Getting motivated to exercise when you just don't feel like it.
Updated: May 6
If you exercise regularly it's not just likely that some days you'll really struggle for motivation- it's inevitable! When you set your goals and commit to a new program it's typically all exciting and energizing. Possibilities for physical transformation await! Converse to that is the feeling that a workout is the last thing you want to be doing and getting started, let along doing something of decent quality, seems nigh on impossible. You find yourself overcome by dread and an ensuing procrastination. How you deal with that apathetic, listless state will go a long way to determining if you get the medium to long term physical performance or change you seek. There is no 1 strategy that works for everyone all the time, but here are a few different ideas around how to 'get it done' when it all just feels too hard.
*Focus on the short term payback.
People who exercise regularly at a moderate or greater intensity will tell you how reliable it is for boosting mood and energy levels. It's kind of counter intuitive but often to get energy you've got to expend some. Countless times I've felt my state transform markedly from sluggish and pessimistic to vibrant and positive from just 20 minutes of exercise. The payback is disproportionate too- from a 20 minute workout you'll more than likely be uplifted for a couple of hours. It does wonders for many different physical systems, as I described to someone recently- "It's like free drugs!" While such elevated feelings seem distant and way beyond reach when you're in that low motivation funk, with a bit of effort and persistence you can get there pretty quickly.
*Start/chunk it down
I've touched on this previously. Starting can often be the hardest part. Ultra-marathoner Pat Farmer when faced with the herculean task of training to run around Australia would often struggle to get going on arduous early morning runs. He'd simply tell himself to just put his shoes on, as anything beyond that was too daunting, then tell himself to walk to the front gate, then jog slowly to the end of the street and so on and so on, till eventually he found a rhythm and was on his way. Try just starting and then aim for something small, like just 2 minutes of exercise. You may just surprise yourself with a great workout.
*Use what you can to get going
Use music, as it definitely helps with exercise motivation and performance as this article highlights (although I'm not sure you need to get as precise or specific as that article suggests!). Caffeine can also of course lift you, although there are mixed views on the health benefits and individual sensitivity to the stimulating effects. Consider current consumption levels and how it fits within the context of your overall diet, lifestyle and health issues. Another freely available option is to use your imagination and mind. I saw 15 time Australia's Strongest Man, Derek Boyer motivate a former soldier to get through a Strongman style training session by getting him to imagine the fate of a dozen people depended on him lifting a very heavy stone multiple times. That may seem a bit extreme if you're exercising for health or recreation but you get the idea- the power of the mind and imagination can take you a long way! Trick yourself, fool yourself, try things.
*Consider if your exercise routine is too logistically difficult and inaccessible I must admit I can't accurately recall if this is a point from 'Nudge' or 'Think Small' or something which is common through both books, which are essentially about behavioural change and both co-authored by Richard Thaler. Anyway, the point is that to an extent we are fairly lazy and if things aren't accessible or straight forward we tend to not do them. Imagine there are chocolates on a table next to the lounge as you watch TV, as opposed to the nearest available chocolate being a 3km drive away and it's cold outside so you'll need several layers of clothes for the walk to the car and from car to the shop. Clearly you're way more likely to eat the chocolate within arm’s reach on the table. In the same vein, if doing a workout entails many steps- such as getting out special equipment and clothes and a long or multi-faceted journey it's likely going to be too much to bear if you're feeling flat. Think of ways of making your exercise easy to begin. This could be why so many people find regular local walks a sustainable habit, as there's no elaborate process of setting up.
*Modify it? Skip it?
There are a few factors here. If motivation is low due to fatigue there is wisdom in modifying or even skipping a workout. High intensity or long duration exercise most certainly puts further strain on the immune system and trying to battle through under fatigue can run you down and result in illness. Give some thought to the degree of your underlying fatigue and the wisdom of doing the planned workout. If you notice a real lethargy and/or sore throat and heavy eyes, it's probably an indicator you're already on the cusp of sickness and aborting the exercise session might be best. Perhaps you are a little depressed, in which case exercise may well be useful. Going easy on yourself and easing off on the difficulty level could be smartest and most effective though. Primarily self-awareness is the key with this. Monitoring your body's function and noticing how your body usually feels at particular times of the day and when faced with the prospect of a workout, all helps to develop a sense for this. It can get tricky to know when, but simply pushing through if you know you're actually fine from a health or fatigue perspective, is great for building the habit and developing the understanding of and belief in, getting through the flatness.
* Is it just too hard, long or unenjoyable?
If you're sluggish pre-workout regularly it might be because it's simply too hard or long or unenjoyable. It's got to be appropriate for your current fitness and drive levels. If you have to consistently summon great reserves of will power to face up to workouts I'd suggest something is awry. Similarly hating the type of exercise or the training environment isn't conducive to a sustainable routine either. You want to make it as practically repeatable as possible, as primarily it's about establishing a habit rather than performing incredible physical feats. Find ways of making it fun and moderate.
* Remember it's worth it- reflect on the bigger reason you're doing this.
I can't imagine a bride looking fantastic on her wedding day having lost 5kg in 6 months regretting the hard work she'd put in at the gym. Take a moment to fully consider the end goal - the why. Focus on the feeling that's likely once you've achieved that goal, and what it will mean to you and your life. It could be the ability to be around for your children for a long time, or be physically able to play with them for several years to come. It could be that feeling of confidence that comes with being more comfortable in your body in a particular setting or context. Whatever the feeling is, it can drive you and inevitably it's what makes pushing through on the days when you just don't feel like it, more than worthwhile. Struggling to get going with exercise? Why not GET IN TOUCH if you'd like to find out about the possibility of me training or putting together a program for you.
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