How Can We Increase and Maintain Motivation Levels While Physically Active?

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Participating in physical activity for individuals with disabilities produces numerous psychological benefits, including increased self-confidence, body image, level of independence, quality of life, as well as reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms. Despite these psychological benefits of engaging in physical activity, motivation levels can have a huge impact on an individual’s ability to consistently exercise or participate in sport. However, there are several strategies to help an individual increase and maintain motivation levels to consistently engage in physical activity. Below are 4 key strategies to help you increase and maintain your motivation levels regarding physical activity.

1. Goal setting: setting and monitoring goals
Setting and monitoring goals are a great way to challenge yourself and monitor your progress. This can be a collaborative activity with your caregiver or your physical activity buddy. It is helpful to write your goals down in a journal or notebook to keep track of them. When setting goals, ensure you follow the “SMART” acronym:

Specific (is this goal as specific as possible?)
Measurable (how will I know when I achieved this goal?)
Achievable (is this goal achieve but also excites me?)
Realistic (is this goal realistic for what else is going on in my life right now?)
Time-bound (by when do I want to achieve this goal?)

Setting SMART process goals is key to maintaining motivation levels. Process goals are smaller goals that we focus on to improve our skills and behaviors.  Setting process goals can help us break down our big goals into smaller processes in which can be more effective in helping us achieve our outcome goals. Start by choosing 1 process goal that you can work on over the next couple of weeks.

Process goal: I am going to handcycle 3 days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday) for 30 minutes and increase the distance I’ve cycled on a weekly basis by 2 minutes each week.
Outcome goal: Improve cardiovascular fitness levels after 1 month

May sure keep track of your goals by writing them down in a journal or notebook and assessing your progress on a weekly basis!

2. Self-talk
Self-talk is a psychological strategy consisting of how an individual talks to themselves using cue words or phrases. Self-talk is directly linked to an individual’s intrinsic motivation in which the individual takes responsibility for their actions and engages in activities based on enjoyment. How an individual talks to themselves before and during physical activity can have a huge influence on their intention to engage in physical activity and the likelihood of them continuing to engage in physical activity in the future. There are two different forms of self-talk; helpful self-talk and unhelpful self-talk. Helpful self-talk refers to cue words and phrases an individual says to themselves to improve their physical activity performance, whereas unhelpful self-talk refers to cue words and phrases that decrease an individual’s physical activity performance. When using self-talk, it can be helpful to ask yourself 2 questions “is talking to myself in that way helpful or unhelpful?” “What would I tell my friend to say to themselves in this situation?” E.g. I would tell my friend to say to themselves “I can do this! I’ve done it before!”

3. Social support: engaging in online group physical activity
Engaging in group exercise classes online can be a fun and engaging way for individuals to virtually develop social connections. By being a part of this online community, the individual receives on-going support from their instructors and other participants in the class. This on-going support can enhance an individual’s self-belief and their ability to overcome challenging moments whilst engaging in physical activity.

4. Achievement Journal
Each week, reflect on 3 physical activity accomplishments in your journal:
For example:
1. I was able to handcycle for 8 straight minutes this week
2. I was able to get in and out of my wheelchair without assistance every day this week
3. I participated in 2 online group classes

Reflecting on your physical activity achievements each week can help increase your self-confidence and self-esteem in your abilities, as well as maintaining your motivation levels to continue participating in various forms of physical activity. 
About the Author:
Serena MacLeod is a sport and exercise psychology consultant that provides psychological support to individuals, athletes, teams, and organizations via one to one consultations and educational workshops. She is also a guest lecturer at the University of Roehampton in London, UK delivering lectures to undergraduate and Masters students regarding disability sport and exercise and disability.

For more information regarding Serena, please visit her website:

For your health and safety, please ensure you consult a doctor, physiotherapist, or health care provider before engaging in new forms of physical activity.

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2 thoughts on “How Can We Increase and Maintain Motivation Levels While Physically Active?

  1. Things that motivate me to work out include the community involved in Kakana, and they way I know it will make me feel afterwards. Shoutout to those endorphins!

  2. Nature and my love for photography motivate me to take my walks regularly. For indoor exercise, having the Kakana community helps a lot! It also helps me to set a schedule at the beginning of each week.

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