How to Motivate to Exercise When You’d Rather Not

This post by Dimity originally ran nearly two years ago to the day, but the advice it offers will still help you get you up and moving when the covers (or inertia or a glass of wine) are calling your name. 


Dang these dark winter mornings and dang the end of holiday vacation, where I slept in later than I have in years. (I got out of bed after 8 a.m. I honestly haven't done that in a decade, unless I was sick.) Dang it that, despite the upcoming Tinker Bell Half Marathon on Sunday, I feel unmotivated and blah. Dang it that every sugar cookie I consumed over the past month is clinging to my thighs and brain like barnacles.

Thing is, I am—and you are, I'm guessing—so much happier and content when I sweat. (Well, you are happier when you sweat, right?) Because of that fact, I haven't bailed on many workouts from the Train Like a Mother: Finish It plan. Still, I've spent a lot of time and energy mentally waffling: Time better spent, of course, not thinking and just going.

Because my sugar cookie brain barnacles just might be hanging out in your cranium, here is how to motivate to exercise when you'd rather not:

☆ Lay out my clothes and gear the night before. Basic tip, I realize, but when you're lying in bed and you think, I've got to gather all my gear and get dressed and then run? Too much. But if your clothes/shoes/gloves/hat/music/GPS watch/whatever else you need are lying in your bathroom, right by the tub, all you have to do is get up to pee and turn on the light. Then you can just go on autopilot.

☆ If you're not an early morning runner and go later in the day, somehow cut out a step to prevent waffling. When I lived in Brooklyn and walked to the subway, I stopped at the gym on the way to work, parked my clothes in a locker, then continued onto work. On the way home, I had to at least pick up my clothes—the gym staff threatened to cut the locks off lockers at the end of the day—so I just surrendered and sweated. I realize that's a pretty urban example, but it could be as simple as bringing your running clothes to work and changing into them before you leave so you can stop at a park on the way home to run or  be ready to run after you drop your son at drum lessons.

☆ Whether it's a.m. or p.m., if you're stalling, take a moment and visualize yourself running with one mile to go. You're headed home, rosy cheeked and endorphin-rushed and proud and psyched you got out there. Then lace up and chase that feeling.

Recycled post; recycled picture: Dimity getting her sweat on on the NordicTrack treadmill in what used to be her guest bedroom.
Recycled post; recycled picture: Dimity getting her sweat on on the NordicTrack treadmill in what used to be her guest bedroom.

☆ If you're headed indoors to sweat, don't overthink it. Jump on a machine and pick a program: hit the hills or the intervals or cycle through New Zealand. I've been doing some incline training on my NordicTrack 1750, and while I don't love every second, I do love that it bosses me around and I just have to comply. Believe it or not, sometimes I just don't want to be in charge.

☆ Right after you run, write down three words that describe how you're feeling that exact moment. Still sweaty, maybe still breathing hard, grab a pen and go. Then tape those words somewhere they'll be a weapon when you're in your next a why-even-go-waaah-I-don't-want-to  mood: Maybe it's the bathroom mirror, maybe it's your computer screen, maybe it's the fridge. Then lace up and chase those feelings.

☆ Don't go, and then see how you feel. Chances are, you'll be raring to go tomorrow. (I know, I know: that's a repeat tip from Run Like a Mother, but I love it: It's little bit snarky and a lot the truth.)

Enough from me: How do you motivate to exercise when you'd rather not? 

21 responses to “How to Motivate to Exercise When You’d Rather Not

  1. I may have — unknowingly — met you that Tink weekend. I was in Disneyland with my daughter, who was participating in USA Gymnastics GymFest Nationals. After her competition, we were on a ride and “ran” into several ladies, wearing their tech shirts and medals, post-half. I was 150+ lbs overweight and hadn’t ever run before, but hearing their stories planted a seed. Two years later, I’ve shed most of that weight and am in the TLAM Spring Marathon Challenge.
    You may, or may not, have been one of those ladies…but I choose to believe that you were. so, THANK YOU!

  2. I convince myself that “I’ll just give in 10 minutes or 1 mile” then I’ll reevaluate if I NEED to quit/call it a day (sometimes in the case of an illness) or if I just needed to get moving to want to keep going. I ALWAYS feel better after a run than when I started.

  3. Recycled or not, this is a post I need to read at least once a month! Especially on mornings when it’s rainy, windy, chilly and dark and I’m out by my lonesome. Hmmm, that NordicTrack is looking better all the time!

