It’s often said that getting fit and staying healthy are mainly in the mind: they’re a matter of motivation. What’s less frequently mentioned is that the mind is a uniquely disobliging thing; it rarely does what you tell it, and often seems to do the opposite out of spite. To make things worse, we seek motivation from the wrong people: personal trainers, fitness teachers and celebrity gurus. These people are already addicted to endorphins. What do they know of life as a sofa-based curmudgeon who wants (and, at the same time, doesn’t want) to change? The supreme example of a motivation technique that sounds good, but rarely works, is promising yourself a reward.
Plenty of studies show that this “extrinsic motivation” backfires: it increases the unpleasantness of exercise. As parenting expert Alfie Kohn said, “The more you reward people, the less interest they come to have in whatever they had to do to get the reward.” Bribe your kids to read and it will seem like a chore they’d never choose. Drag yourself to the gym with the promise of a doughnut, and you’re reinforcing a similar idea. The human brain requires more subtle manipulations. Try these five ways to motivate yourself.