Workout Routine

Do you have too much motivation to exercise?

“I’m just not motivated.” We say it and hear it all the time, but what if your lack of a fitness routine boils down to something else entirely? Maybe the failure to meet your goals is because you are hyper-motivated.

Stay with us, here. According to a new study, too much motivation can affect our decision-making and, in turn, the choices we make to get to our goals.

The paper, published in the Neuron journal, found that motivation levels that are too high as well as too low can affect perception and therefore our choices. In the study, they trained mice to get water out of two different types of spout, then compared how they fared when they were very thirsty – therefore extremely motivated to drink – versus moderately thirsty and less motivated for water.

In the first group, they performed poorly – licking the spout without technique. In the second spout, they optimally managed to get the water they needed.

Researchers were monitoring neural reactions during the task, finding that decision-making circuits were flooded with electrical signals when mice were hyper-motivated. “Hyper-motivation leads to strong stimulation of cortical neurons, which causes a loss of precision,” says Giulio Matteucci, the study’s first author.

Woman with megaphone
Too many opinions about how to exercise can make you hypermotivated

This study may just be based on a few mice, and perhaps it sounds obvious that we are less precise when we are desperate to achieve something, but this conclusion and the idea of ​​’hyper-motivation’ have similar applications in your workout routine.

The problem with hyper-motivation

As the study suggested, if you are rushing towards a goal, you are more likely to make mistakes. Long research supports this in exercise, with around 80% of running injuries being down to overuse.

In the long term, it might be burnout – chronic fatigue, hormonal problems or impacted sleep as a result of consistently overdoing it. In both scenarios, the desperation to achieve means your goals end up on the back burner.

Alternatively, hyper-motivation can show up as excitement to meet too many goals at once. While working across a variety of training styles – eg cardio, strength, stretching – all are important for health, but they are distinct and often antithetical skills. It’s by no means impossible to get better at all of them at once, and if you’re just training for the joy of moving then you shouldn’t overthink it.

But if you want to see noticeable improvements in skill or fitness, it’s best to pick one thing to work on at a time, whether it’s increasing running endurance or your one-rep max lift. That way you won’t lose sight of what you’re working towards.

It’s common for decision paralysis to hit us in our fitness routines because we are inundated with advice and opinions. While one person swears running is the way to better health, someone else recommends lifting weights. Lots of people love high-rep exercises like pilates and barre while others think it’s best for women to use heavy weights for minimal reps. That confusion stops many people from attempting anything. If you are left wanting to try everything but simultaneously achieve little, it might be a case of hyper-motivation.

Striking the balance between excitement for a goal and overdoing it is hard, but remember that slow and steady wins the race. And know that starting now rather than waiting until you’re desperate for change, as many of us feel around January, will probably lead to a more sustainable routine.