In fitness and life, not all motivation is created equal. Some motivation not only inspires us to get out of our chairs and into our running gear, but also keeps us happy and fulfilled. Other forms of motivation, like negative motivation, may keep us going (for a time), but they don’t exactly fill us with warm fuzzies.

And if your fitness journey doesn’t give you satisfaction, you probably won’t keep it up.

The funny thing about negative motivation is that you may rely on it without ever knowing.

If you want to keep seeing results, it’s worth figuring out what your negative motivation is, and how to change it.

Here, we uncover what negative motivation is, why it’s not the best way to reach your goals, and how to shift your mindset for long-term success.

What Is Negative Motivation?

Woman wiping sweat from forehead

You may have already figured out that negative motivation involves … negativity.

More to the point, you’re motivated by a fear that something bad will happen if you don’t follow through with your plan, says Ashley M. Zapata, PsyD, a sports psychologist with Premier Sport Psychology, PLLC, in Edina, Minn.

For you, negative motivation could show up as fear that straying off-plan will cause weight gain and a drop in self-esteem.

It’s this fear that keeps you putting in the work on your food and fitness goals day after day.

But if negative motivation technically works, then what’s the harm?


“There are some circumstances where negative motivation may help shape a person’s behavior, but usually if you only have negative motivation, it doesn’t last long,” says Carrie Cheadle, a certified mental skills training coach with a master’s in sports psychology and co-author of Rebound: Train Your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger from Sports Injuries.

For example, an injured athlete returning to exercise could use fear of re-injury to motivate them in the gym.

But negative motivation alone won’t push them through motivational challenges, Cheadle says.

Relying on negative motivation encourages you to chase goals based on fear and avoidance, as opposed to a goal that creates good vibes. Over time, that can lead to serious negative energy.

According to Zapata, you may become more prone to negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and more.

And many people who use negative motivation find they can’t break free of this mindset even after they’ve reached their target weight or fitness goal, Zapata says.

The bottom line is negative motivation can only carry you so far.

If you want to reach your goals — and enjoy success when you find it — it’s time to change your motivation mindset.

How Can You Shift Your Motivation Mindset?

Woman thinking after workout

The first step toward healthier motivation is to look at the big picture, Zapata says. What are your goals? Are they based on external factors (extrinsic motivation) or internal factors (intrinsic motivation)?

Extrinsic motivation is a type of motivation driven by your external environment, such as how you look, or how others perceive you.

A goal that’s extrinsic in nature could include:

  • Working out to lose weight so you’ll fit into a smaller size.
  • Getting certified in a skill to get a raise at work.
  • Nixing soda because you’re counting calories.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is based on internal factors. Namely, how something makes you feel.

An intrinsic goal could include:

  • Working out because it gives you energy and makes you happy.
  • Getting certified in a skill because you want to learn something new.
  • Nixing soda because it doesn’t make you feel healthy.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are powerful. But goals driven by intrinsic motivation are more likely positive in nature, and therefore, more enjoyable.

Give your goals the once-over and figure out how to give them positive meaning.

3 Healthier Ways to Get Motivated — And Stay That Way

Man taking a breather after workout

Ready to nix the negativity? Here are a handful of healthier ways to motivate yourself to reach your goals.

1. Talk kindly to yourself

The things you say to yourself every day can make a huge difference in your motivation mindset. Ever hear the phrase, “If you think you can or can’t, you’re right”? It’s scarily accurate.

“If I count myself out before I’ve even begun, then I won’t reach my goal,” Zapata says.

But if you keep the self-talk positive and encouraging, you’ll have a much better shot. Plus, you’ll be better equipped to handle any setbacks along the way, she explains.

2. Be mindful

Engaging in mindfulness practices is another healthy way to stay motivated. This may involve guided meditation apps, mindful walks in nature, or other relaxing activities.

“The important piece here is to welcome calm and relaxation into your daily routine,” Zapata says.

After all, mindfulness, or the ability to focus on present thoughts and sensations in a non-judgmental way, reduces stress and boosts well-being.

Why? Part of the answer may lie in one 2016 study, which found that mindfulness breeds resilience.

The research suggests that more mindful people are better able to cope in tough situations and bounce back from disappointment (ahem, like not reaching your goal as quickly as you’d hoped).

3. Get social

Don’t underrate the value of social connection in helping you reach your goals.

“Sharing your goals with others and knowing where you can go for social support is a huge motivating factor,” Zapata says.

When your motivation sours and the negative thoughts start creeping back, your social network can talk you through it and share strategies that worked for them.

“Some days may be hard, but knowing you’re not alone is truly clutch,” she adds.

If you don’t know where to start, try Mindset on BODi — you’ll find content and tools that will show you how to take care of yourself and stay on track with weekly motivation, monthly inspiration, and daily community support.