energy by using your New Years Motivation to build these self-motivation skills from day one.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy new year!

Keep Moving, Be Well all year long!



by | December 31, 2019 · 7:47 pm

3 responses to “The science of making New Year’s exercise motivation last

  1. Shaun W Ratcliffe

    What if your pain levels are aggrivated by doing any exercise? I am struggling with this, esp my lower back and sciatica pain. I tried doing the treadmill for even as little as 5 mins and I’m in instant pain when I start. I’ve talked to my docs about the pain and they seem to think I have to just deal with it. But it keeps me from doing anything that will help burn calories!!! help!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • keepitmovingweekly2

      It sounds like your body is telling you the treadmill is not what it needs right now. The primary goal of exercise is not to burn calories, it is to improve function. Your body may need more mobility or strength before it can tolerate the treadmill. Listening to it is always the way to go when it comes to pain. Pain is a sign something needs to change. Check out articles I’ve posted on stretching, the core, and strength training for more info. Hope that helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. keepitmovingweekly2

    Reblogged this on Keep Moving Weekly and commented:

    Happy New Year! I am re-posting my New Years post from two years ago. Little did we know we would need A LOT of help with motivation in 2020! Although it’s a new year, getting a fresh start will be extra challenging this year. We need these three simple tools from motivation science more than ever. When it comes to exercise, it boils down to this:
    – Small steps lead to big and lasting changes. When what you do feels good now, your brain wants you to repeat it. If you have not been exercising, restart mindfully so you avoid the trap of trying to push for faster results.
    -Cut yourself some slack! Its been quite a ride this year, and we need to forgive ourselves for letting things go a bit. Use the same words of encouragement and kindness you would use for someone else and your motivation is more likely to stick around past January.
    – Find the motivation inside you – there is no magic out there. The only one who knows how you feel and what is most important to you is YOU. Take time to find the ‘why’ for exercise that is most motivating for you and you will be your own best source of support.


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