Exercising can seem like an ordeal when you’re standing at the bottom of the Fitness Mountain, looking up towards the mist-shrouded summit where the scantily-clad skinny people frolic, casually sipping goji berry juice or whatever. Not only do you rarely know where to begin, but the climb seems so long and arduous that it can feel easier (and in the immediate term, more rewarding) to turn away, sit down in front of the TV and have a piece of cake to calm your frazzled nerves.
Before we start talking about means of motivation, I want to underline something:
Skinny people are not necessarily fit, just as larger people are not necessarily lazy and useless. There are plenty of very thin people who would collapse at the very first hint of exercise, just as there are people (like me) who still look overweight even though they can now run 6km without any walking breaks (yay!). Don’t get hung up on appearances and, more importantly, go see your doctor if you think your weight (whatever it may be) may affect your ability to start an exercise regime.
And so with that, on with the show:
Keeping Fit: 3 Ways to Motivate Yourself
1/ Work out what you want
In a lot of cases, short-term gratification is nothing more than a long-term problem in the making. You look at your gym clothes and you cringe at what you think it’ll feel like to walk onto that treadmill for the first time (or second, or third, it might take a while). I can guarantee you that 9 times out of 10, that feeling will not match reality and you’ll end up thrilled you got over your inhibitions and made the effort. In fact, you’ll find yourself wondering what all the fuss was about. But I know from experience that it’s not always that easy. Sometimes, our immediate “wants” get in the way (note that I didn’t say “need”, they are two very different things!!).
Cake… alcohol… TV… sweets…cheesy pasta (guilty)…
All those things that turn you into a four-year-old child who points and says “want!!”. Oh how we love them and love to love them… and hate to love them.
Before ditching your workout for a quick emotional “boost” of chocolate chip cookies, try to determine what is driving you to act. Is it the desire for the cookie itself or is it the feeling of slight rebelliousness that you’ve just stuck your tongue out at the whole idea of exercise? Is it the taste of chocolate and dough or is it that warm fuzzy feeling you get for about thirty seconds before the guilt sets in? Guilt which then lasts far longer than any comfort the cookie might have brought you in the first place… David Cain has a really interesting article on the subject called “What You Want is Never a Thing”. I strongly urge you to read it. He explains that most of the time, when we think we want something, what we are really looking for is a certain feeling. You will ask yourself: “do I want to feel good?” And the answer will be: “yes, of course” (if it’s not, then there’s probably nothing I can do for you here). Alright then… but now ask yourself this: “do I want to feel good in a lasting, non-damaging way that will also make me feel proud for hours, possibly even days?”
If your answer is yes, then you have it. Make that your priority, and stick to it. Train yourself to spot your unnecessary “wants” that arise during the day (it doesn’t have to do with avoiding exercise, it can be that tempting bag of sweets your colleague is passing round) and acknowledge them for what they are: a fleeting desire that could have negative consequences once the initial “high” has worn off.
Because cake will inevitably turn into more pounds on the scale. For an example unrelated to food, binge-shopping will result in less money in your bank account and eventually debt, if taken too far. So while long-term benefits can seem boring and out-of-reach for the part of you seeking immediate soothing and/or pleasure, gently remind yourself that making the effort to get up and exercise has both short- and long-term benefits that are ONLY positive. You might sweat and puff and go red in the face, but you will have every right to feel good about simply making the effort at all. No one can take that away from you. Ever.
2/ Learn to recognise your triggers
When you prepare yourself for any kind of exercise, try to determine what your “point of no return” might be. What is the moment when trying to reverse the situation and not exercise would actually cause you more annoyance (even short-term, here short-term is good!) than simply carrying through with what you were planning?
I have a couple:
- When I run, I have to take the keys for the door to my building and the front door of my flat off the main key ring I use. The two keys are on a little ring of their own that holds them together and means I can just slip them into my pocket. But actually getting that little ring off the bigger ring is a bit annoying. Sometimes it hurts my fingernails and the cheap metal makes my fingers smell. It’s tedious. So what do I do to make sure I go running? I take those keys right off. If they’re off, I have to put them back on again or I might lose them… and I don’t want to do that straight away, because it’s annoying. Besides, I took them off to go running, so I think I’ll go do that, and then I’ll put them back on the big key ring again. Later. When I’ve gone running.
- Putting my exercising gear on. Of course, buying gym clothes that make you feel confident is great, but as I’m sure you know, they don’t automatically guarantee that you’ll use them (although how much money you spent on them and how guilty you feel about spending it might). The first and most important step is of course taking your clothes off (oo-er). Now, I’m not telling you to exercise naked (although how you exercise is your own business of course) but rather to immediately ditch your normal clothes the moment you get home from work and are ready to exercise. Don’t think about it, just take ’em off. Then reach for your sports clothes. Put them on. Go one step further and do up the laces on your trainers. Stand up. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile. Now you have to exercise because it would be too stupid and annoying to have done all that only to change out of it all again and put your normal clothes back on. Wouldn’t it? YES! Now GO!!!
