Get Motivated! 11 Ideas That Really Work

God bless my mother-in-law.

The other day, I did an interview with Dustin from Fit Marriage for a new series he’s doing about active couples.  To prepare, I asked my wife, Erin, what advice she might give in the realm of fitness for couples.  You know, a tip or two we’ve used to keep from killing each other in trying to find a balance between spending time together and achieving our different fitness goals.

She started to answer: “Make your goals—”

But before she could finish, her mom finished for her: “—achievable!” she said, as if in autocomplete mode.

It’s not her fault.  At some point, we’ve all heard that we should set achievable goals, likely in some lame goal-setting exercise we did in middle school.

Let me tell you something: “Set achievable goals” is the worst advice I’ve ever heard. (Erin was actually going to say “Make your goals known to each other,” which you’ll hear me talk about if you watch that interview, once Dustin publishes it.)

1. An unachievable goal is actually easier to achieve

Set an achievable goal, and not much changes.  Since it’s something you know you can achieve, there’s no need to take any massive action, to crash through your perceived limits, or to transform yourself into the incredible person you’d have to be in order to achieve that goal.

When you set a goal that seems impossible, though, that’s when the magic happens.  First, you get insanely excited, because it’s something you’ve never dared to lust after before out of fear of failing.  It energizes you just to think, “What if, just maybe, somehow…?”

Then you recognize that yes, it is impossible—right now.  There’s a tremendous gap between where you are and where you want to be, and to do it, your whole life will have to change.  And that’s where real, lasting motivation comes from.

Start with that one; it’s the most important.  Once you’ve done that, here are ten more ways to get motivated that really work.

2. Stop setting goals and start making decisions.

I’ve used the word “goal” up until now because it’s familiar.  But setting goals is not really what you should be doing—instead, you should be deciding what you’re going to make happen.

I know it sounds like some bullshit language device that won’t really make any difference after five minutes, but I promise it’s more than that.  When you set a goal, that’s something you’re hoping for.  It’s the target, and you’re going to shoot for it.

When you make a real decision, your whole persona shifts.  When you decide that you’re going to do something no matter what happens, it’s almost as if you’ve already done it.  You start acting and thinking like the person you want to be, and that’s a hell of a lot different from hoping.

3. Give 30 minutes to yourself.

Everybody’s busy.  And so often when we’re feeling stuck, it’s because it feels like every last minute of our day has already been spoken for.

A lot of it’s for good reasons.  You spend hours doing things for other people—your boss, your spouse, your kids—and that’s commendable.

But you have to take time for yourself! How great would it feel to know that this week, you’d spend three and a half hours on something you’ve never done before, something that really juices you?  Training for a new sport, learning a language, playing an instrument.  How many books could you cross off your “to-read” list with that kind of time?

It’s a half hour a day.  Sleep a little less—it’s not so hard to get up when you know that extra time is going to be for you and nobody else.  Or find that extra half hour by skipping the mindless TV show you watch after the one you really care about ends.

You can find half an hour a day, and that’s plenty to get you excited about your life.

4. Salivate over a race.

Just the other day, I used this trick to get excited when I was sitting at the computer with a nasty case of writer’s block.  It’s fun, it takes two minutes, and anybody can do it.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever run?  Okay, now double that, go online, and look for a race of that distance.  What if you could make it happen next year?  (It’s been five days since I googled “100-mile race calender,” and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since then.)

If distance doesn’t inspire you, pick another variation on the same theme.  Find the race you’ll use to qualify for Boston, or for NYC.  Or your first trail race.

It’s amazing how finding something exciting in one particular area of your life can do so much for the rest of it.

5. Listen to music instead of talk.

A year ago, I’d have argued with you all day long on this point.  I love listening to audiobooks, talk radio, anything that I think might teach me something good while I’m driving or running.

But then I read Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Workweek, where he explains how we suffer from information overload.  To combat it,  he prescribes a one-week information diet.  No reading, no watching the news, and no audiobooks or talk radio.

Which, when you’re in the car or running, leaves music or nothing.  This is how I realized how good music makes me feel.

Pick an album you freaking loved when you were in high school.  Something that you almost feel foolish listening to now because you’re not a punk anymore or you’re not hardcore anymore or you’re not a bubblegum pop fan anymore.  Let yourself really get into it, sing along with it as loud as you can, and I defy you not to want to go change the world, or at least your life.

6. Let yourself feel some pain.

Nobody likes feeling bad about themselves.  We do whatever we can to avoid it, and that usually means having a drink or some food to take the edge off, watching TV to escape, or lying to ourselves by saying that it’s not that bad.

But pain serves a purpose.  And when you use pain instead of pretending it’s not there, you can get motivated incredibly quickly.

