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Shifting your exercise mindset – How to go from ‘I have to’ to ‘I want to’ 

What’s *your* motivation for exercising? Is it to improve your mental health? Is it to get more energy? Or is it to lose weight? If you were born in the past fifty years, chances are, your primary motivation, at one stage or another, has been to exercise for weight loss. 

I mean, you’re only human. We’ve been told for decades to exercise to “shred”, drop a size or get that bikini body. Magazine covers, TV ads, and personal trainers have all pushed the same narrative, calories out vs. calories in equals weight loss. 

But this story has a problem, and you may already know it. Exercising for weight loss doesn’t work in the long run. 


Because when we don’t drop a few sizes, “tone up,” or see the number on the scales we want, we’re more likely to give up. We are more likely to blame ourselves, resent exercise, and think, “What’s the point”? 

This article will explore the problem with this binary view of exercise and how to shift our mindset. We’ll look at the benefits of exercise (other than weight loss), ways to find enjoyable movement, and help you think of exercise as something you want to do – instead of something you have to do! 

Benefits of exercise (other than weight loss) 

We know moving our bodies is incredibly beneficial for our health. But the sooner we remove the weight loss intention from exercise, the more likely we will move our bodies consistently. So replace your weight loss intention with one of the following exercise benefits.

How to find enjoyable movement 

Look for exercises you enjoy

Why tell yourself you’ll join the gym when the idea of cold weights and wall-to-wall mirrors makes you want to lie down? If you love walking, walk. If you love yoga, do yoga. If you love HIIT, do HIIT! You get the idea. 

Think outside the box

Hate running, cycling and the gym? I have great news. There are hundreds of other forms of exercise. Have you tried roller skating, skateboarding, or bouldering? Remember, they’re all movement too! 

Decouple exercise from weight loss

If not weight loss, then what? As soon as we think of exercising for weight loss or to change our BMI, we can feel resentful, unmotivated and rebellious. And if we don’t achieve our weight loss goals, we’re more likely to give up! 

What’s the problem with exercising for weight loss? 

Perhaps you know this story all too well. 

You set an intention to go to the gym five days a week and think of an arbitrary goal to reach, let’s say to lose 20kg. In the start, it feels exciting, you’re highly motivated, you’re eating better, and you may even notice your weight decreasing. You keep up the gruelling exercise regime, but eventually, the scales stop going down. Whenever you put your runners on or book that yoga class, a rebellious inner voice starts to creep in “What’s the point”? 

How to stick to exercise 

  • Make sure you enjoy it, and it’s on your terms. 
  • Set realistic goals. Don’t tell yourself you’ll exercise every day if you know you can only fit it 2-4 days a week. 
  • Make sure you’re comfortable. Invest in some supportive activewear suitable for a range of activities. 
  • Start small and gradually build up your time, variety and frequency. Your initial goal might be as small as putting on your runners and exercise clothes. 
  • Avoid perfectionism, and remember, progress is not linear. For example, if you don’t anticipate rest days, you’ll just beat yourself up when you inevitably have to take a day off and will be more likely to give up. 
  • I can’t emphasise this enough – try to disassociate exercise with weight loss! Research shows that motivators other than weight loss can lead to more regular exercise. 
  • Focus on how exercise makes you feel. Are you less stressed? Are you sleeping better? Are you more relaxed? Do you have more energy? 
  • Prioritise movement as a form of self-care and body respect. 
  • As long as you think of exercise as just another thing to tick off your to-do list, or a tool to change your boys, it will feel like a chore, like something you must do. 
  • You deserve time to move your body! If you’re too busy to exercise, see where you can take time from another area of your life or ask for help. 

50 ways to exercise without going to the gym





Mini Golf


Table tennis







Water polo






Weight lifting

country skiing



Bike ride




Mountain biking





Martial arts




Rock climbing




SCUBA diving



Ice skating







Final tips 

Like any other intutive eating principle, shifting your exercise mindset from ‘have to’ to ‘want to’ will take time. Be patient, get curious and have compassion for yourself if you fall back into old habits. We’re all just learning and unlearning! The most important thing to remember is to shift your intention away from calorie-burning and instead focus on how you feel! 

Get in touch if you need support unpacking and unlearning any negative associations with exercise holding you back from moving your body in enjoyable ways.


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