8 Fitness Motivation Secrets That Actually Work

Updated: Mar. 04, 2021

Is this the year you're going to—finally—make the difference in your health? Here is a guide to staying focused on fitness from former couch potatoes who made it happen for themselves.

Courtesy RJ Kayser

The sky’s the limit as long—as you focus on one step at a time

As a teenager, RJ Kayser would sit for hours on the couch binging on TV and chips. Then Kayser discovered a passion for basketball and decided to train to make the high school team. Not only did he change his body, his love for fitness led him to train for Canada’s Natural Strongest Man competition. He placed eighth, and is now a coach for Olorin Nutrition. “Snowball small successes into bigger victories. Write down small tasks to complete daily, or plan your goal out for however many days per week you can handle to start out. Cross your daily mini-goal off when you’ve completed it and give yourself a win for the day: actually write a big W on the page or in the app,” he says. “Psychologically, these wins will build momentum and confidence in your self and as the mini-goals become easier for you to complete you can increase the challenge or add a second goal to cross off each day.”

If you want to drop some pounds, try these no-brainer 40 tips and tricks.

Courtesy Brian Shell

Think about your relationship with fitness like you would a marriage

After losing weight once as a teen, author Brian Shell found himself overweight again as an adult. After walking away from his successful engineering career, he discovered a love of writing and a new sense of hope that helped him get into better shape—and stay there. The approach that worked best for Shell was treating fitness like you would a romantic relationship: Every little bit of effort adds up. “Park farther away because every step counts on your inner pedometer,” Shell says. “Take the stairs—it really does improve your breathing and cardio. Carry your bags instead of pushing a cart. As a result of making daily mundane activities harder, you get stronger, so does the marriage to your own fitness. Nurture the relationship to make it better. That’s a good thing, and the smile in the mirror is earned,” he says.

Courtesy James P. Owen

Keep the self-talk positive

Quick: What went through your head the last time you caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror? For most people, paying oneself compliments is tough. But it was positive mantras that made all the difference for author James P. Owen. A video from his 70th birthday presented a wakeup call. After watching himself move like an infirm old man, he began working with a trainer to develop strength and cardio endurance through walking, yoga, Pilates, and more. Owen says his mindset was everything: “I’ve learned that the most challenging part of getting fit is mental, not physical, and that’s doubly true if you’re over 50. Banish any idea that you are too weak, too old, or too unmotivated to get fit, and stop beating yourself up over past failures,” he says. “Instead, think of the stronger, more limber person you want to become—and will become if you stick with it and make small, steady advances over time.”

Find inspiration with these positive-thinking quotes.

Courtesy Lotika Pai

Don’t compare yourself to others

Six years ago, Lotika Pai had a lot on her plate as a new mom and an investment banker. Then a friend suggested running, inspiring her to sign up for a beginner’s program. “Running in a group provided me with a structure to get started, people to hold me accountable for showing up to our group run sessions, and gave me a specific plan for other individual workouts to tackle during the week. I was hooked,” she shared. Now, logging miles is a critical part of her life; it also helps her cope with her chronic illnesses (insulin resistance and polycystic ovarian syndrome). She also has built a new career that allows her to spend time with her family. “For a long time I allowed myself to be intimidated by the people working out around me,” she says “You can’t compare your day one or even your day 50 to someone else’s day 365. When it comes to fitness, no body shape is better than another. Just as no workout is better than another. What is important is actually doing something,” she says. “I learned to define my own individual fitness journey through running. I run slowly and I run short distances, but I get up, get out, keep getting stronger and I love it.”

Courtesy Chidere N. Igwe

Ease into your fitness routine

At the start of 2017, publicist Chidere Igwe watched a YouTube video of herself in which she weighed 220 pounds—the heaviest she had ever been. She put a fitness plan into action and lost 30 pounds over the year, a journey that sparked another transformation—starting up her own business at the end of the year. But no change can happen overnight, says Igwe, and as a former athlete, she knows how important it is to ease into a fitness routine. “Your first workout should not be a 30-minute sprint on a treadmill, 100 reps of bodyweight workout, or killing yourself for two hours straight. This is what makes people give up so quick,” she says. “If I haven’t been focused on my fitness goals, my first workout back in the gym will be a 15-minute jog, 20 reps of bodyweight exercises, and probably an hour long, max. Slow and steady wins the race, and building will bring more success and fewer plateaus.” Here are 25 simple tips for easing back into a workout.

Courtesy Mike “FatDag” Daggett

Find a workout you actually enjoy

Before travel blogger and photographer Laurence Norah started traveling full-time in 2009, he was a committed couch potato. Fun was beer with friends, pizza, and hours of playing video games. This gluttonous and sedentary routine took its toll; by 2009, he found himself just shy of 200 pounds. Putting his passport to work not only opened up his eyes to a new worldview, but changed his attitude toward fitness. While living in Australia for a year, Norah would wake up to hike 20 miles per day. In an effort to save money, he spent more time cooking. Norah ended up dropping 60 pounds that year. These days, he’s holding steady at 155 pounds and feels healthier—and happier!—than ever before. But the key to his success was all in redefining the word “fun.” If you don’t like what you’re doing, Norah says, you’ll never continue to maintain momentum. “I discovered a real passion for hiking, and I really love to get out and explore the world now. Learning how to cook healthy food is also a really valid life skill—and one that can benefit friends and family as well as yourself,” he says. “It’s super important not to see fitness as a punishment but as a lifestyle change like this comes about as a result of seeing it as a positive thing.” If you feel like you don’t have time to prepare meals at home, learn the secrets of busy parents who manage to cook dinner every night.

Courtesy Laurence Norah

Make long-term goals, not short-term performance ones

Mike Daggett would aimlessly scroll through his 200 channels, searching for something to watch but kept coming up empty. In an effort to live deliberately, he shut off his service and switched to streaming services instead. This allowed him to cut back on his couch time, and he filled the gap with fitness. He approaches this lifestyle with a balanced mindset, giving himself rest when he needs it, and celebrating his efforts when he pushes himself hard. “Rather than pushing so hard that you need to rest for two weeks, do as little as possible, so you can repeat it daily,” he says. “Your body will tell you when it’s time to up the activity. You must build the habit of attendance and you can’t do that from the couch. At the end of a year, you’ll have better results by walking 3,000 steps every day, than walking 10,000 steps for a few weeks and then heading back to the couch from March on.”

Courtesy Katy Rose

Dedicate your training to someone you love

Two years ago, blogger Katy Rose’s sister was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease scleroderma, which prevented her from participating endurance sports. She asked her family to run one last race—the Chicago Marathon—with her, before she packed up her shoes. Because Rose hadn’t trained in years, she knew she needed to kick herself into high gear to prepare and fulfill her sister’s wish. Rose managed to pull it off, and she continues to maintain her fitness with a variety of workouts and routines from the audio app, Aaptiv. What pushed her the most was seeing her sister struggle and fight against this little-known disease. For those who want to get into better shape, she says choosing a race or a goal that benefits someone you love will help you stay the course. “I’m not doing it to lose weight or to drop a dress size, although those will be nice side effects. I’m doing it for my sister and I’m doing it to fight a disease that has no cure and very few treatments. It’s a lot easier to push and stick to it when you are doing it for someone else,” she says. For guidance getting started, check out these marathon training tips for beginners.