I asked my friends the other day what fitness goals they wished they could tackle. I half expected to hear things like “lose the last 10 pounds”, “know what to do at the gym”, or the common yet vague desire to “eat better”. But what resonated over several conversations was the frustration with keeping their plans in place over time. “How do I stay motivated?” “I always give up after awhile and lose interest”.
Motivation is a complicated beast, isn’t it? Feeling motivated to do something is almost always easier at the beginning. Once we make the decision to begin, we might buy a new pair of running shoes or sign up for the gym. We prepare ourselves to begin a new journey. It’s like the first day of school. We carry in our pristine, empty notebooks just waiting for us to fill them with new ideas. The promise of a better year and a better self is powerful.
Those first weeks are the golden period. We rapidly get better. Getting better at something is motivating in itself. Each week we can palpably feel a difference. The weights get lighter. The jog feels less like death. And the new rush of endorphins feels pretty damn good. We’ve got this.
That is, until the shiny newness wears off. Every year, my 8 year old begins school with a great attitude. He declares this year will be the best grade ever. He is sure that his class will be way cooler than the last year, when he was just a pathetic, second grade scrub. But after a few months the novelty wears off. He begins to drag his feet when I tell him to get his butt ready for school and tells me he’s “over it”.
Unlike elementary school, our workouts are not mandated by the government. We don’t have to just slog through every day. But we do need to expect that at some point, motivation isn’t enough to keep us going. Enthusiasm ebbs and flows, just like everything else in our lives. We need support in place. There are several sources that can help you get your mojo back. (Hint: it’s not ‘fitspo’.)
1. Ask yourself about the convenience of your routine. Surprisingly, researchers found that motivation wasn’t the primary factor in why people work out regularly. Instead, convenience came out on top. 1
How easy is it to fit your workouts and nutrition into your life? It’s common to find that a new routine throws everything else in our lives out of whack. Starting with one small change that easily meshes with your actual life will breed more success than self talk that includes “suck it up”.
I’ve watched far too many people abandon their programs because they demanded too much out of themselves. You don’t have to workout for an hour 6 days a week to see the benefits of exercise. If you begin with something ridiculously small, you can piggyback off of your success and add a little more. 10 minutes every day. Is that too much? 5 minutes. It’s okay. Go back to the smallest thing you are certain you can handle.
2. Did you find your why? Looking back to why you started your new activity or made a goal in the first place can tell you a lot about why your enthusiasm is strong or waning. People who make goals based on what they feel like they ‘should’ do have a much more difficult time sticking with things after the initial “shiny happy period” wears off.
In addition, it’s important to distinguish why you feel unmotivated. There isn’t just one kind of slump. Are we bored? Are we anxious about our activity? Do we feel overwhelmed because we’re not sure if what we’re doing is on the right track? When I coach my clients, we dig into what’s behind the lack of enthusiasm, and we let that drive the next action.
3.Track your progress. As I said before, getting better at stuff feels good, doesn’t it? There are so many ways to be able to have tangible reminders of the benefits of your change.
- Strength training journals: look back a month.
- Consistency reports: keep a calendar and check off each day you completed your task. Not only does it keep that behavior fresh in your mind, it can boost your morale to see that you are successful with making your change.
- Measurements and progress pics: if you’re trying to lose body fat, the scale often screws with people’s heads. Seeing a visible change boosts confidence.
4. Enlist support. My clients stick with their programs in part to not having to bear the burden of motivating themselves all the time. Cheerleaders, comrades in sweat, and people who get your love of yoga pants become your peeps – your community. Can you find a community of your own that is committed to an activity you’d like to enjoy? Running groups for beginners, cycling clubs, yoga events, and powerlifting teams are all popular places here that create friendships and support networks.
5. Be okay with not always feeling motivated. Some days are sucky. It’s not realistic to think that you’re going to be pumped about going to the gym every day. I know some days I’m itching to go workout, and other days I drag my feet in. For me, having the habit in place helps but so does a clear picture of what I get out of my activity. That gets me there every time. The more you build these resources, the easier it will be to stay on track.
6. Watch this video.
Ok not motivating maybe, but hilarious. I remember watching this stuff in the ’80s . Feel pumped? I hope so!
- Gay, Jennifer L., Ruth P. Saunders, and Marsha Dowda. “The Relationship of Physical Activity and the Built Environment within the Context of Self-Determination Theory.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine Ann. Behav. Med. (2011): 188-96. Print. ↩