People frequently say things like “I wish I had your motivation,” or “I don’t know how you keep motivated” as they are struggling with their efforts to get fit. While getting started is often the hardest part of leading a fitter lifestyle, staying motivated is the difference between getting the results you want and finding your way back into the old habits that led you to an unfit lifestyle to begin with. Finding focus is one thing; keeping focus is a completely different animal.
Many times a conversation with a doctor, or a long hard look in the mirror will spur the recognition that you need to do something different and will drive you to those first difficult steps of starting. But weeks later, you find that motivation has started to fade or drifted away, the conversation with you doctor “wasn’t that bad, was it?” As humans, we have a great capacity to forget or with time, dismiss things that were once impactful and noteworthy. And if you have been leading a lifestyle that is not resulting in the physical health and fitness that you desire, slipping back into those old habits and forgetting why you wanted to start in the first place can happen to any of us, especially as the challenge of pushing yourself gets harder, long unused muscles get sore, and results aren’t instantaneous.
How do I do it? How do I stay motivated? It has been a process to say the least. Now at 43, I have found the combination of focus and desire that keep me going. It wasn’t always this way. I too had many cycles of start and stop, and start again. It is difficult to start, it is even more difficult to start again because we realize how far we had gotten the last time we started, how much work we had invested and we let it all go; we have to do it all again. For me, in time, the gaps between exercising and eating healthy and not have gotten smaller. What once use to measure months (or years) between starting again is now measured in days off.
Dragging myself to the gym in pursuit of the almighty lower number on the scale did not offer me the pleasure, focus or motivation that would last a lifetime. As long as the scale was moving, I was happy and would continue. But we can’t lose weight forever, and as we get stronger and leaner, there is less to lose. When the number going down on the scale slowed down, so did my motivation. There were days when I would dread the smell of the gym, dread waiting for weights, or couldn’t bring myself to climb on that elliptical one more time.
“So what did you do,” you ask?
I found my focus in races. After much encouragement from friends, I ran my first 5K. It was hard, I was slow, and finished near the back of the pack. But I loved it. I felt such a sense of accomplishment, I loved being with the other runners, I loved feeling like a runner. That first race kicked off a cycle for me of setting short term goals, the goal of running my next event or race. It eventually led to longer term goals, thinking about races of long distances that would require more time to train for and thus kept me motivated. It gave me an identity. I was a runner.
Signing up for a race, knowing that the date is out there and that money has been spent on it, that my friends know about it, that there is some cool gear and a medal waiting at the end has been the difference for me. It could be the thing you need to help you stick with your program.
Perhaps running isn’t your thing. There are many types of events or activities that you can get involved in. Swimming, cycling, walking, running, hiking, triathlon. Perhaps you don’t know how to swim. That’s ok, learning to swim will give you focus. It will give you some short term goals (I will learn to swim better) and some long term goals (I will be able to swim half a mile without stopping).
Perhaps you have a bike. There are some great for charity rides that you can commit to doing. These rides often have multiple distances, so you can find one that challenges you but that you can still manage.
Maybe events aren’t your thing. That’s ok too. The key is to find something you truly enjoy doing. Getting results is great, and quick results that often happen after being sedentary for a long time can be motivational. But in time, if you don’t love what you are doing, you may find your motivation falling off when the number on the scale going down slows down. If you truly enjoy the activity you are doing, it could be the difference between sticking with your commitment to live healthier and finding yourself in the dreaded “start again” cycle. Doing something you love will help keep you focused through the plateaus that we all experience. Remember, it’s what we do MOST of the time that matters. Doing something because you enjoy it will keep you going back to that activity MOST of the time. Loving your activity or activities will bring consistency to your fitness journey.
Sign up for your race today. You won’t know how much you love it, until you TRI.