I’ve witnessed it more times than I can count. I’ve seen countless new clients lose that buoyant youthful step as they move through week after week of programming. Their heads droop just a little, their water bottles have become worn and ever so slightly musty, their once festive spandex are now sweat stained, and their social media friends have moved from supportive to annoyed. It is the process of time and familiarity that makes victims of us all. The weight that once “just fell off” is a bit more resilient, the bones and muscles are painful from overload and stress, and even the excitement of instagrammable health food has lost its appeal.
As odd as it sounds, this is the moment I look forward to as a trainer. This is where the honeymoon ends and the real relationship can begin. Inevitably along the way a client will drag themselves in, flop down on the nearest chair and confess that they are tired, bored, defeated, angry…. They know they should, but they just don’t have the time, energy, opportunity, ability, confidence to…. fill out a food journal, workout on their own, go grocery shopping, stretch, walk…you get the idea. That’s when it comes out. That’s when I hear any variation of phrase “I’ve just lost all my motivation!” As if it was a pot of gold to be hoarded, or a thing to be held. They look up at me waiting for a magical solution, a remedy, a meme that is going to reignite that once hopeful feeling that they once had. With all the wisdom I can muster, I just say, “GOOD!”
Before you stop reading this entirely to go scroll Facebook for a better quote than “good”, allow me to address the topic of motivation. Without exception, there is a phase in every new season of life that leaves us feeling refreshed. It is the solution to a problem, it is movement in a positive direction, or it is a new, hopeful relationship. As time goes by, emotions give way to reality. and in our weaker moments they can leave us questioning, even regretting, those once positive feelings. When you begin to work out for the first time, those first few months are a bit of a joy ride through instant gratification. Your body is changing rapidly. If you had no previous exercise experience, you are now doing things perhaps for the first time you never thought possible. It feels like everything is right with the world and at long last your life is going to change. Then, as it always does, life gets complicated. Something happens with your job or your family, something changes… or perhaps nothing changes. Perhaps it’s been weeks or months since you have seen any encouraging results from your workouts. Your health may have become less of a priority, your body isn’t changing quite so fast, the adrenaline is spent, and the routine begins. I am prepared when clients fall off the cliff of motivated feelings because I know that it is where the real growth begins. As a trainer, this is where I get to meet people in reality and call them to seriously think about what it is they are hoping to get from working out. Like a job you love, like a marriage, like anything good that becomes part of the everyday experience it is important that you are intentional about how you continue working on and evolving with that relationship. So now that you know that, know this; this is only one of many, many cycles of funk you will experience. Have hope, each one you work through will only reinforce your resolve to continue, grow, and press toward the real reason you started in the first place.
GET OUT OF TOUCH WITH YOUR FEELINGS AND DO THE JOB
I’m going to say this as gently as possible; your life is not a commercial for Gatorade. You are not always going to “kill it”, you are not always going to feel strong, or crush goals, or sweat sparkles. No matter how many times you play Thunderstruck in your car before you go to the gym, you may still want to drive around the parking lot 10 times before deciding to go in. Social media is a toxic salve to this wound and when comparison gets thrown into an already defeated environment, it is an almost certain guarantee of quitting. Please understand, I am all about getting Jazzed up for a workout, but to expect that feeling to keep me going is a house of cards. If you only went to your job or worked when you felt “motivated”, I’m going bet you’d only go once in a while… if ever. Nothing worthwhile would be accomplished and eventually you’d just quit going altogether because it was a fruitless waste of time. Instead, you go to work whether you feel like it or not because it is in your best interests to do so. You have a plan, you have a schedule, and you set and meet goals because if you didn’t then what the heck are you accomplishing?! There are seasons we are excited about when it comes to fitness and there are seasons where it is just our job. Yet so many times we treat our health like a hobby. We participate only when we feel motivated or have some “extra time”. When it becomes inconvenient, we get discouraged and look for a way out, an excuse, or a reason to quit. Recognize that this is a job. It demands discipline and routine regardless of your emotional state. In the case that you have allowed your health to decline and your weight to incline, then it is a job that will demand priority. You will need to set a plan, schedule and goal around it if you want to accomplish anything.
GET IN TOUCH WITH REALITY AND HAVE A ROUTINE
Frequently, there is a disconnect between what we want and the time required to fulfill that want. Take a good hard look at the structure of your current lifestyle and take stock of the situation as it really is.
How much time do you sleep?
How much time do you really need for work including commutes?
How much time will you need for your family?
How much time and how many days per week are you able to workout?
How much time do you spend making, shopping for or waiting for food?
There are non-negotiables and there are things you can do to create margin for working out and planning how you will eat. Determine what is a non-negotiable. Determine where you can make changes and then execute the plan. Recognize that your health is your JOB and it requires all the attention you would give any job. You have to establish a routine that is not contingent on how you feel or disrupted by whatever distraction is calling your name. Routine is your friend when your fair weather feelings abandon you. Look at the reality of the demands on your time and consider the priority level your health needs to take. Plan ahead. Work the plan.
GET BACK UP, AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN…
Proverbs 24:16 says “a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” After years in the health and fitness industry and even more as an athlete and workout enthusiast, I can tell you I have been through my share of funks. I have failed, I have been wrong, I have been bored, I have both given and taken bad advice and l’m still here. Every season of stagnation is an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of what really motivates you. Keep going. Keep trying. Keep pushing. The reason you began may not be the reason you continue, so constantly be in touch with your purpose for working out. Most of the time, it comes down to the simple fact that life is better, and longer and fuller when you take care of the one body you have. Fitness is a long term relationship. It doesn’t end until you do. That’s right… death is the only excuse I will accept for quitting. If you think fitting into your old jeans or showing up hot to some reunion will mean lifelong happiness and the end of your fitness journey, for you there will be numerous disappointments ahead. You have to keep changing and growing your goals as your body and life changes. Adapting to stress, injury, vacations, holidays, family and jobs is all normal and by no means a reason to feel discouraged. You have to keep pressing forward. You have to take another step and then another. Yes there have been days when I did doughnuts in the gym parking lot and then drove home and ate an entire bag of Doritos…those days happen. The next day I’d get back up and go at it again. I’d try a new class, drag a friend along, re-structure my diet, whatever it took to keep me actively engaged in my own health.
Have you hit your first funk? Or maybe your fifth? Good. Now the real work begins, and with the work, the real reward begins. It may not be in beach body you were fantasizing about, or the clothes you’d thought you’d squeeze into, or the attention you wanted, but it will be in the person you become, the strength you find, and the life you live. Keep going. It only gets better.