Pairing Motivation


Making time to exercise regularly is difficult, especially when other commitments begin to mount. In my work with Spirited Life participants and in my own efforts to make fitness a priority, few strategies have been more successful than pairing motivation. The concept is simple: in order to increase your motivation to exercise, you pair the activity with some other source of motivation. It sounds elementary, but it can be highly effective.

For one pastor I worked with, the early morning was his only time available for exercise, but a morning person he was not. We tried various techniques to raise his motivation, all to no avail, and then he had the revelation to try paring his time in the gym with one of his favorite hobbies: reading political thrillers. He began listening to audiobooks while he worked out on the elliptical machine at the gym, and in no time, he found himself awake and alert in the morning, no longer negotiating how he might sleep more. His first thought was, “I wonder what will happen next to Jack Ryan?”

Another pastor had similar success with exercise after pairing motivation. She had been struggling to set and maintaining a walking routine until we discovered the power of her love for music. Once she converted her walking time to worship time–singing along to praise and worship music from her audio player–she had no problems creating this habit. She had a new practice that nourished her body and her soul.


There are all sorts of motivations that can be tacked on to exercise: getting some fresh air, exploring a new neighborhood, listening to a favorite preacher, watching reality TV on a tablet, spending time with a friend, praying over a community, or paying attention to creation’s beauty. I’m much more motivated to put on my running shoes when it’s to spend time with my wife (on a run) than to go on a run (with my wife).

So get creative, pair your exercise with something way more interesting than…ugh… exercise, and share your attempts in our comments.

–Tommy Grimm

Image by flickr user John Carleton, via Creative Commons.

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