Owning It: Unexpected (& Possibly Shallow) Things that Motivate Me to Work Out

by Rachel on October 11, 2011

A couple months ago, I started getting manicures and pedicures. It wasn’t something I cared much about before — I was always content to do my own nails — but once I got one, I found that I got a strange amount of workout motivation from my nails.

For some reason, having my nails done made me feel pretty and polished, and in my mind, girls who are pretty and polished also work out…so then I felt compelled to keep up my new image by working out.

I know it’s ridiculous. I’ve owned it.

The thing is, even though it’s a strange source of motivation, it really works! Once I started thinking about it, I realized that there are a lot of small things like this that have the same effect on me. They are the things that (in my mind anyway) are things that pretty/polished/pulled-together/healthy/fit/thin women do. When I do them, I feel pretty/polished/pulled-together/healthy/fit/thin and then I feel like I need to keep up that image by eating healthy or exercising. These activities are totally based on weird assumptions  — logically, I know that plenty of women who never work out get manicures! — and most are things that I like doing anyway which would, by my logic, make me officially pretty/polished/pulled-together/healthy/fit/thin without ever setting foot in a gym…but for some reason, these things motivate me! Sorry I’m not sorry!

  1. Eating sushi. (Because I always thought of sushi as something everyone in LA eats and everyone in LA is good-looking, right?)
  2. Wearing nice yoga pants and a cute track jacket around after I’ve worked out. (Even if I’m kinda gross, I at least feel athletic.)
  3. Wearing nice yoga pants and a cute track jacket around when I haven’t worked out. (Unlike when I wear this after a trip to the gym, I feel athletic but not gross or sweaty.)
  4. Feeling like my face/skin/makeup looks good.
  5. Hanging out with my pretty girlfriends.
  6. Driving around blasting 50 Cent with all my friends in the car on our way to go do something fun together. (OK, not so much now, but in college? Most definitely.)
  7. Having white teeth.
  8. Shopping at Whole Foods. (Why else is everyone who shops there so smug if not because they think they are pretty/polished/pulled-together/healthy/fit/thin?)
  9. Doing yoga.
  10. Wearing jeans that look great on me.
  11. Running. (Effective but not worth doing in great amounts to me. I get the same effect from a 2-mile run as I do from a 12-mile run.)
  12. Eating fruit salad.
  13. Having a good hair day.
  14. Waking up in the morning and marveling at how flat my stomach is for that first hour of the day. (If I could go directly to the gym then, I would, if only because I’d think it would help my stomach stay that flat all the time.)
  15. Working out at a nice workout studio.
  16. Having a nice bag/phone/watch/accessories.
Like I said, these things are shallow and aren’t really logical; most of them won’t automatically make me healthier, but doing them regularly makes me feel like the kind of person who would treat her body well by working out and eating healthy foods. A lot of times we see certain behaviors as something “other people” do  and we avoid them because we don’t see ourselves as healthy/worth it/good enough…but I think if you change your mindset and start living like a person who is pulled-together and gives a shit, it can really help you become that person. Now that I’m aware of the little things on this list, I just try to do them more often. (Except shopping at Whole Foods because then I’d be broke.)
Am I the only one who finds motivation from unexpected and probably shallow things? What’s on your list?

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jacqueline October 11, 2011 at 10:09 am

I think its a confidence thing. You have more confidence and are less insecure when you feel good and look good, which makes you look at yourself in a more positive light. When you are happy and positive, you want to stay that way and keep yourself looking good and being happy and positive. My mother always told me that whenever I am sad or feeling down or whatever to go get dressed up and put on some make up, do my hair, etc. get a mani/pedi..it works everytime to make me feel awesome and give me more confidence, which extends to other things in life as well. Working out gives you the same feeling and goes along with all of this. You wanna take care of yourself when you feel like you are worth it :)


2 Phoebe October 11, 2011 at 11:53 am

Totally agree! I do basically allllll the same things as Rachel listed (I do my own nails but it gives me the same effect) and I couldn’t agree more. It’s funny because this was not how I was like in college at all. In college I had a kind of cohort of guy friends who did hard core martial arts and/or ran track and stuff and so the rattier you looked in the gym, the better, and we’d run into each other in the gym and compare workouts and stuff. So throughout college, I wore ripped gym clothes there and ratted around and THAT made me feel like a baller and motivated me to exercise. I realize now that that’s just a different idiom of what “someone who works out and is fit” looks like so it’s pretty much the same thing.


3 Angie Nikolas October 11, 2011 at 10:15 am

I totally get this. The other day a friend and I had a conversation about things that make us feel like Beyonce (a power Bitch in more general terms). We agreed that we both have THAT pair of heels that makes us feel like we run the world. Also, I have a lip gloss that makes me feel like a hundred times prettier (it’s clear…so there’s little logic there). Wearing either or both of those things immediately make me feel more put together. Oh, and jewelery. I hardly wear jewelery so put a pair of earrings in and I feel like I’ve just upped my ” together” level by a billion.


