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The Science Behind Becoming And Staying Motivated

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The Science Behind Becoming And Staying Motivated

Anyone can set a goal – we do it all of the time. However, staying motivated to see the goal through? That’s a different story.

Motivation is the core component of a person’s drive and determination for achievement or success. It is the foundation of goal setting and it keeps that person accountable to stay committed, even when the initial desire has come and gone. With the New Year coming up, 92% of people will set resolutions, with the majority of them revolving around the improvement of one’s health. Unfortunately, only 8% will succeed.

The cold-hard truth is that the individuals who succeed are just more motivated to do so. Whether they know it or not, they will create an environment for themselves that will allow them to thrive. The good news is that research shows there are proven-ways to become self-motivated.

Motivation isn’t some innate trait that you’re born with. Like anything else in life, it undulates with the seasons. The key to becoming self-motivated involves conjuring up a sense of motivation that comes from within.

The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) proposed by researchers Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci tells us that we are better equipped to do so when our three Basic Psychological Needs are fulfilled. Those needs are autonomy, competence, and relatedness.


– READ MORE: 5 Simple Ways To Set and Achieve Your Goals –


Are you the source of your own actions?

Autonomy is the feeling that you get when you have a sense of choice, or freedom to choose the way that a task is performed. When you feel like you have control over what you are doing, you will be more motivated to actually do it.

In a perfect world, people would set goals revolving around exercise because they enjoy the experience of it. However, this is not always the case. Many people set exercise goals as a means to an end, whether that be to improve one’s body image or to achieve an external reward.

This can be beneficial towards the motivation of short-term behaviors, but it’s important to find a happy balance in order to sustain success over time. If you pair your extrinsic motivational state with a form of exercise that you actually enjoy, then you’re more likely to form an intrinsic motivational state which will help you sustain exercise behaviors over time.


Application: Have a say in your workout plan. If you hired a trainer, make sure you tell them which exercises you enjoy and steer clear of the ones that you don’t like.

Would you rather participate in a Zumba class than spend 30 minutes on the elliptical? Then do it. Nobody likes to feel coerced or forced to do things that they don’t want to do. Your opinion matters so find purpose in what you’re doing


fit men and women running


Do you feel confident in your abilities?

Competence is defined as a perceived self-belief in one’s ability to perform well at a given task. After setting and achieving a goal, your self-belief grows stronger. Having belief in your abilities gives you have a greater feeling of control and understanding of a certain outcome.

In addition, when your competence is continuously supported, a sense of mastery is developed and you’re more likely to stick to your goals. When it comes to working out, it’s not uncommon to initially feel a bit incompetent.

This can be due to not feeling physically fit enough or not feeling skilled enough to perform a certain exercise. If this happens to be you, then remember that you are not alone. Nobody feels completely confident when they first begin something new.


Application: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! The weights room can be an intimidating place and leave us stranded with many questions. How do I do this exercise? How many sets/reps do I do? How much weight should I use?

Luckily, we live in the “technology age” and we have access to an abundance of free resources online. Ask somebody for skill-specific feedback so you can know exactly what it is that you need to improve on. Like anything else in life, you will become better and more competent with practice!


– READ MORE: This Is Why Some Women Hate Exercise –


Are you a part of a community?

Relatedness is the feeling of being connected or having a sense of shared experience. It’s nice to feel understood and to be able to be yourself. When you allow yourself to be in an uplifting and accepting atmosphere, you develop a sense of belonging and interconnectedness, which is undoubtedly one of our most imperative basic human needs.


Application: Join a community. Whether it’s through a yoga class at the gym, with a friend from high school, or through an ever-growing virtual #fitfam. Find people with similar interests as you and connect with them. Not only will this lead to increased social interaction and enjoyment, but it may also serve as an outlet for accountability.

As humans, we’re not wired to make it out on our own. Surround yourself with a supportive and encouraging community and you may be surprised at what can be achieved by working together!


At the end of the day, nobody should care about the achievement of your goals more than you do. It’s important to create an environment that allows you to succeed, from the get-go. Motivation is a mindset and the way that you think about your goals can determine whether or not you achieve them.

Deliberately choose goals that allow you the option to behave autonomously, feel competent, and connect with others. Once you have fulfilled these three Basic – yet important – Psychological Needs, you will have created a self-motivated environment that allows you the opportunity to thrive.


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Leanna Carr

Leanna Carr, MS(c) Sport-Exercise Psychology, is a TEAM Athlete, Natural Pro Figure Competitor, and USAPL 63kg Powerlifter. She is a Coach and Co-Founder of Iron Woman Strength and Physique Consulting Company.

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