Lags of motivation, inspiration and self discipline affecting your workouts? Hi, I’m Emily and no – this isn’t an infomercial, although it sounds like one. With this post, I want to dive into the topic of motivation…something we don’t have an endless stream of, but wish we did. Even activities that we enjoy the most won’t provide ongoing motivation (unless of course, that activity is eating ice cream in a velvet sweatsuit).
I certainly don’t rely entirely on will power to maintain my running streak, nor to keep up a consistent strength training regimen. I’m always on the lookout for new ways to motivate myself. Some of the time that involves understanding how other people keep themselves motivated; being open minded when it comes to new routines, different perspectives and innovative ways of drawing on different sources of stimulation. This isn’t just for exercise, my friends – it’s for 30 day challenges you can set for yourself, hobbies you love (for myself, that’s writing), career aspirations, or skills you’re trying to develop.
Find Your Why
Since adopting a consistent exercise routine 12 years ago, I’ve learned a thing or two when it comes to keeping up a routine. The most important aspect of any goal pursuit is to identify your why and have strong emotional intent behind it. Arbitrary goal setting will just make the entire process feel like a chore; dig in deep and understand what your emotive purpose is. Are you completing a Whole30 challenge because you want to reset your body and restore your energy by eliminating certain foods? Do you want to run your first 5k race because it’s a feat you’ve wanted to achieve for years now? OR perhaps you want to get up an hour earlier every morning so you can have some time to relax and decompress before your workday. Whatever your goal is, make sure you understand why it’s important to you and what you’re hoping to get out of it.
Here’s an example: I keep a list of the reasons why I love to run and train in my journalling app (which, by the way, I add to on an ongoing basis). I review this list when my motivation is withered up and I’m drawing strictly from my will power reserves. That’s not to say that I can easily pull from the list and hammer through my workouts, but some ideas (definitely not all my own) have been an integral part of maintaining a consistent exercise regime. I’ve provided a list of the main tools (ideas) in my arsenal and my hopes are that you can draw from some of these as well to help propel you forward.
While this can be applied to all aspects of your life (financial, relationships, etc.), I’m going to highlight an example specific to running. Here’s a snippet from my long list of reasons why I run every day:
- Running provides me with the attentional space to solve difficult problems and think through/flesh out ideas.
- Opens up my creative flow and allows for new ideas to emerge and connections to be made.
- Helps me deal with my anxiety and has in the past, helped me overcome depression.
- Keeps me physically fit.
- Provides the quotidian runner’s high which lasts the entirety of the day; keeping me happy and motivated in my other pursuits.
- Gives me an escape, allowing me to just focus on my breathing and the space to reflect on my life and what’s important to me.
Embrace the Long Game
What’s worked for me – and still does to this day – is to embrace the long game; learn to enjoy the process and take it one day at a time. Find a way to measure your progress and celebrate little wins. As Brad Stulberg writes, “Don’t worry about being the best. Worry about being the best at getting better.” This is one of my favourite quotes, by the way. Small actions every day will compound to huge results over time.
Read a lot. Read every day and read on a myriad of topics, from a variety of different voices. Our brain is an expert at making connections and implementing ideas we learn into our everyday life. Reading positive and uplifting articles, blogs, books, and listening to audiobooks has provided me with a stream of inputs to combat procrastination. Reading about other’s struggles and how they overcame adversity also provides powerful messages to persevere when the going gets tough.
Build your mental toolbox
Think of it likes this: when trying to get our creative juices flowing, some of us find that reading one of our favourite authors or books will consistently remind us to keep working at our writing and crafting our voice so we can flex our creative muscles. I want you to develop a similar mentality when building your arsenal; you want to draw inspiring stories, quotes, ideas, and keep them stored in an accessible place (like a journal for instance). Some keep these stored in a Commonplace Book.
My mental toolbox
Here’s a list of a few of my favourite ideas that I draw from on the daily to keep me consistent:
- 80-85% of my runs should be easy (for sustainability and to avoid burnout). Steve Magness, co-author of Peak Performance.
- Challenging workouts in tough elementals and terrain, [callous the mind] – (idea from David Goggins’ book, Can’t Hurt Me).
