Finding the Motivation to Exercise

Allow me to preface this post by saying if you feel healthy and you get the green light whenever you visit your GP, then keep on rockin’ with your bad self. Body-shaming sucks and that’s certainly not what this post is about. This post is a list of tips for how to get into exercise from my perspective. Every body is different and everybody will find something that works for them- this is only what worked for me.

A few years ago I fell into a trap. I was struggling with my blood sugar and I was struggling with my cholesterol levels, but I wasn’t doing anything about it. Why? Well, because that was a part of my identity. In fact, to some extent, I was a little proud of the fact that I was unhealthy. Isn’t shunning exercise and eating rubbish food part of the fun of being a gamer? I certainly thought so. I mean, in some ways, that’s what’s sold to us, isn’t it? Caffeinated sugary drinks and neon orange snacks is the gamer diet, right? Well, it was literally killing me.

Photo taken by Felicity Keane.

I was feeling bad, really bad, and I don’t mean about how I looked in the mirror (although I am sure there was some of that too). I started exercising, not by choice, but because my GP was threatening to put me on all sorts of liver-destroying medications. And I need my liver… For drinking.

You know what though? I survived. And now I actually enjoy it- mostly.

Bartle’s player types in handy chart form.

I think I learned to enjoy it by seeing aspects of it as a game. Now, don’t get me wrong, gamification sucks. Not everything in life has to be fun, especially not exercise. Plus, not every fireworked-wrist-vibration from my Fitbit is motivating, actually most of the time it is annoying. Yet if we think of Richard Bartle’s taxonomy of MUD players, we might glean some nuggets of insight into how to motivate ourselves to be more active without loosing our geeky, gamer social capital. Or maybe it is just a way to re-think what motivates us to play games and how that can maybe apply to motivate us to exercise? I know, I know, this sounds awfully close to the televangelism of gamification experts, but cut me some slack here. I’m grasping at straws to make exercise suck less.

  1. Socialisers- Do cool exercises with cool people.
Go team Rural Juror!

Exercise doesn’t have to be running on a track, lifting weights, or participating in one of those shout-y boot camps that scare me a lot. Exercise can be a Water Dancing class with Game of Thrones actor Miltos Yerolemou at Nine Worlds (see photos above). If you don’t have him handy, then why not look up your local HEMA chapter?

Likewise, I forgot that sports are a lot like games- only as fun as the people playing. A game like football, which I had long ago written off as boring, actually became a hoot when played with a group of game academics at this past DiGRA.

lol so satisfying

2. Killer- Friendly competition never hurt anyone… until it did.

I have to admit that this is the least appetizing category for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love competition, but I don’t particularly enjoy the type of ego-flexing that happens in most fitness crowds. I know, I know, it is no different to me posting my Scout fishkills with taunting glee, but the hyper-competitive ‘do u even lift bro’ crowd is what made me spend most of my adult life avoiding the gym.

Last year’s Colour Dash benefiting the Michael Sobell Hospice. Thanks to Chris for the photo.

That being said, there are plenty of other ways to let my competitive streak out. Whether its a charity 5k fun run or a weekly challenge via Fitbit, there are opportunities big and small to let everyone know how much better you are than them. My goal for this year is to win the charity 5k fun run. And by win I mean outrun my students, heh heh.

3. Achievers- The strategy used by every fitness app ever!

Treadmill decided to deny me my cooldown walk, but I really only care about the pace column.

Suffice it to say, I think it is now within the realms of common sense that people like feeling they have achieved something. What I first experienced as a way to doll out user feedback in digital games has now become a lazy shorthand for gamification. Congratulations! You got out of bed today!

Fitness apps are horrible for this -but- tracking metrics is fun. Once I realised the gym treadmill gives you a breakdown of your workout, I began taking photos with my phone. In the comparison shot above, the bottom screen was from June. Since then I managed to shave around 36 seconds off my pace. I am still as slow as molasses, but getting better, and I feel like I’ve achieved something. My stamina has increased by 1 point, etc.

4. Explorers- Get out and walk. 11705800_10155808517220580_2045120365320358403_o

I realise that given accessibility constraints, unsafe spaces, and personal health issues walking in the real world is not always a possibility, but if it is- do it! I have passed some amazing hours walking around without a purpose. I found hidden gems next to the University, like this graveyard building with ivy growing up its side, during my daily amble. Low impact and highly entertaining- what’s not to love?


So, there are some motivations for exercise. In the end, though, I think the strongest motivation to get out and move comes from a doctor threatening you with pills. I think there is some salvation in re-thinking or re-framing medical threats as opportunities for socialisation, competition, achievement and exploration though, which might make the need to move more fun.

Until next time,


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