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March 10, 2015

The Biggest Challenge On Earth: How I Stay Motivated to Exercise

Ugghhhhh, motivation. WHYYYYY are you so elusive?

I get emails all the time from women asking me to write on motivation and I want to, I really do, but it’s difficult because … sometimes I’m just not that motivated either!

BUT. One of my key beliefs for both results and sanity is consistency. Not consistently perfect, but consistent enough over the long-haul that you end up practicing a single big dial-mover sufficiently that it makes a difference. Instead of flitting from program to program, yo-yo dieting or not sticking with anything long enough to get some wins under your belt, you pour your mental energy into one or two key things — like consistently getting to the gym — that you see progress and feel motivated to continue.

For me, results are all about consistency. Plain and simple. And in order to stay somewhat consistent, you need to find ways tie your motivation to a sense of passion and purpose. And when it comes to training, you don’t stay consistent with exercise because your trainer or doctor tells you you should, or because you’re scared of getting heart disease 30 years from now, or because you sign up for a figure competition to “keep your physique in line.” While I believe those things can transiently hold you accountable, they are external motivators that typically don’t last. You end up doing things because other people think you should or society dictates you should. It’s borrowed inspiration.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from a deep desire to match your lifestyle to the person you’re striving to be (your purpose). You have to actually enjoy your exercise. You have to be motivated in a way that NOT doing it makes your life worse. You have to feel that on a visceral level. And then show up daily to that purpose.

Yikes! That’s hard, right? But not impossible.

So how do you capture it?

I’m so interested in that myself, as you ladies know — what makes people tick and how human psychology works — so I went to someone I consider a master of motivation: Jen Sinkler, creator of Lift Weights Faster 2.0, former member of the USA Women’s Rugby team, powerlifter, super talented trainer and basically a complete badass.

The best thing (and sometimes worst thing when you are her friend, ha!) about Jen is her drive to train. Homegirl loves exercise, and as someone in her inner circle, it’s extremely inspiring to see. Whenever we travel together, her #1 concern is getting her workout in. She’ll reach out to friends or acquaintances in whatever place we’re traveling to grab a workout, anytime, anywhere. Her motivation is not out of a fear of getting fat (like it was for me for a long time) but because she genuinely loves movement. She wants to meet new people and exercise with them. She wants to connect at a new gym and learn a new skill. She wants to learn about different training methods and get certified in new things. One thing I admire so much about Jen is her unyielding motivation to exercise. If anyone knows how to dust off the old tennis shoes, it’s her. 

SO. Below is a guest post from Jen, all about motivation and how to get to the gym even when you want to sit on the couch, drink wine and watch Suits (I promise I didn’t do that last night).

Take it away, Jen! XO

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The last few months of winter can feel like the 10th inning of a preseason baseball game: You’re tired, you’re bored, and you’ve got a real itch for a change of scenery. (Because if you’re like me, you’re only there in the first place because someone had an extra ticket.) Even though you know spring is just around the corner, this is that in-between time of year when your sizzle starts to fizzle, if you know what I’m saying.

If you could use a little more pep in your step — right now, or any time of year — try these three surefire ways to shake up your routine:

1) Learn a challenging new skill.

When you take on a fun new this or a challenging new that, your motivation and engagement stays high. Why? One reason is the innate human love of novelty. True, we humans find comfort in the familiar…but too much comfort leads straight to boredom.

Novelty is energizing. It’s that sassy feeling you get sporting a stylin’ new ‘do. It’s how pumped you feel strutting into the gym in new workout gear, or that excited anticipation when your airplane touches down in a land you’ve yet to discover. New looks, new moves, and new places heighten your senses and your interest stays in the present moment. You simply don’t want to miss a thing.

Think about it: What’s one thing you’ve been dying to try, but for whatever reason have held yourself back from doing?

I get it — trying new things can be a little nerve-wracking or, as one of my clients like to say, “Scary Larry.” But I’m telling you, a small step in a new direction can yield a big payoff. Trying a new activity directly appeals to your sense of curiosity and fascination. And it’s not hard to stay consistent with something that gets you jazzed up.

When you’re excited, you no longer go through the motions just because. Life becomes about more than just being in a certain place in a certain time — you really start to show up.

Learning a new skill also allows you to embrace the thrill of a challenge. This is where my favorite question, “Can I do that?” enters the equation.

Maybe you’ll ask yourself, Can I master the barbell clean? The jerk and the snatch? Can I get my kettlebell swing so gloriously snappy that I could demonstrate the move in a fitness video?

(If, in fact, kettlebell swings do happen to be your personal goal, I find that the dirtier you try to make them look, the better.)

But hey, you also don’t limit yourself to a new gym skill. What about mastering the art of the poached egg? How about becoming the fastest among your friends to de-seed a pomegranate? Or getting a chocolate soufflé to rise — and not go poof?

Recently, I finally learned how to use our espresso machine at home and I cannot tell you how much I’m reveling in brewing cup after tiny cup of the stuff. Sometimes it literally is about the little things.


2) Expand your goals.

Aesthetic goals can be important — but they’re not everything.

The plain truth is, physique goals only matter as much as you let them. If you want to get leaner or add more muscle, more power to you. (Especially if you’re pursuing them for personal reasons and not because of how other people think you should look or how the culture-at-large implies you should look.) They can be incredibly motivating and I’m not asking you to ditch them. I’m just suggesting you try looking beyond them, at the many other ways you can track progress. These “other” goals focus on what your body can do, rather than only what it looks like.

Because whether your intention is to get leaner or add muscle, your goals are much better served by bettering your performance in the gym than they are by comparing yourself to others or regretting that cupcake you ate last night.

Simply (if tritely) put, focus on the journey, not than the destination. An added bonus: Physique and performance goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Improve your fitness and aesthetics will often follow.

So, just how do you go about broadening your current landscape? Start by looking at what you’re doing now.

  • Do you adore training with kettlebells? Consider taking a certification class. (As an RKC II, I can recommend Dragon Door as an excellent institution.)
  • Love to heft big iron? Research powerlifting gyms in your area and sign on with a local team.
  • How about cars — ever get the urge to pick one up? OK, I jest! Maaaybe. The sport of strongman has a cult appeal that just cannot be denied. And how cool would it be to say you deadlifted a car?

My point is this: Make it about more. Focus on what you can add in — more activity, more challenge, more fun — instead of what you think you may have to remove from your life to achieve your goals. It’s about addition, not subtraction.

3) Find your soul sisters and brothers.

If you find your excitement for training waning (rhyme intended), becoming part of a community can make all the difference. No joke.

For me, community is everything, especially when it comes to training. Having a place to rendezvous with a group of people sharing similar goals and experiences makes working out much less of a chore and more about having fun. Remember that time it was really hard to be accountable to, and consistent with, something you had fun doing? Nope!

So, how do you go about finding your tribe? Ask yourself who’s doing what you want to be doing and then go check them out — in the flesh. Are they professional? Are they producing the results you’re looking for? And, most importantly, are they having fun?

When you visit a gym (or yoga studio, or trapeze center, or climbing club) and you feel light upon entering, you just feel it, right? A smile may spread across your face, and everything inside you feels like it’s nodding with approval. Yes. Here, your body might buzz. Tribe? Found.

Jen Sinkler, RKC II, PCC, PM, USAW, is a longtime fitness writer for national magazines such as Women’s Health and Men’s Health. A former member of the U.S. national women’s rugby team, she currently trains clients at The Movement Minneapolis. Jen talks fitness, food, happy life and general health topics at her website,


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