It’s hard to do what we promised ourselves we would do when we’re not feeling motivated.
The reason we see such an influx of people heading to the gym in January is because the new year gives us an excuse to “start over”. But this can’t be the only reason. That’s why we only see about 20% of these people sticking around in February.
“I wish I looked like that”
“If only I could do what she can”
“His lift is cleaner than mine”
We find our motivation in what others can do or look like. Instead we should be saying:
“I want to be healthy”
“I want to live longer and feel better doing it”
“I want to know a lot more”
“I want to improve my technique”
These are powerfully motivating because they are personal truths. We can more easily work through these real truths and start forming small habits that will help us reach these goals.
But it takes time.
Fitness is a marathon, not a sprint. But we feel demotivated if we don’t see results straight away.
Think of it like this. Think of your earliest memory. Now think of everything that’s happened between then and now. Remember dreading daytime naps? The agony of waking up before your friend when you’d sleep over? Remember making eye contact with your first crush? Your first kiss? Walking into your first job interview? It’s taken all that time to get to where you are right now. It’s going to take longer than one month to see decent results.
We cling to unrealistic expectations because we want results, and we want them yesterday.
We see “Be a fitter and healthier you in 10 weeks” and read “Lose all of your belly fat & look like a body builder in only 10 weeks!”. These programs can be great if you see it for what it is. You won’t look like the person who created the program by the end of it; these people have been training for years, if not their entire adult life. But you will be healthier, fitter, happier, if you set realistic expectations and work with the program to start forming healthy habits.
And stop making excuses.
We’re going to take a moment to meet a few people.
I’m too old
Ernestine Shepherd greets the day every morning with a run, is at the gym by 7:30am, and benches 115Ib (or 52kg). She’s 82. She was 56 when she started her fitness journey.
Her words: Age is nothing but a number.
I have no time
Mark Zuckerberg is co-founder and CEO of Facebook. An incredibly busy guy.
I make sure I work out at least three times a week — usually first thing when I wake up. I also try to take my dog running whenever I can, which has the added bonus of being hilarious because that’s basically like seeing a mop run.
-Mark Zuckerberg (CEO, Facebook)
He’s not alone. A lot of high profile executives find (or make) the time to exercise. Tim Cook (CEO, Apple) fits an early gym session in several days a week and takes pride in his Apple Watch (no surprises here!) step count. Elon Musk (co-founder & CEO Tesla; founder & CEO SpaceX; co-founder & CEO Neuralink, co-founder PayPal) hits cardio once or twice a week.
There are so many ways to stay fit and healthy. Get up earlier and start the day with a run. Hit the gym in your lunch break. Grab the kids and go for a hike every weekend. No matter your situation, you can find 30 minutes for you.
But I have an injury
Anywhere you look, you’ll find an incredibly inspiring story. Read some of these biographies. We’ll just leave this here because this is a no brainer.
Stop focusing on what you can’t do and start focusing on what you can.
. . . some other excuse
You get the idea.
There aren’t many legitimate reasons why you can’t be fit and healthy.
All it takes is: No excuses. Realistic expectations. Healthy habits.
Healthy habits are the stepping stones to reaching your goals.
Your body is wired to resist change, or maintain homeostasis. Like a spring, your body will bounce back to what it’s used to doing if you only give it the occasional nudge. Nudge more often and your body will start staying there. There are a bunch of hormones that give your nudge real power, but we’ll focus on the main one for motivation: dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter - a chemical in the brain that moves information between the brain and the body by passing across gaps (or synapses) between brain cells (or neurons). Dopamine helps us draw connections between reward and action. It helps us feel euphoria, bliss, motivation and concentration. Both good and bad, dopamine helps with reaching goals but can also push addictive behaviours.
Dopamine is released when you’re anticipating pleasure. Like thinking about how good a coffee and some cheesecake would be. It’s responsible for associating reward with something. Like sex, chocolate, achievement. It feels good. So you’ll keep seeking out those activities.
It’s an upward (or downward, depending on what you’re doing…) spiral. Every time you do something that makes you feel good, it makes you want to do it more. Your brain adapts and dopamine stops having the same effect as it originally did; the more you do it, the more you’ll need to do it to feel the same pleasure from it.
Ever wondered why something’s so exciting when you’re chasing it, but when you get it, you lose interest?
Like those people dropping out of the gym in February. The idea was more exciting than the actual work.
Dopamine isn’t bad. It’s responsible for falling in love, getting excited, feeling motivated. But it needs balance. Too much, or too little, can lead to addiction or behavioural disorders. It can also lead to bad habits if you seek out activities that don’t help you.
Like eating that cheesecake.
It tastes so so so good. So you’ll keep wanting more. The more you eat, the harder it is to resist next time. And all of a sudden, you’ve formed a bad eating habit.
Form a strategy with the right stepping stones to your goals. Reward your brain. Make it fun and interesting.
It takes 2 minutes every day to start making good habits. Commit to 2 minutes of change and before you know it, you’ll be building your next stepping stone. Treat yourself and you’ll trigger the dopamine reward that will help push you there.
5 steps to stay motivated:
- Make sure you have realistic expectations: be patient and set yourself up for success by understanding the process and that it will take time.
- Focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t: stop making excuses and focus your efforts on what you can do. Prime your brain the right way.
- Create good habits by committing to 2 minutes of change a day: the compounding effect of habits means that 2 minutes of small attainable change every day will result in a drastic change in a year’s time.
- Keep your goals fun and interesting by adding something different: adding new things and keeping it interesting boosts those feel good hormones, which will really help you stay motivated.
- Set weekly or fortnightly attainable goals: breaking large goals into smaller pieces creates a series of accomplishments that really boost those feel good hormones. Just make sure you set each new goal before you finish the last one, so that you don’t end up in post-accomplishment limbo.