Does this sound familiar? You’re going along, being productive, getting things done, moving in the right direction, when, seemingly out of nowhere something is in your path and you’re suddenly searching for the energy within yourself and the time in your schedule to do accomplish the basics – eat a proper lunch, run a few miles.
It can really be anything: a particularly tough stretch of weather; an unexpected project at work; a subtle change in the family schedule; over-training…even sheep, I suppose. Motivation can drain out of you almost before you realize what’s happening. The lower it goes, the more difficult it becomes to build it back up again. I like to think of it like a campfire – once it’s going, it doesn’t take a lot of work to keep it going, just a small amount of maintenance. If it’s left to simply burn, without any attention, it will eventually just burn itself out, leaving you with the more difficult task of re-igniting the fire.
I know this because I’ve been in the position of having to re-ignite my own motivation before. And since I have just emerged from a month of some tough-to-get-through workouts, I find myself here again, stoking the embers of my motivational fire. So here are some things I have found helpful – maybe they can help you too!
Set a Goal
It’s easier to build motivation when there’s an ultimate goal to work toward. It doesn’t need to be monumental, it just needs to be a target you want to hit. Choosing a goal that is both realistic and achievable has been a good way to set myself up for success.
- Think about the Why
Be specific. If you think this through now, you’ll be better prepared to react when you inevitably face a challenge to your motivation down the road.
- Divide and conquer
Break your goal into bite-sized pieces. Trying to get from point A to point Z in a single step is overwhelming, and likely to push you closer to giving up than to success. But if you can define smaller, more manageable steps, you create a path for yourself.
Write it Down
Writing down your goal can provide an effective reminder to yourself that you’ve committed to something. Write it in your journal; write it on a post-it note and stick it on your desk; write it on the calendar on your fridge; post it on social media, if you’re so inclined. Any of these will help.
Make it Routine
When you’re feeling unmotivated about something, it’s easy to make an excuse (or 50) to avoid doing it. I once skipped a lunchtime run at work because I hadn’t remembered to bring an elastic for my (short) hair. True story.
By setting up your workouts or runs as appointments in your schedule, you commit to following through. Our family uses a shared, electronic family calendar, which makes it easy for everyone to see when I’m planning to focus on my fitness for an hour (or two). Because everyone expects it, and has made time for me, I’m held accountable to not waste the time.
Making it routine involves having or developing a strategy. In my experience, the only strategy that works is one that’s agile enough to change course quickly.
Have a Backup Plan
No matter how motivated you are, sometimes you have a lazy day. Or, more likely for me and every working mother I know, a really BUSY day. Your son forgot his homework so you give up your morning run to drop it off; something urgent comes up at work and your lunchtime workout window closes before your eyes.
It’s helpful to have some basic workout equipment at home – I don’t mean a home gym with a treadmill. I’m talking about a couple of dumbbells and a mat – maybe a stability ball or some exercise bands. This way, you can still get in some exercise after the kids go to bed or in the small pocket of time you found between picking up the kids and making dinner. No, it probably won’t be the workout you planned, but it’s better than nothing and it will help keep the motivation going.
Including more walks in my workdays has helped keep me focused on my fitness as a routine part of my day. I aim for 12,000 steps everyday. Sometimes I end up at 20,000 or 30,000, but most days I end up right around 10,000. With a 9-5 desk job, I can assure you that I have to go out of my way to get those steps.
Make it Fun
Try to set a goal that involves some fun – something you enjoy. Routine is great, but boredom will edge out your motivation if you let it. When my workouts start to feel monotonous I can usually shake that off with a new route or a new class at the gym.
I am all for appreciating the internal rewards. Try to appreciate those hard-earned, good-feeling endorphins, and give yourself an attagirl for getting it done.
Many of us are even more driven by the promise of external rewards. If that’s you, set some up and work towards them. For example, a dollar for every mile; a new workout outfit every month for sticking to the plan; new music or a new book on Audible as a reward for a specific number of miles; race medals, etc.
Stick with it
So you have a specific goal, you’ve written it down, and you have a plan for making it happen. All you have to do now is stick to it, right? Let me break it to you now: you’re going to lose motivation again. It’s going to happen. I know this because it happens to everyone. So what will you do when this happens?
First, being aware of your waning motivation can help you get things back on track more quickly – keep fanning those campfire flames. Second, don’t have a pity party. Think of other people you know who are pushing themselves forward in the face of other very real challenges – like serious illness of the loss of a family member. Once I’ve reminded myself that my motivational struggle pales in comparison to the struggles of others, I can usually pick myself up and move forward again.