If you know you’ve got some lbs to lose but can’t get yourself to exercise or eat right, take off your clothes and look in the mirror.  Jump up and down if that helps.  Better still, take a picture and put it on your refrigerator, or next to your running shoes (maybe leave your underwear on for this one).  Think that won’t affect how you eat or workout?

Another idea: Compare yourself to someone like you who is getting tremendously more out of life in whatever area you want to change.  I know people tell you not to compare yourself to others, but I heard a better version at Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within last month: “Compare yourself to yourself to measure your progress; compare yourself to others to see the possibility.”

Speaking of other people…

7. Watch others do amazing things.

Thanks to YouTube, you can relive virtually any moment that has ever been captured on film.  Watch Kerri Strug in 1996, the 1980 U.S. Hockey team and Al Michaels’ call, Tiger Woods on the 18th hole of the 2008 U.S. Open, or whatever does it for you.

It doesn’t have to be sports: Watch a great speech, a musical performance, or a video biography of someone incredible, and you’ll want to do something yourself.

8. Move your body.

There’s tremendous power in changing your physiology to change your mental state (another Tony Robbins nugget, but the ancient Greeks knew this long before he did).

Lots of people will tell you their best ideas come while they’re running, and that’s no coincidence.  When your body is engaged, your mind sees possibility.

Sometimes getting motivated is as easy as moving.  If you need motivation just to do that, check out 63 Ways to Shake Up Your Running Routine.

9. Go to the bookstore.

Give me a day off, and this is how I’ll spend the morning.  A nice cup of coffee to get the mind going and an hour browsing books in a massive bookstore is one of the best ways I know to get myself out of a rut.

The one caveat here is make sure you don’t get overwhelmed.  Sometimes this trick works too well, and I’ll find seven books I need to read right this minute.  When I realize that’s just not possible, it makes things feel out of control.  So as soon as you find something interesting, stop and read it or buy it before you get too worked up.

If you’re looking for a book to make you actually want to run (I know, what a concept, right?), check out Born to Run if you haven’t yet.  It’s the best book I know for that.

And if reading isn’t your thing…

10. Watch a movie.

I’ll confess to having a short attention span when it comes to watching other people do stuff.  (That’s why short YouTube videos work well.)  But every once in a while, I’ll find a movie that makes me want to get up and get to work on something.

Fight Club used to make me want turn it off and go to the gym.  So does a pretty dumb movie about mixed martial arts that I saw on TV called Never Back Down.  I don’t know why the fighting movies get me, but they do.

Just like with books, once you get motivated, take action.  Don’t finish the movie.  Just go do whatever you’re inspired to do, before you can get lazy again.

11. Change everything.

An interesting thing happens when you change one part of your life: The rest of it changes, too, in order to keep up.

Get really into an exercise program and feel great about your body, and all the sudden you don’t want to put any more brownies or caffeine or alcohol into it.  Or really take control of your relationship and give it the time it deserves, and see if you don’t both find the drive to exercise more.

The point is that you might be able to change something indirectly.  Changing one thing, seemingly unrelated, might be the key to changing something else you’ve been unsuccessful in changing so far.

I’d have never thought that going vegetarian would get me to train as hard as I could, run my best marathon, and become an ultrarunner.  Similarly, I knew I was unsatisfied with how I was spending my time, but I had no idea changing my diet would get me to start this site and finally start doing what matters to me.  But that’s what did it.

What’s your best way to get motivated?

These are the things that work for me.  I’m sure some are universal, but some probably won’t work for you.  Likewise, you probably have a few that I’ve never thought of.  And when it comes to getting motivated and finding inspiration, novelty is extremely important.

That’s why I want to hear what you do to get going when you’re not exactly firing on all cylinders.  So let me and everyone else know about your favorite ways to get moving in the comments.



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  1. Lots of good ones here!! I set unachievable goals (or near unachievable!) all the time. Even when you don’t hit them, you’ve still done a ton of good!

    • Yeah, that’s a great point. You don’t always need to reach a goal for a lot of good to come of it. The only problem I’ve had with setting goals that I DON’T achieve is that next time, it gets harder to get psyched up about it if I realize I might not do it.

  2. Great post! I love reading up on Elite athletes. They always inspire me to get moving!!

  3. here’s one that helps me a lot. i make little posters for future “big” races- consisting of the date, course map, elevation profile, etc- and post them up where i’ll see them dozens of times a day. for instance, on the walls of the cubicle at work. this helps me stay on track with my training on those days where i just don’t want to do it and it keeps my excitement high. it’s a perfect motivator!

    also, keep a log of your training. i don’t know about you, but i have days where i feel like i’m a running imposter. what i mean is, even though i’ve completed four marathons and a 50k, sometimes on those low self-esteem days i feel like i’m not a real runner for some reason. and it completely saps my motivation. looking through logs of my past training tops up my motivation real fast! it’s a very concrete reminder that i’m a real athlete and it gets me out of that negative head space and all jazzed up to go for a run.

