There is a fundamental switch that’s flipped one way or the other, in just about every person I’ve met: Do you enjoy physical activity? Put another way — does exercise feel like a chore (most people) or does it feel like play time (i.e. you enjoy it & look forward to it)?
Once you figure out how to enjoy exercise, the workout motivation comes automatically. Do you need motivation to watch Netflix? Do you need motivation to eat pizza when you're in New York? No and no — there is no need for motivation besides the enjoyment of the activity itself.
It’s not easy to learn to enjoy exercise, if you haven’t already - but it’s totally doable. Kids naturally enjoy being active and playing, and I’m certain that everyone can get back in touch with that mindset if they take the right approach. Before you worry about buying the right new workout clothes or packing your gym bag, read on.
First and foremost: Don't go to the gym.
Instead, find friends who enjoy exercising. Find people whose exercise routine looks more like playtime than like a hard workout, even if what they're doing is a high intensity sweat session. Look for people who go outside and do things —ball sports (basketball, soccer, tennis, etc.), running/biking, rock climbing, etc. etc. These activities have an important component besides the goal of working out — a sense of competition, or adventure, socializing, etc.
I caution against going to the gym because people go to the gym for the efficiency — it’s a great way to achieve fitness goals in a contained place, time, and routine. It’s efficient and it works, but going to the gym is usually missing the important fun factor of surfing, playing tennis, etc. Let the strength training and pushups come in later, when your body is used to moving around most/every day.
Optimize your workout plans for having fun, and you'll find it's easy to build a habit. Let's drop the reason why you're exercising. Maybe you want to manage diabetes or lose weight, maybe you heard a professor speak about how exercise releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals) to ward off depression, or you simply want to get back to your old exercise routine. Let it go for now. Let that goal be the secondary goal. Your primary goal is to enjoy yourself and catch the "bug" so it becomes something you want to do every single day. If you do it right, you probably won't even need to hire a personal trainer!
As you seek out friends who excercise for fun, make plans to exercise together — go to yoga, play raquetball, go for a morning run, etc. You may have to be considerate of the fact that you're at different skill levels, if that's the case. For example, it's better to go running at a track where you can move at different paces and still meetup at points, compared to a long trail run where one person may be uncomfortably fast/slow. Rock climbing gyms are another example of a good place to go with someone who's not at the same fitness level as you. It's also great, of course, to find buddies who are at your same level. But the main point is to get out and have fun!
Beyond exercising with your friends, it’s also helpful to talk shop, dive into the details of the lifestyle. "What bike helmet do you use? How would you train for this 5k? What are you planning for this weekend? What technique do you use for xyz?" Dive into the details, learn how to be better, and most importantly — soak up the attitude & have fun with it!
On a final note, I want to share a mantra I hold near: "Do something active everyday." It's how our bodies are meant to be used, and we all know regular exercise leads to better health. Working backwards from "do something active everyday" — you need to find a way to fall in love with being active, and you'll have no problem finding fitness motivation for the rest of your life.
Besides being co-founder at HVMN, Michael Brandt is an avid endurance athlete. "I do something active 6+ days per week -- I log 20-30 miles running each week, plus swims (pool & in the SF Bay), bike rides, rock climbing and more. I've done an Ironman 70.3 and my half marathon PR is 1hr 26min. By no means am I pro, but I love every minute, look forward to every day's session, and am always getting better. You can follow me on Strava (social media app for runners)."