Adrienne Herbert – a personal trainer, author and runner – explains why motivation isn’t sustainable and how to keep up working out even when your excitement burns out.
Motivation: we all need a dose of it to get through our workouts, right? It’s the thing that helps return to our exercise mats and push through that final rep. Without motivation, you’d never get anything done, would you?
Yet, how often do you actually wake up feeling super pumped to take on that 5k run in the rain, or bursting with excitement about the thought of your challenging strength workout? That’s why believing that you can only get things done when you feel ‘motivated’ is a mistake, according to director of innovation and performance at fitness app Fiit and author of the Power Hour, Adrienne Herbert.
“We think that we should always feel motivated when we do things because of the pace at which we all work and live – everyone feels a shared pressure to constantly be achieving,” she says. Except motivation is usually only something we feel at the very beginning of our fitness journey – it “stems from feeling excited about the motive”.
This is most clearest right at the start of your new goal, programme or workout routine. Yet, as you get further into your training, “the less sustainable that excitement is, and continuing things to completion is pretty hard,” says Adrienne, who’s also a member of the Strong Women Collective.
She compares motivation to that of a match: you strike it and it generates a huge flame very quickly, then slowly burns out. “If every five seconds you keep sparking a match to build a bonfire, you won’t get anywhere. Whereas if you light the match, then throw it on to the kindling and the wood, which is your effort and discipline, it will burn for way longer,” she says.
This isn’t about forcing yourself through grueling workouts which your body is way too tired for. Rather, it’s about understanding that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is the thing that you can’t be bothered to do.
“This might be not the most popular opinion, but I think that only doing what you want to do in the name of ‘self care’ is not a helpful message,” says Adrienne. She actually thinks that getting her trainers on and going for that run, despite lacking motivation, is the truest sign that she cares about her wellbeing, “because it means I’m being compassionate to my future self, as well as my present self. Thinking about the ultimate outcome, rather than your immediate desire, is always the better decision.”
Another way to look at it is by comparing your workouts to brushing your teeth. After a long day, you just want to collapse into bed and not worry about dental hygiene. Yet, you brush your teeth anyway. It’s because you don’t rely on excitement to do it, you just get it done out of a place of discipline and, yes, self care.
How to workout when you’ve lost your motivation
Exercise is different from brushing your teeth because it actually can be enjoyable. But if you’re seven weeks deep into your new year’s resolutions and the excitement for training has firmly worn off, how do you turn your lagging motivation into discipline, or that flame into a fire? Adrienne has two tips for finding ways to get to it when you don’t want to.
Writing it down is Adrienne’s first tip, as “visible accountability is really useful,” she says. A digital diary might work for you, but she prefers to get a pen and paper and – as she says it helps her to physically write down the task she’s setting herself. “If I then don’t do it, I can’t cross it off and it looms over me. But also, writing it down means it becomes part of my diary, scheduled in with my other essential appointments. I wouldn’t just not turn up to my son’s school quiz, so I’m very unlikely to not do the run that’s written next to that,” she says.
Add something to your workout
You might think that making your workout as straight forward as possible is the best way to convince yourself to get it done. But sometimes, more really is more. “You need to make the task or environment as stimulating as possible, whether that’s adding a great playlist to your circuit or calling a friend as you walk – it’s about layering things you can get excited about on top of the workout that’s maybe not so exciting,” says Adrienne.
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Images: Mikolaj Wawrzyniak
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).