    • Kyndra, I do something similar. Since most work I do is on the computer, I set the race images (map, elevation, photos) as my background.

      Love the training log idea too! Having a physical logbook to look back through is one advantage of doing it that way vs. something online, like

  4. a couple of movies I like for motivation: yes man & run fatboy run. 😉

    great tips, though I really think the “let yourself feel some pain” one would not be helpful at all to certain personalities– it reeks of self-hatred & body-shaming that might lead to negative body image or even a disorder. granted, not everyone’s going to react the same way, but still.

    • Run Fatboy Run, seriously? I figured that one was just a throwaway terrible comedy. I’ll have to check it out.

      As for the body image thing, yeah, that could be a problem. But it doesn’t have to be a photo. For example, I always write down everything that I’m really dissatisfied with before setting goals, and I try to make it as emotional as possible and make it seem as bad as possible so I’m driven to change it. I suppose if one had low self-esteem, then that exercise would be dangerous. Or perhaps it’s just what they need.

  5. Dude, love this write up. Especially the ideas for getting motivated and out of a rut.

    Curious, does the Fit Marriage book offer advice for couples with way different fitness levels and goals? My wife doesn’t care about racing and I of course do, she also is slower and isn’t concerned with getting faster.

    • Hey Caleb,

      I just wanted to clarify that Fit Marriage doesn’t have a book (yet). We aren’t focused specifically on running, but instead promote and help guide busy people to a fit lifestyle.

      We do have a program we’ll be releasing in a few weeks called Thrive90 Fitness, and it may be a good fit for your wife…and maybe you depending on your overall goals related to strength, tone, flexibility, etc.

      Take care,


  6. It seems like we are always on the same page at the same time. Earlier today I decided to start training for my first 100 mile race. The Burning River 100 in Cleavland OH Then I read this post. I needed something to motivate me since the lay off and finding this race was just the thing.

    • Chris, yeah it does always seems like we’re doing the same stuff at the same time. Yours looks like a cool race, point to point is nice. It’s funny to think that someone will actually have to drive 100 miles just to drop you off and pick you up!

      I just signed up for mine: Old Dominion 100 in VA in June. Totally pumped about it, but I have some serious work to do.

  7. Caleb – Sounds like our spouses are the same. I’ve been an ultra-distance athlete for many years. I’ve thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), completed many multi-day and 24 hour adventure races, ran only 1 50k ultra-marathon (it beat me up), and have completed 9 double centuries in three years.

    My wife has not wanted to do any of these with me. They’re not her style or what she considers fun. The cool thing is that she supports me. When it came to the PCT she would go out on weekend trips and we did do a couple of 4 day trips together. She enjoyed those trips before kids came along.

    What we have done for the past 7 years is find time to do things we like to do together that are not competitive in nature. An example would be just going for a long walk. I’m not out there pushing her to go faster and I use the time as a nice recovery session. We’ll go for mellow bike rides or a nature hike. Again, there are not competitive.

    The last 4 years I have been doing loads of off-season training in my garage, this is where much of our new program will be coming from. Even with these short, highly effective workouts I do them myself and then Alisa will do them when she has time.

    What I have found over time is that I listen to what her goals are and help her achieve them by being supportive. It’s a balancing act for sure, but after 14 years of marriage I think it is a great way for us to stay fit and healthy.

    Enjoy your upcoming races.

    And to everyone else going for a 100 mile ultra-marathon my hat goes off to you.


  8. I really liked this post! When I’m feeling like a small thinker, I read one of Neville Goddard’s books. And then I believe that anything is possible! If I’m feeling like a slug and like my body has had way too much junk for way too long, I read Tony Robbins’ info about increasing energy by eating healthy. And then I begin eating much, much better. Both are extremely motivating.

  9. Thanks for the shout-out about Fit Marriage, Matt! These are some fantastic ideas for motivation, and I know many of us struggle with that, especially this time of the year.


  10. The training montages from Rocky IV work great to motivate me before a race or a training session. This YouTube clip of Team Hoyt is something that’s motivated me to make the transition into tri’s and hopefully someday a full Ironman.

  11. I love reading about ordinary people doing extraordinary things and leading lives other than that ‘of quite desperation’. I am currently reading(listening to)The Long Run – The Ironman/Marathoning/NYFD guy who was run over by a bus and his struggle to regain his former fitness and outlook on life. Really good book so far.

