A friend recently asked me how I find the drive, discipline, and motivation to work out, because—let’s be honest—it can be REALLY hard sometimes. I have four(ish) main strategies/components that help me.
- Big-picture, long-term thinking: This one is extremely personal and will not apply to most people. The truth is that I am not at all good at running consistently, and I frequently see fits and starts throughout the year. I don’t have an addictive personality, I don’t have reliable self-discipline, and I do believe strongly that fitness should be enjoyable and I should rest when it’s not. So there are A LOT of rest days.
However, I do know there is a very strong correlation between my bouts of depression and long periods without exercise. This knowledge keeps me jumping back on the bandwagon every week. I don’t get the runner’s high to keep me going. Regular exercise brings my daily moods up to normal. I don’t receive positive reinforcement of feeling great . . . just feeling well enough to function.
I get up and go so I can keep going on.
- Timing: Personally, I have to commit to working out in the morning because I will always be too tired and hungry after work, and I will always be drained from evening rush hour traffic. Sometimes this means I set an early alarm and grumble in bed for an hour before getting out the door; sometimes it means I'll jump right out of bed at 5 AM to run and then sleep another hour after my shower and before work.
This makes me more mindful of my sleep, which also improves health and performance. I make responsible choices more frequently when I ask myself how much I’m gonna hate life the next morning and how many days a single late night is going to make me miss working out as I spend nearly a week recovering from feeling time-lagged.
Find a time that you like and just do it. If that means 10 jumping jacks, pushups, squats, or burpees every time you get up to go to the bathroom, just do it. Every little bit counts.
- Accountability: First, a story. Life happens. In this case, I spent every free minute last week preparing for a weekend camping trip AND had two migraines that week. I walked a lot over the weekend but could not train. It took two more days to rest and recover from heavy drinking, camping with 800 hundred strangers, the elements, and the minimal comfort of an army cot. I think the primary reason I managed to run Wednesday morning is because I mentioned to a friend the night before that I would try to.
When I have a feeling the next morning will be tough, I don’t hesitate to make a Facebook post asking for some encouragement. Friends are always happy to tell me to kick some ass. It doesn't always work, but when you have someone who will later ask “how did it go?” and you don’t want to say, “Well . . . I didn’t go,” it can be VERY motivating.
3a. Community: Joining a fitness forum where people have similar goals and cheer one another on can also be hugely motivating. Even if you’re much weaker than all the rest, they’ll remind you that everybody started where you were. No one runs a marathon on a mere whim.
Some groups focus heavily on diet and weight loss or strict discipline and elit performance, and that doesn’t work for everyone. Lots of groups have a different focus and vibe, and there’s at least one out there for everyone. I’m active in at least 5 Facebook fitness groups and also connect with friends via the Fitbit app and challenges. Everyone is very encouraging and supportive, and connecting with a community can turn self-discipline and accountability from drudgery to enjoyment.
- Goal setting (or accountability, part 3b): I only started running because some friends pressured me into signing up for a 10k race in 2010. Being my first-ever race, I had to train for it. I continue to register for fun and difficult races often so I feel compelled to get out and train. I don't motivate myself well without an event to train for. Last year I did over 30 events including virtual runs, and this year I’ll do about 20, not including social running events.
Sure, I can easily walk a 5k if I must, but failing to train for anything longer makes for a painful event. I may not train to win or compete, but I train to finish strong. I’ve undertrained for a few races and cried across the finish line, but that’s far from ideal. I’m not likely to just skip a race if I didn’t get around to training, because these events are so expensive and I want my stupid fucking race shirt. So I train.
What works for you?