How To Keep Workout Motivation Even When You Want To Quit

You just joined a gym and your workout motivation couldn’t be higher!  It’s so exciting to start that new exercise plan and begin improving your health!

But what happens in a few weeks, when that New Year-New You excitement wears off? Do you start using that treadmill as a clothes rack? Do those new running shoes end up under a pile of stuff in your closet?

Yea, that used to happen to me too.  I love starting new things, but I sometimes sputter out.  Thankfully, I just added some ideas to my health arsenal that will keep me working out long after the newness has worn off.

Read on for some surprising science-backed tips you can use now to make your exercise routine a habit.

How to find and keep your workout motivation.


I’ve talked before about how I LOVE podcasts!  I listen to them when I’m walking my dog, doing housework, and working out.   I love news, politics and geek out on research into things that make life easier.

I just listened to an NPR Lifekit podcast that shed some light on new ways to help you keep your workout motivation and actually make exercising a habit that can stick around long after the newness has worn off.

The podcast writer interviewed Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of Business. Her research uses insights from economics and psychology to study how we can make good behaviors stick. You know, things like exercising, saving money, making good food choices.

These six science-backed tips from Professor Milkman will help you keep your workout motivation and create an exercise habit that sticks.

Tip 1: It Takes a Month to Build a Sticky Workout Routine.

If you can commit to a month of exercise, you’ll be on your way to building a workout routine you’ll stick to for the long run. Professor Milkman did a study where they paid people to exercise for 28 days. 10 months later, they found many participants were still going strong, based on the habits they built that first month.

It takes one month to build a habit and strengthen your exercise motivation.

When you’re excited and motivated is the perfect time to get those workouts in. The repetition during that first month can help you stay motivated months from now. So if you stick to exercise for a month, it will kick start you into an exercising habit that will keep you going day in and day out.

Tip 2: Try Temptation Bundling to Increase Your Workout Motivation

Temptation bundling?? This is a new one for me! Temptation bundling is when you pair up exercising with something you crave – like a favorite TV show.

For instance, if you love The Bachelor, or are trying to catch up with Game of Thrones, only allow yourself to watch them when you’re at the gym.

Pair them up enough times and you’ll surprise yourself by actually wanting to exercise.

Things to bundle with exercise:

  • juicy television shows
  • trashy novels
  • engrossing books on tape
  • or really anything that you can’t wait to watch, read or listen to.

The key is you can only watch, read or listen to these things when you’re at the gym. The great thing about this tip is you get a workout in and never have to feel sorry about wasting time with your guilty pleasure!

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around temptation bundling, Professor Milkman did an interesting Tedx Talk if you’d like to see more:

Tip 3: Set Realistic Goals With Some Wiggle Room

Everyone knows you need to set goals right? The important thing is to make Goldilocks goals that are just right. If your goal is too small (go to the gym once a month), it won’t act as workout motivation, just as a goal that is too ambitious (go to the gym every day) is demoralizing because it’s almost impossible to achieve.

Try to set goals that push you a little bit, but are also in reach. You want to find that sweet spot between ambitious and achievable.

What do I want to do in the next week? What sounds a little bit tough, but achievable? That’s where you want to set your goal.

Give Yourself A Free Pass

Another important thing is to give yourself some wiggle room with your goals. For instance, you might have a goal of making it to the gym 5 days a week, but allow yourself two free-passes a week for those days where you had to stay late at work, or just couldn’t make it happen.

These free passes help you avoid the what-the-hell effect.

The what-the-hell effect describes the cycle you feel when you indulge, regret what you’ve done, and then go back for more. Your brain rationalizes your behavior by saying, “You already blew your goal of only having two cookies, so … what the hell, you might as well eat the entire pan.”

The phrase was coined by dieting researchers, but the effect can apply to any setback or willpower challenge.

Remember when you’re setting your goals that you can get great health benefits from only 20-25 minutes of moderately intense exercise a day. You can weave this in throughout your day, and still meet your goals sometimes even without going to the gym.

Tip 4: Be Flexible

Milkman also studied whether it was more effective to work out at the same time every day or to build a more varied, flexible routine.

The study found that people who worked out at the same time did form a lasting exercise habit, BUT if they missed their normal workout time, they skipped exercising that day. These people fell prey to the what-the-hell effect and felt that if they missed their workout time, they would just wait until the next day.

So, mix it up. Go on a morning hike one day, meet a friend at the gym Saturday morning and let flexibility be your workout motivation friend.

Tip 5: Make Exercise Social

Keep your workout motivation high by scheduling exercise time with a friend. You’ll be more likely to show up. The key is to make it hard to back out when you promise to exercise.

Making your workouts social can help keep you motivated.

I can’t tell you how many times I would have skipped my weight-training sessions if it not for my friend who meets me at the gym twice a week.

Tip 6: Put Some Money On the Line

Humans, by nature, are very loss averse.  We just hate to give things up, especially things like money that we’ve already earned.

In fact, losses are twice as motivating as gains of equal size. Just ask Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making and behavioral economics. (Oops! I’m geeking out on the facts and studies again.)

This loss aversion leads us to our next tool for workout motivation: the commitment device.

Commitment devices allow you to bet your future self that you will stick to your workout promises. If you don’t meet your goal, you lose your bet. Websites like, or StepBet allow you to bet your hard earned money that you will achieve your goal.

Putting money on the line can help you stay motivated to exercise.

I just joined a Pilates studio. Because there are only 12 machines you have to sign up in advance for classes. If you are a no-show, you get charged a fee on top of your monthly membership fee. I am finding this workout motivation to be incredibly effective since I don’t want to pay any more than I already do!

Workout Motivation Wrap Up

Thanks to these science-backed tips we know that in a month’s time we can build a workout routine that we can stick to if we use temptation bundling, set ambitious but achievable goals, workout on a flexible schedule, involve our social networks and put some money on the line.

Here’s to trying some of these tips and getting that workout motivation so strong that it will keep us going even on days we want to quit!

If you’re looking for another tool to stay motivated, download a free fitness tracker!

Want To Remember This Workout Motivation Post? I’d Love It If You’d Pin It To Your Favorite Healthy Living Pinterest Board And Pass It On!

How do you stay motivated to workout once the excitement of a new year and a new program has worn off? Science backed tips to help you make exercising a habit.