  12. Awesome post. I completely agree that goals should be challenging – not something you can do with ease. I’m in the process of coming up with some new goals because most of mine this year have been very achievable…more like a list of reminders, not actual goals. I ran my 1st half marathon a couple of weeks ago and beat my goal time by about 5 minutes. I love what you said about salivating for a race – I’m looking into a springtime half and have new goals to accomplish in training and the race itself. Also love what you said about watch others do amazing things – I love to find new inspiration to ignite my goals. Love your blog.

  13. I do most of the things you listed, especially going to the bookstore. I will sit in Barnes and Nobles for hours at a time and come out with loads of inspiration.

    Death is a great motivator. I think of dying and how disappointing it would be not to get in that one last great run. Kind of morbid but still motivational; Carpe diem I suppose.

  14. I’ve been following your site for a while now, because I’m all about fitness and health. I’m a fitness instructor and recreational runner (half marathons, one triathlon, Ragnar Relay…CRAZY!), and I want to take it to the next level. I’ve slowly been phasing out meat, but I’m not sure why. I’m an athlete, gluten-intolerant, and I love vegetables. I belong to a CSA and have thoroughly enjoyed learning to love veggies I’ve never heard of.

    I’ve decided that tomorrow I’m going to try a vegetarian diet for 30 days. Motivation? Not sure. But you certainly have inspired me. Here we go…

  15. This is amazing and SUPER encouraging! Honestly what motivated me is my daughter. I want to be healthy and to be able to DO things with her! She’s 18 months and seriously, at this weight I don’t have a chance of keeping up with her!

  16. First of all…great site, Matt. I’ve been here a few times and have always been been impressed with what I’ve read.

    I am also in the same boat as Caleb and Tony…and Tony is right. It is a lot easier than you think to include your spouse. For starters, ANY indoor workout is an opportunity; you just need to schedule them at the same time. Weight workouts, treadmill workouts, spin classes, lap swimming. I do all of these with my wife. It doesn’t matter if she is running 1 mph and I am running 12 mph, we are always next to each other.

    Other times, I will plan outdoor runs in such a way that I hook up with her for the last 3 miles of her walk/run and I use it as a cooldown. She also rides her mountain bike with me while I run. We own 2 tandem bicycles; go ahead, pedal as hard as you freakin’ can…you won’t lose her (just don’t be mad when you are bustin’ your arse up a climb and she says without panting “ooh, look at the pretty flowers”). Sometimes, I just make time to do HER workout. She used to say “I know this isn’t a workout for you”. My response was – and still is – “it’s not always about speed”. The important thing here is you have to believe it.

    One last thing to mention. This may not be the case with you, but for anyone in general…when I see a marriage where one person is ‘hard core’ and the other is not (especially if the marriage is struggling), in many cases the ‘hard core’ athlete is training way more than they need to. It’s tough to see past this; most people get obsessed with training. The question these people must ask is “am I trying to do my best at races, or is important for me to look impressive with my training?” It may sound funny, but after 30 years I see this waaay more than you think. Imagine if you had a coach that told you “I can drop your race times, but you’d have to be willing to cut your training in half”. Again, believe it or not, many people couldn’t do it. Years ago, when I realized that what I really wanted to do was win – and it didn’t matter if everyone was running twice as much as me – I found a lot of extra time for other things…like my wife and my ‘hobbies’.

    Chris “G-Man” Giordanelli

  17. Thanks for this post! I finally stopped “thinking” about a 70.3 triathlon and signed up for Ironman 70.3 Boise. I am motivated best when I have a commitment, and oh brother, do I have a commitment now!

  18. good ideas! I just did a post on how to get through winter training. This is definitely great for diet motivation!

  19. Ok, this might sound a bit lame, but when I need some extra motivation I read past blog entries from my blog. I read about times that I was hungry to work hard and it takes me right back. Also I watch videos that I’ve made and it reminds me what I’m capable of. I’m all about positive reinforcement.

    Maybe for some extra motivation to tackle that 100 Miler….

  20. Just wanted to let you know that I signed up for my first marathon hours after reading this. Thanks for the inspiration!!!

  21. This is an advice my yoga instructor gave me in order to help get going when not feeling ready to go or sleepy or when practicing early. Do the hand stand for half a minute or minute…it pumps blood in your head or/and heart and help you a bit of adrenalin and sweat break trough.
    Thanks for the article it motivated me to write this replay 🙂

  22. Happy New Year, Matt.

    I discovered your website last spring. After I retired, I started running again. I love the vegetarian diet and your website “no meat athlete” is an inspiring resource.
    I visited your website, looking for New Year inspiration, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your motivational pages. I hope you don’t mind, but I was so inspired that I referenced several of your quotes (with your website address) on my website. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and experience.
    I followed your adventure book tour, appreciating your honesty and insights.
    What are your goals for this year?


  1. […] Great piece on motivation from the No-Meat Athlete […]

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