• Dr Lottie Miles

Do You Exercise for Fun or Fitness…?

Motivation to train can be a little low on dark, cold and wintery days (especially in lockdown!). But if you understand a little more about what motivation is and where it comes from, you can take a little more control over your inclinations.

This article describes the two types of motivation and how they affect you. It’s an important prelude to my next post that will explain how you can develop lasting and more effective motivation that will have you looking forward to your next training session, no matter what the weather!

Types of Motivation

There are two types of motivation that you will experience:

Extrinsic Motivation

When you do an activity purely for the reward it brings, or to avoid a detriment you are ‘externally motivated’. This is perhaps the most common form of motivation (particularly for adults) and is something you consciously plan or even ‘lure’ yourself into doing.

Examples of external motivators are rewards (e.g. cookies!), trophies, money, recognition, favours, peace of mind, blackmail or to avoid embarrassment or defeat. Many people don’t realise that goal setting is also a form of extrinsic motivation. This is because you are using the goal as an incentive to do the work or activity.

Intrinsic Motivation (also known as autonomous motivation)

This is when you are motivated by your internal desires – you want to do something for what it is and how it makes you feel. The activity itself is all the motivation you need! Intrinsic motivation is not driven by other people or even a specific result because it comes from your simple enjoyment of the pursuit. Examples of this type of motivation is the instinctive need for independence, freedom, knowledge, satisfaction and pleasure.

Why Your Motivations Matter

Extrinsic motivation is certainly helpful, but it is usually less powerful than intrinsic motivation. An externally motivated person may want to get the job done but does not have a passion for the activity. Therefore, they tend to look for shortcuts or just do the minimum amount possible to complete the task. They won’t feel particularly obliged to invest their best efforts. Externally motivated people are also more likely to ‘fall off the wagon’ if they deem the reward no longer worthy of the work or risk they need to put in.

For example, 3 people buy an exercise bike:

1. Person A bought it because their doctor told them they must lose weight

2. Person B bought it because their Dad offered to pay for it

3. Person C bought it because they have fun doing bike workouts

Who is most likely to still be still using the bike a year from now?

Of these new cyclists, only person C is intrinsically motivated, and so they are more likely to stick with it. As the saying goes, “if you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life!”

So, how does all this help you find your mojo?

You won’t find much intrinsic motivation in an activity that you simply don’t like doing. That’s why we often use extrinsic strategies like goal setting and rewards to get you through the rough training sessions or to make kids clean their rooms! It’s also why constantly beating the streets day-after-day and hating every minute is not a good solution for your long-term fitness or wellbeing.

Having said that, all is not lost. We absolutely can foster an enjoyment or at the very least an appreciation of an activity that will feed your intrinsic motivation. So, if you think you’re the sort of person who will never like any form of exercise, you’d better think again!

I’ll be back soon with another post that will open the doors to how you develop intrinsic motivation with the assistance of your natural human instincts! In the meantime, here’s a little sneak peek at what you need to create an intrinsic enjoyment of exercise:

  • Competence – the human instinct to develop and master your skills

  • Connection – the need to be a part of something

  • Autonomy – having control over what you do and how you do it

Come back soon to find out more!


Sport Mentality is a free blog written to help casual exercisers, sports enthusiasts and athletes get the most out of their activities and performances. Please feel free to share these posts with friends, teammates and coaches, and don't forget to subscribe to my newsletter (see the form below) to get alerts about new posts, article summaries and Research Watch links from Sport Mentality.

sport mentality

by dr Lottie miles