So as you start exercising, pay attention to your preparations. Find that one little thing that will almost guarantee that you can no longer back out. Don’t think about it, make it automatic. Take those keys off. Take those clothes off- I mean, put those clothes on. The sport ones. 😉
But what if your mind is still nagging at you with so many arguments against doing what you’re about to do? Learn to identify that as well. Don’t listen to your brain and don’t talk back. This exercise you’re about to do is not up for negotiation. It’s not a concept you can discuss or fret over or even think about, it’s just a thing. It will happen, and then it’ll be over and you’ll feel amazing. When you first sense the moaning tones of your mind going:
- Oh but it’s snowing outside, I can’t possibly drive to Zumba..
- What if I encounter a dog while running? What if it bites me? What if it then has to be put down? I couldn’t face that…
- What if I’m no good at it? Wouldn’t it be better to go browse Facebook and eat pie instead?
- Whinge, whinge, whinge…
No. Just no. You don’t know what will happen. I don’t know what will happen either, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be as bad as you think. And if it is kind of bad (like the very first time I did Zumba and forgot to bring water and had to run downstairs in front of everyone to buy some and then was generally terrible at the whole thing and made the teacher think I was having a heart-attack), just stick with it at least a few more times. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that.
The more you do a thing, the easier it gets. Plus there will always be people newer at it than you, once you’ve finished doing it for the first time (the best thing about starting something new: you’ll technically only be a complete beginner once). You can show them it’s possible too. But more importantly, you can show that voice in your mind. Show it and tell it to shut the hell up.
3/ Using statistics as motivation
I hate maths (I suffer crippling paralysis of the brain whenever I see fractions, much to my dear father’s despair) but I do like a good old statistic from time to time. Or lots of them. Especially when I’m the one in control of them and can keep them in one nifty place to be clicked on and admired later when I need a healthy dose of motivation.
Here is my workout log for the month of July 2014:
(please note that the 11.28km run on the 12th of July was actually mostly a brisk walk, with some running of laps at the top of a big hill… Map My Run doesn’t yet count Walk/Run as an activity, sadly)
I’m the first to admit it looks a little crazy… but it sure does make me smile! After all, I did burn over 9000 calories and cover a distance of almost two marathons. In fact, I might be smiling all the way to Christmas! Don’t mind if I do.
It was a deliberate choice on my part to include the 1,23km my colleague and I walk every day after lunch, because as I’ve discovered the distance does add up and so do the calories burned (around 100 per walk according to Map My Run). After all, not all exercise has to end with you liquefying into a puddle of sweat.
Now, I’m not saying do exactly what I did (especially if you’re a complete beginner)… I did it because I wanted to and because I decided that 4-5 days of mild exercise + 3 occasions of more strenuous exercise a week was what I needed to make up my “Perfect Month”. I spent the previous two months working up to what came to feel like a natural rythm. I soon became obsessed with achieving this “Perfect Month” and so even when my colleague went on holiday and I was faced with walking alone, I thought of the statistics… and I so I walked alone. It still made me feel good, and it also made me realise how nice it is to have someone to keep me company most of the time.
It also allowed me to monitor my progress in terms of running distance and to log my first race (20/7, the Colour Run). When I look at Gym (17/7), I’m reminded of how hot it was that day and how I decided to stay at home and do toning exercises, and ended up covered in dust and cat hair from the carpet. It was not pleasant, but I didn’t skip my workout and I discovered there are many more muscles in my body than I thought, all of which screamed at me for several days. I’m glad I kept going and tried something different. The epic 11.28km Walk/Run of 12/7 was done in Wuppertal, Germany, and was followed by a delicious brunch of brioche and Apfelschnecke (a delicious pastry filled with apple and shaped like a snail, in case you were wondering… not snails with apples). Whenever I look at it, I remember that I totally earned that ridiculous amount of sugar coursing through my veins.
So these delightful statistics also form a diary of sorts. Logging my workouts (no matter how small they may be) enhances the feeling of accomplishment and gives me something to look forward to. A couple of times, it was actually the only thing that convinced me to get off my ass and do what I’d committed to doing.
So while statistics aren’t everything and they won’t do the exercise for you, they’ll help you keep track of your progress and keep you feeling positive. It can be hard to see immediate results sometimes, but until the pounds start to properly melt away, using this kind of tool can really make a difference.
I hope that this post has brought you some inspiration – do feel free to share your stories and your motivation techniques in the comments!