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In the early phases of lockdown, the streets were teeming with runners and living rooms were a blur of uncoordinated star jumps and lunges. In fact, physical activity levels in the UK peaked around mid-to-late May, just before lockdown restrictions began to be eased. Now, after months of fluctuating social restrictions, many people are reporting on social media that they’ve suddenly lost their motivation to exercise.
The truth is that motivation is simply returning to normal. The UK weather was ideal for exercise in April and May, and many of us had more time available to squeeze in a workout. Two major barriers to exercise were removed. Usually, motivation is a battle of different choices. In normal circumstances, exercise fights against many other appealing leisure pursuits, such as going to the pub, the cinema, or spending time with friends. But during the most severe part of the national lockdown, the choice was either to go outside for exercise, or stay home all day. The motivational odds shifted in favour of exercise.
Lockdowns around the world also acted in a similar way to a new year, new school term, or birthday. Significant dates and events can disrupt routines and provide a chance to make a fresh start, so many of us began to exercise. But, like new year’s resolutions, our motivation steadily faded over time. The type of motivation needed to start a new behaviour is often very different to the motivation needed to sustain one. Most people start exercising because they know it’s good for them, and outside pressures (such as from TV adverts, or friends) tell them they should. “Should-do” motives are an effective way to start a new behaviour.
Dr Ian Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, discusses how to get fitness goals back on track after losing motivation.
Posted on 30th October 2020