  4. It’s 4 a.m., dark and cold (30 degrees) and I am sore from my weight workout yesterday and from moving big rocks in a wheelbarrow as I am shoring up a large section of my yard so I don’t lose it to erosion. I have to leave here by 6:15 to be a work by 7 to see 18 little smiling (crying) faces bright and early and another 17-18 after lunch. Then I get to go to a staff meeting. I’ll be leaving from work 12 hours from now. I am tired just thinning about it. I will be tired anyway no matter what I do so I will get dressed in a few min. and get out the door for my 3 miles. The miles will pull me through my long day.

  5. You guys motivate me- a new podcast to get me out the door, getting lost in the banter during the slow first mile, the boring middle miles or the extra miles at the end. I’ve been known to run longer just to finish a podcast or 2. Thanks, I may not be getting faster, but I am healthier!

  6. This is quite timely. This morning, the alarm went off at 5:00. As I lay in bed, trying to talk myself into not getting up, your (Dimity’s) words popped in my head, “Don’t think, just go.” So I got up and ran. And was so happy I did. 🙂

  7. This was really good timing. It’s been really tough for me to feel motivation lately. Having a plan (right now I’m just re-booting TLAM 5K:Own It!) makes a big difference for me.

    I also just started paying myself $1/mile. Those funds are strictly for running-related stuff (gear, race fees, pedicures, etc.) and I can then indulge guilt-free because I earned it! If I want something in particular it can be very motivational! 😉 I keep it in a jar that says, “Good things come to those who” on the front. The back says, “Work their a$$ off!” True dat.

  8. In addition to some of the things already mentioned, these tricks help motivate me:
    -Being signed up for a race that will be challenging enough that I can’t slack off.
    -Making plans to run with a friend or RSVPing for a local group run, so I can’t just bail without telling anyone.

  9. I pack my gym bag every single night with my work clothes and running clothes on top. And most mornings I do indeed get up and run as I tell myself I really do need this before work and I prefer the gym TM over my home incline TM. One day I will get a new one….

    But today’s three words post run – don’t know if I should keep them as they were….THAT. REALLY. SUCKED.

    But now over an hour post run and yoga, I am happy I did go. Now my three words will be…SUCKY RUNS HELP!

    Have a great day!

  10. I actually slept in my running clothes last night, bra and all. And I stilllllll couldn’t get up! Fail. So, yeah, now I am obsessing over when I will do it after work.

  11. Two things that work like magic for me:
    Change out of pjs and straight into running clothes. If it is warm enough, I head out on my run as soon as my daughter is on the school bus. If it’s too cold, I bundle up to get to the bus stop, then head home to ditch my winter jacket and pick up my gps, running gloves/hat, etc. On the odd occasion that I decide to get some work done before my run, wearing my gear always ensures that I head out eventually!
    I also remind myself that I regret skipping the run, but never regret doing the run. 🙂

  12. A HUGE thank you for this suck it up momma and get your ass out the door NOW! Perfect timing Dimity. Run done & smile has returned. Now I’m armed to take care of a few sick kids. Thank You!!!!!!

  13. I have a schedule in excel, and honestly, if it’s on the schedule, it get’s done. I bring all my gear to work, and by 11:00 I’m looking forward to a break in my day. For the weekend long run, I have a date with my RP, and both of us are too stubborn to let the other done, so the scheduled distance always gets done.

  14. My mantra is, I need to keep healthy for my kids sake and if that doesn’t work, if I’m training for a half or full marathon, i visualize the starting line, saying all these people have trained, i better get out there too! I want a good race! If ALL else fails, and I succumb to my warm bed, I wear my tightest jeans and regret that feeling all day!

  15. Must be my inner need to do what I say I’m going to do but I find that if I tell my husband or a friend that I am going to run today, I usually do it. Just saying it out loud to another person seems to make be accountable 🙂

  16. I make dates with people so that I know if I bail they will be waiting on me! Making someone else wake up at an ungodly hour helps me to stop hitting the snooze! I don’t like to put others out so even if I have my grouchy, “I don’t want to do this” pants on,I’ll be there! Usually by mile 2 or so I’m glad I dragged my butt out of bed!!

  17. Thanks for this….been tough picking it up after vacation. My problem is leaving work with time left to run before dinner. I work in a school environment so I typically don’t dig into projects until after school. The strategy is to go earlier and dig in early in the day. Then I will be ready to pack up earlier in the pm. It also helps to have a plan for diner so I don’t have that stress as well.

  18. I tell myself to just get dressed, get out the door, and if I’m not feeling it I could just go for a short easy run/walk. But I always end up going for a good run. This just takes the mental pressure off myself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*Exclusions Apply

Want some mother runner insipiration with special content and deals? 

You will receive an email within the next 24 hours with your discount code!