The myth of motivation (and what to do about it)
"You sure picked a bad time of year to do this running thing."
I've heard this many times over the past few months. And not without reason--who the hell starts a daily running challenge in October? In Canada?
But that was the point.
I may be new to running, but I'm no stranger to starting new habits.
Not only have I figured out a thing or two for myself over the years, but as a coach, I've been there alongside countless others on their own health and fitness journey.
Good people that just want to get fit again. They want to get back to that place of health, energy, and high school jeans.
They're unhappy. Overweight. Embarrassed. Ashamed of how they could let themselves get this bad.
They've had enough. This is the year they're going to do it.
They know the recipe--better food and more activity. Less beer and fewer tacos. More water and salads. It's time to make this a priority.
Let's do this.
And then, before you can lick the Buffalo sauce off your fingers...they're gone.
I learned a valuable truth years ago:
Motivation is fleeting. And if that's what you're relying on to get your ass moving--failure and disappointment await you.
A tale of two clients
For the sake of simplicity, let's divide all the people I work with into two groups: the regulars and the non-regulars.
The regulars being those who show up to the gym like clockwork. If missing, their absence is quickly noticed by everyone else. They're fit, always have a smile on their face and have seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm.
It seems as though they've got it figured out.
The non-regulars are those who struggle to make it to the gym even once or twice a week. No matter how much they express their desire for consistency, they just can't seem to make it work for more than a few weeks.
And they often feel bad about it.
Some react by rationalizing. They avoid responsibility and blame evil outside forces that prevent them from exercising. Things are always "coming up." Their life is "crazy." When simply asked "Goodmorning, how's it going?" they respond simply with "Busy."
Some non-regulars simply lose interest and wonder off. Maybe they've regained a sense of contentment and are happy to resume their life of stillness. Perhaps this gym just wasn't for them. Maybe they'll look elsewhere for that sense of empowerment that regularity brings.
Well who am I to judge. As they say, different strokes...
Lastly, and most tragically, others look inward. They blame themselves feel a deep sense of shame. They look at the regulars with envy and are haunted by the question that plagues everyone that's ever felt like they're defective: "What's wrong with me?"
"How do you stay motivated?"
I've heard it so many times. And the truth is, I'm not always motivated to work out. In fact, rarely am I motivated to throw on my shoes to run or pick up a heavy barbell.
As I write this, it's 10am. I'm in my pajamas and drinking my third cup of coffee. My dog is snoring next to me--about as motivated to go running as I am.
I could easily sit here for the rest of the day and be perfectly happy about it. There's not a bone in my body that wants to get up and move. But I will.
Here are a couple things I've learned that I wish all of the non-regulars would remember.
It makes me feel good
Even when I don't have any motivation to get up and exercise, I trust it will still make me feel good and I will eventually be happy that I did it.
This is such an important point, because this is a universal experience that we can all relate to. Everyone understands the feeling of being reinvigorated by movement.
Yet so many people either forget that feeling or lose faith that it will return.
Motivational quotes are excuse pornography.
I seriously doubt any poster of a guy running in the forest captioned with "Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations" has compelled anyone to do anything they wouldn't otherwise have done.
Like porn, motivational quotes and images make you feel good for a moment without requiring much work. They give your brain a little dopamine hit and take the pain away for a second. So stop retweeting "Rise and Grind" pictures. They don't apply to you.
Get in touch with what's really behind your motivation.
Why do you really want to get in shape? What's really behind your desire to lose a few a few?
Such goals are all too familiar, yet few actually have a deep understanding of where they come from.
Somewhere deep down there's a personal and meaningful reason that's the source of your discontent. It's the furnace that will always stay warm when the spark of motivation flickers out.
Is it for your kids?
Is it to regain a sense of control?
For me, I want to be mobile and pain-free into old age. I want to have as many quality years on this planet as possible. And I don't want to live with the regret of not pushing myself to be my best.
You're going to die some day. How's that for a motivational quote?
Give yourself a break.
It takes time to build momentum to the point of habit. If you struggle getting into the gym once a week. Don't make four times per week your goal. You're not ready for that yet.
A little discipline never killed anyone.
If you're waiting for motivation to fill your sails, you're going to be sitting in the harbor for a while. So stop feeling disappointed because "you don't want to."
I rarely want to. For many "regulars" it's the same thing.
Sometimes, you've gotta put on your big-boy or big-girl pants, wipe the chocolate off your face, act like an adult and just deal with a little discomfort.
Here's the thing though. Discipline is a skill. And the more you practice it the better you get.
Did you enjoy brushing your teeth as a child? Do you still do it every day? Somewhere along the way you developed the disciple and the habit of oral hygiene, and now you don't have to try as hard. Just apply that same process to a new activity.
"But seriously, you picked a bad time of year to do this running thing."
I know. It's damn cold.
But I also knew my motivation level for running would be at an all time low in the middle of January. Which it was.
There were times where I seriously hated the whole #keepit137 challenge and regretted ever starting it. I mailed in most of my "runs" that month and mostly did the bare minimum 15-minutes.
But I still did it. Why? Because if I didn't I would look stupid to a whole lot of people, most of all myself.
I knew better than to rely on my own sense of motivation, and created a situation that would make it harder for me to abandon my habit and the promise I made to myself.
And to that end...it worked. The weather is getting warmer. I've signed up for a few races and am starting to feel it again.
Hopefully that feeling sticks around. But if not...that's okay. It won't change a thing.