Maintaining Motivation: What To Do When Willpower Isn't Enough

Amber Leonard-Thome
Written By: Amber Leonard-Thome
August 26th, 2015
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Motivation
37K Reads
Getting to gym is the hardest part of working out. What do you do if you can't find your motivation to lift? Keep reading...

Ever feel the rush of motivation after you set a new goal? No matter how lofty, new goals often come with an overwhelming sense that you can take on the world. You’re refreshed and committed, ready to tackle anything that gets in your way!

And then… life happens. Your motivation comes screeching to a halt, and your willpower takes a nose dive!

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to hop from point A to point B without hitting any motivation speed bumps? In reality, maintaining high motivation over the long term is hard.

You will likely experience some lows along the way. What can you do? How can you keep your motivation going as strong as the day you started?

First, you must understand how your habits impact your mindset. The habit loop consists of a cue or reminder, a routine, and a reward.

For any habit you have it starts with something that reminds you to perform a behavior. Once reminded, you carry out the habit in a routine way in order to reach some type of reward.

Example 1: Your alarm goes off at 6:00am for your morning workout (reminder). By 6:30am you’re at the gym for a tough workout (routine). After your workout, you move on with your day feeling energized and fantastic (reward)!

Example 2: You arrive home after a long day at work. You’re starving (reminder)! You immediately reach for any easy-access food in your pantry to nosh on, and easily over eat (routine). The immediate relief of having that snack acts as your reward, but afterward you feel awful. Where in this loop could you intervene to keep yourself on track?

When you understand this loop and each individual component (reminder, routine, reward), you can address each with strategies to keep you mind aligned with your goals.

Maintaining Motivation: What To Do When Willpower Isn't Enough

Strategy = Action

We love doing and achieving. Developing strategies where we need them most helps keep us on track toward achieving what we set out to do. When you are mindful about your habits and behaviors, you can put effective strategies in place. 

Being mindful means you are aware of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Take the time to “check in” with yourself so that you can better understand your needs, how you operate, and what you should do next. As you develop more self-awareness, your reminders, routines, and rewards become much clearer.

When trying to figure out why your motivation just isn’t there, the very first next step is to stop and assess the situation before making any changes or giving up completely. Ask yourself the following questions to gain more insight.

1. Are there habits that you need to change?

Reminder, routine, reward. Can you identify each of these related to one behavior you need to change? This will help you narrow down what, when, and why your habits are throwing you off course.

2. Are you feeling a lot of life stress?

Sometimes work, social, family, and relationships require a lot more of our physical and mental energy than we think. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider giving one of these areas of life more attention, especially if it needs it. Willpower is a finite resource, and if all your mental energy is going toward one behavior, other behaviors can suffer.

3. Are your work, life, nutrition and training schedules too much to try to balance?

Do you know what time of day you have the most mental energy, or the most physical energy to train? Can you split your workouts so you’re spending less time in the gym? Can you prepare your meals in a more efficient way? Work on your time management skills to maximize your time and minimize the effort!

Maintaining Motivation: What To Do When Willpower Isn't Enough

4. Is your training aligned with your goals?

Are you training to maintain your physique in a sustainable way for long-term fitness and health? Are you actively committed to losing body fat? Training can vary based on how much mental energy, flexibility, and rigidity you need to address different goals.

5. Do you have enough time to recover, feel good, and have productive training sessions?

Is it possible that you could you be overtrained or under recovered? If so, it may be wise to take a de-load week, and reduce your volume, intensity, or both. You should also consider prioritizing sleep and restorative movement over highly intense workouts for a period of time until you feel like getting after it again.

6. Are expecting too much from yourself?

Are you frequently shaming yourself, telling yourself that you’re a failure or not good enough? It could be possible that your goals and expectations are very ambitious and not quite appropriate for your current ability level, time availability, or any number of other reasons.

You might benefit from evaluating your current reality and revising those goals. Sounds crazy, but setting some attainable goals creates habits of success!

Set the bar appropriately low and meet it 90% (or more!) of the time. This ensures you’re on the right track, and positively reinforces what you do well. Magic is in the mundane, and doing the little things will have big impact over time!

7. Is your self-talk negative?

Thoughts are things. The way you think about, talk to, and see yourself absolutely affects the results you’re able to achieve.

Instead of focusing on the negative, cultivate a positive mindset by practicing gratitude and giving yourself praise for the things that you do well. Give yourself some wiggle room for imperfection. 

Maintaining Motivation: What To Do When Willpower Isn't Enough

8. What’s your “why” factor for achieving the goal you set?

Understanding on a very deep level why you want to change will help you tap into why you put in the effort. Why it’s worth it to you. At times, we all feel insecure about any number of things: our appearance, our jobs, our relationships, and other areas of our lives.

Digging into why you do the things you do, what outcomes you really want to achieve, and discovering what is getting in the way will help you prioritize what is truly the most important goal on your horizon.

Check and Re-check

Asking yourself some tough questions might provide insight that can help you stay motivated over the long term.

Motivation and willpower will wane, and that’s totally normal. You don’t just set a goal and go. Motivations change. Even goals can change. Checking in with yourself and consistently re-evaluating your next will help you stay on track toward your goals.

Posted on: Fri, 06/08/2018 - 22:27

My issue is execution. I wake up to my alarm at 5 every day, but actually getting out of bed is a different story. On the diet side, I plan my meals and do my prep on Sundays, but inevitably something happens during the course of the day that derails my intake plan.

Louis Hendriks
Posted on: Sun, 02/12/2017 - 12:29

As a teacher and a Coach it seems to me to motivate others is very easy. My self motivation much more difficult.
I never set myself goals. Could that be the mistake