- Only this rep matters (a reminder to focus and stay present during workouts) – from Brad Stulberg’s article The Zen of Weight Lifting.
Keep things fresh
Nothing kills motivation like monotony, performing the same actions day in and day out with little results. I wrote about this in my article, The Routine Conundrum. While routines can be powerful strategies to keep you moving forward, there also comes a point where they can hold you back, keeping you stuck in a place of complacency. If routines are the backbone of your day-to-day, then that’s great – but try to mix in new hobbies, events or challenges to keep moving forward and growing.
Try running a different route, listen to an audiobook instead of music or push yourself out of your social comfort zone by connecting with an old friend, joining a virtual book club, etc. Sticking with the theme of fitness, you could tackle new strength training exercises to incorporate into your routine (Anabolic Aliens is my fave). If you meditate every day sitting down, try standing or walking meditation, listening to nature sounds, try a guided app, or simply sit in silence and focus on your breath. If you like to stick to one genre of books, try variegating the literary canons you dabble in by sinking your teeth into classics, non-fiction, or even biographies.
If motivation really lacks and the resistance is overwhelming, I go through a process of re-framing. Basically, this means taking the activity at hand and repositioning it in your mind to approach the activity through a fresh perspective. While this probably makes very little sense (it’s hard to explain in words), I’ll highlight the process with a few examples. I use this the most when completing my daily runs. If I’m planning to do my daily 5-miler outside but I’m met with -10 degree temperatures, wind gusts straight from the movie Twister, and snow up to my ankles, my initial thought is…well, fuck this. Instead, I re-frame; I think, the harsh elements outdoors will help condition my mind and body, making me a stronger runner. I think of this run as a challenge. I can do this. It will feel so much more rewarding completing a tough workout like this than in ideal conditions. If I’m writing an article (such as this one), I break it up into multiple segments across a few days. I feel a ton of resistance when I’m about to write, especially if I know I’m going to publish a piece online. Instead, I re-frame and tell myself that if the words don’t come naturally, if the piece doesn’t come together, I can dump it. At least I’m improving my writing by getting words down on the page. I’m doing something to propel me forward. Try this yourself. Take an activity that you face resistance on the regular and try thinking of new ways to re-frame it for self growth.
This point may sound completely counterintuitive, but hear me out. If you’re feeling unmotivated for prolonged periods, and been putting a lot of pressure on yourself to maintain consistency, it’s okay to listen to your body and/or mind sometimes, and rest. I struggle with this one…Try not to fester in guilt for skipping a workout or missing a few items off your to-do list. It’s okay to bring down the level of intensity of your workouts, shorten them, or take a day off altogether. It’s okay to have unproductive days where you can only manage to cross one small item off your to-do list. It’s okay to binge watch Netflix for an entire day in your aforementioned velvet sweatsuit.
Just try to not make it a habit. If you fall off, try to acknowledge the energy levels you have and tell yourself you’ll get back at it tomorrow – then actually get back at it. While it’s true that your self discipline muscle builds by forcing yourself to do activities you feel resistance to or when motivation lacks the most, a guilt-free rest day can be reinvigorating and recharging. It can give you some extra oomph in motivation when you return to an activity. This is particularly important during COVID where there’s seemingly no end in sight. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself and have some self compassion.
Sourcing motivation and springing yourself into action is a life-long process of internal conflict. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. Staying open-minded and actively seeking out new forms of inspiration and motivation are key in helping you stick to your goals in all areas of your life.
Sometimes, it’s okay to realize that motivation for a particular activity has dried up; you no longer enjoy it as much as you once did. This happened to me when I no longer wanted to improve at playing guitar or ditched my first book attempt after 100 pages. ‘Breaking up’, so to speak, with an activity can help make room for more important goals in your life. It’s okay to let go of the old to make room for the new. That is called growth, my friends.
Lastly, surround yourself with positive people in pursuit of their own goals. Being in the presence of people that inspire you can be energizing. Discussing your goals with people can bring new ideas and newfound sources of motivation into your pursuits. Just remember that it’s okay to fall of the wagon, it’s all part of the journey. Just get back on and be kind to yourself.