Healthy LivingMental Health

How Being Aware of What Motivates You Can Make You Happier

posted on October 18, 2019 | by Molly Bender

How Being Aware of What Motivates You Can Make You Happier

Do you ever examine the reason why you do certain things? You know, really get to the bottom of why you’re going to work (to make money), playing the guitar (because it brings you joy), scrolling Instagram (to numb), or scrolling Instagram (to connect). Well, to try to work exercise back into my routine regularly, I started a new program last month and it’s changed my motivation when it comes to exercise. And what I’ve realized is that it’s all about finding what motivates you – and going from there.


Is it to look better in a bathing suit? Because you’ve heard exercise is important? To help treat anxiety and depression? Because you’re already paying for a gym membership so you might as well go?

My reasons have been many and varied and so inconsistent. There was a time when, now that I look back, I thought I could outrun my anxiety. Another time when I was trying to lose a bit of weight before a vacation. At one point I think I was trying to guilt myself into exercising because my apartment complex had a gym and I felt like I needed to get my money’s worth.

I’ve been there. I’m still there occasionally but, the thing is, what’s motivating you is important. The exercise is going to feel a lot different based on your motives.


There are two types of motives: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motives seek internal gratification, whereas extrinsic motives seek an external reward. So how can we determine what our motivation is? Well, one question I like to ask myself is: Am I doing this to try to control how others perceive me or because it makes me feel good?

I start to become suspicious when I’m doing something for status. I pause and try to examine why I think whatever I’m doing will make me happy. Is it because I think if I do the thing in question, people will like me or envy me? Well, it’s probably not going to result in happiness. Maybe a temporary high but not a fulfilling happiness.


This new exercise program asks you to survey how you’re feeling before and after you exercise and taking that moment to evaluate how I feel has really given me some perspective. It’s shockingly consistent how much better I feel after I exercise and I started to realize that that’s the point. I shouldn’t be exercising to lose weight, or because I am trying to work off some meal I ate. I should be exercising because it makes me feel good (literally immediately).

After I completed the first two weeks, I was feeling especially strong and powerful. I knew I probably wasn’t stronger in any measurable way (yet) but that doesn’t matter. That’s the thing with extrinsic motivations: if you are constantly exercising to achieve a finite goal, then that goal can always be pushed. But if you are exercising because it makes you feel good and strong and powerful, then your motivation well will never run dry.


Another big component of this program is its emphasis on body neutrality. This topic could have its own article (or two) but, in its essence, body neutrality is the practice of refraining placing value on how your body looks. This is another method that forces you to engage with your motives. Are you exercising because you’re trying to be smaller? Or out of respect for your body and what it’s capable of?

And to bring it back to what I mentioned about starting new habits in this article, being driven to exercise intrinsically and not placing a value on how our body looks allows for self-compassion. You aren’t exercising to lose weight so it isn’t a failure if your weight fluctuates. You’re exercising out of respect for your body. If you miss a day, or a week, or a month: deep breath, and see if your body is telling you it wants to move.

So, next time you work out or go for a walk take a moment to be aware of how your body feels. And, if you’re feeling especially liberated, notice how clothes make you feel. Are you wearing that outfit because it’s slimming or because it makes you feel powerful and more like yourself?