4 Suzanne October 11, 2011 at 10:16 am

This makes perfect sense to me! On days when I have meetings and have to wear a suit to work, I rarely miss a workout. There’s something about wearing a nice suit that makes me feel like someone who really has their life together. And people who have their life together work out regularly.


5 Rachel October 11, 2011 at 10:27 am

“There’s something about wearing a nice suit that makes me feel like someone who really has their life together. And people who have their life together work out regularly.” LOL — it sounds so perfectly logical when you put it that way!


6 Lindsay October 11, 2011 at 10:25 am

Haha. I like this. For a while, I ate grapefruit in the morning, telling my roommates that “people whose lives are put-together eat grapefruit.” I no longer eat it (sometimes, but not as a rule or anything), but they still make fun of me for it. I do know that when I do one adult-ish or responsible or put-together thing, it makes it easier to do more because I feel like a polished, responsible adult.


7 Dori October 11, 2011 at 10:27 am

I love this post. I’ve actually been considering getting a gel manicure because my nails always look like shit and it makes me feel less put together overall, and I think that effects everything. It is worth it to do whatever you can comfortably afford if it gives you confidence and motivation.


8 Hannah October 11, 2011 at 10:31 am

I totally understand you, Rachel! I smiled at the “fruit salad” one. It’s just so random but it makes sense. Although I don’t “work out” at the moment, per se, I do yoga, and I enjoy wearing my favorite pants that make my ass look less like a pancake. It is motivating, for sure.


9 Jes October 11, 2011 at 10:33 am

As shallow as this seems, I discovered the manicure thing this weekend… I got my first manicure ever, and while I somewhat feel I overpaid to make my left hand look like a 3rd grader did not actually paint my nails, I have felt “prettier” and more “put together” this week than I have in a while. (granted my friends all say there are better places to go and cheaper so double win!) And it is motivating to eat better because people with manicures don’t eat crap all the time =) I love the logic


10 Heather October 11, 2011 at 10:34 am

I feel the same way! Manicures totally make me feel pulled together and, for some reason, like I have amazing time management skills (sometimes I do…sometimes I don’t…), so of COURSE I can get to the gym, do an amazing job at work, get my laundry done, write, work on my side businesses, cook dinner, make time to catch up with friends…all in one day! Most of the time, it doesn’t work out exaaaactly like that, but I always feel like it could!

And you’re so right about ACTING like the person you want to be. I’ve been attempting to tell myself this as I try to transition to a ‘fit, confident, responsible, pulled together grown woman.’ Why wait until I’m thinner, make more money, have fewer things on my plate to act or think like the woman I want to be? You’ve reminded me of my goal to think like this, so thanks!


11 Corey @ Learning Patience October 11, 2011 at 10:46 am

I totally see a connection…I used to bite my nails..now they are pretty….then I felt like if my nails are pretty…I should get in better shape…it’s a rolling effect! Anything that gets you in shape, healthier, etc…is not shallow – it’s effective!

xoxo from Trinidad


12 Maggie October 11, 2011 at 11:35 am

That totally happens to me, too, although my list is slightly different. But yeah, good behavior begets more good behavior. And succumbing to one not-having-your-shit-together activity can often result in a complete collapse of all together-shit. For me.


13 deva @ deva by definition October 11, 2011 at 11:37 am

I have been working on this – dressing and acting the part of who I want to be as well as who I am. It’s given me a lot of newfound confidence. Who knew a spritz of my favorite perfume in the morning would make me feel just as confident as my two-mile run?


14 Kristen October 11, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I completely agree with this! Recently at work my manager was out, so I put it in my head that I was in charge. A week after he came back I had a meeting with him and his boss in which I was given more responsibility!

And every morning when I get out of bed the first thing I check is how flat my stomach looks, it motivates me to go to the gym to keep it that flat!


15 Melissa October 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm

150% on board with this. You HAVE to look the part. I always had this idea that a real, successful grown up that works from home has an actual home office. And it looks a certain way. And has certain things in it. So I home improved my ass off last weekend and now I have said office. I totally feel more successful now.

Oh, and having a nice handbag = being put together. For real. Even if it is from TJ Maxx.


16 [SMASH] October 11, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Okay, Rachel… Very much in love with today’s post. I love seeing my shiny, polished nails while at the gym. But for me, it’s almost an all or nothing thing (which is awful, I know). If I’m down in the dumps (for whatever reason, not that I have to have a reason), my nails will look like crap, I won’t workout, I’ll skip on grocery shopping, I’ll leave laundry in the dryer for a week. If I’m kicking ass, my nails look hot, I’m feeling great, I’m on my A game in calorie counting/workouts, etc.


17 Bridget October 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm

When my legs are shaved I feel the need to workout. It’s like SEE-I HAVE NICE HOT LEGS. Especially when it’s winter and no one ever gets to see them.
When I first do laundry and all my favorite workout clothes are clean again. I only allow myself to wear my workout clothes for working out so I get giddy thinking about wearing them again!
When I unexpectedly wake up early on the weekend. Sometimes I just wake up without an alarm and see that it’s still relatively early. And all early risers are go getters that get their workouts done in the morning, right?
When I accidentally (or on purpose) drink too much. After a night or two of misbehaving there is something so cleansing about working out. The first bit of it sucks but then I get into the groove and feel human again.
If I know I’m going to have sex later. It’s like I’m starting foreplay early with endorphins.

What is it about that early morning flat belly? I LOVE IT!


18 Cyndie October 11, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I totally understand this though. I think this is why on my days off, I try and make an effort to take a shower and get my makeup on as soon as I wake up. I am so much more productive that way then if I feel greasy and lay around in the morning picking off yesterdays mascara. hahaha.


19 Jordan October 11, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Ohhh, I do this. Usually for me, if I spend a day lazing around the house, I’ll start to feel gross after a while. Then I have to shower/do my hair/paint my nails/shave my legs/TAKE ON THE WORLD all at once. It’s a thing.


20 Caitlin October 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I LOVE this post. It is so true. I related to almost all of yours. Eating veggies dipped in hummus is also on my list. I just got a watch in May and am now addicted to it. Wearing a watch makes me feel so “you fancy huh?”


21 Nicole @ Giraffelegs October 11, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Agree with all of this. Mani’s and pedi’s make me want to be awesome.


22 Ashley October 11, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I totally agree!! If I am wearing my bfs sweatpants and hoodie ypu better elieve I am eating french fries and pizza allday long..a cute dress and its a workoutdayfor sure. I also think carrying a starbucks drinks qualifies in your put together/fit/inshape category! All the trainers Ive ever worked with love starbucks so therefore I started drinking it..too bad I only like the fatty lattes


23 Natalie October 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm

This post hit home for me! If one part of my life looks pretty & polished, I feel the need to improve other parts. Clean apartment means I need to stock up on some pretty Whole Foods grub. Manicure means I need to go for a run and then relax with a non-fat latte after…I totally get it!


24 cindylu October 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm

I get a bit of a rush from buying new running shoes and new running clothes and love the new shoe/clothes feel. If I’ve been working hard and sticking to my training, then I have no problem whatsoever treating my feet to a pedicure. I definitely do that more now than I ever did before I started working out.

This might be the opposite of shallow, but working out means being more caught up on current events, news, culture, and music because I do most of my podcast listening when I’m out for a run.


25 Fiona October 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Yes, I am literally the most shallow person and bribe myself to workout with things like cute workout clothes, a nice yoga studio, a cute gym bag. And you know what? I’ve never been in better shape, run faster, or been more flexible, so appealing to my crass and shallow side obviously works. And maybe all that zen will wean me off my consumer tendencies…


26 Liz @ iheartvegetables October 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm

dude I say, whatever it takes! new workout clothes do it for me. Or wearing cute (tennis) shoes. Or discovering that my bangs look super cute in a ponytail.

Or a hot trainer.

Ok, I realize I’m sounding shallow, but I’m owning it ;)


27 Katie October 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm

I love this! My thing? Being on time for work. It sets the mood for my day!


28 Rosamund October 12, 2011 at 9:55 am

I totally get this. I’m going for a facial later and have realised that on beauty salon days I make far more effort with what I wear to work AND I’m more motivated to go to the gym.

Unlike haircut days, when I avoid the gym in an attempt to preserve the beautiful salon blowdry…


29 Joslyn October 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Ha Rachel, love this post! I spent the weekend knocking down our gym to build a new one, there was me and all of the workmen. I totally maned up and was pulling out nails and drilling shit, holding my own with the fellas. Until I had to get on the train home and felt horrific with my dirty nails and dusty hair, I felt so unattractive. I immediately went home and blow dried my hair and engaged in a little eyebrow pluckage to feel polished again. You are not shallow darling! We all feel more fabulous with even the mildest of preening!


30 Rachel October 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm

HA, I do the same thing & can relate to a lot of these! This morning, I got up early to prepare a nice breakfast and take time to get myself “together” for my yoga class. I got so many compliments on how “fresh” I looked – no makeup, good hair day, and a great yoga jacket did the trick!

Things like that motivate me to workout. So does setting mini goals, having an important trip to go to, and generally looking & feeling happy, healthy and beautiful.


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