Motivation, and Five Ways To Get It

 

There are so many times I hear people say, “I’m too busy to run!” “I’m too tired to work out!” “Seriously, my day/work/job has been exhausting.” Hell, sometimes I hear it from myself, and sometimes it’s true.

But usually, it isn’t.

There are tons of people out there who work exhausting, grueling days – 10 hours, 12 hours, tiring exhausting work – and still stop at the gym on the way home, or go for a run at night.

“But my gym isn’t open late!” “I can’t run here at night, it’s unsafe.” “But I’m so tired.”

These are excuses.

There are plenty of workouts you can do in the safety and privacy of your own home (You Are Your Own Gym); some of them only take 12 minutes (BodyRock). Many gyms are open late; many neighborhoods are safe.

It’s really up to you.

Trust me, I understand. I have a very broken body, and I work 12-hour days when I’m not going to grad school: I understand busy schedules and limited energy.

Here are some of the ways I can get myself going when I need to.

  1. Just go. Don’t give yourself the choice. Tell yourself you have to do it. Yes, this makes a workout feel like a chore rather than a prize – but it can get you out the door.
  2. Compromise with yourself. Sometimes when I’m exhausted and supposed to run 6 miles, I’ll make a mental compromise: If I go out and I still feel horrible, I’ll just do an easy 3. If I feel okay, I’ll do all 6. More times than not, I feel great once I’m actually out there, and I’ll do the whole run. But I’m also careful to listen to my body — if it does feel horrible, I cut it short, enjoy the fact that I did something, and make sure to rest.
  3. Treasure your rest days. This goes with the above — make sure you take a note of your rest days. Pay attention. Notice how you feel after them. Don’t fill them up with workout-y stuff and pretend they still count as a rest day just because you’re not doing a run. The more you can specifically let your body rest, the more likely you are to have those needed reserves of energy on days you want.
  4. Don’t be a loner. If you’re having trouble motivating yourself, don’t do it by yourself! Join some kind of social fitness network (MyFitnessPal, Fitocracy, forums at NROL4W, etc etc...), or use your Facebook / Twitter / etc to keep yourself honest and motivated. Do a challenge with a friend, or let your coworkers shame you into that late night pushup routine — whatever works for you.
  5. Understand yourself. If you really are tired, and you do skip a night, appreciate that – and come back harder the next day. If you get down on yourself for skipping one night, that feeling will just suck away all of your energy, and you’ll end up missing a week… or more. Allow yourself to really enjoy the night off, and then use that rest to hit it extra hard the next day.

 

 

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Let’s Talk About: Health, Pain, and Stress

Often when I see other people healthblogging, they talk a lot about their workouts: how long they ran, how much they lifted, how far they rode. What we do is an important part of any workout: it’s a metric we can use to judge results, to explore improvement. The workout itself seems like the core focus: do the workout, improve yourself. Complete the workout, challenge yourself. Through a system of workouts, get better, beat your PR. Work out –> get healthy.

This is true. But health is a holistic thing: it involves a lot more than lifting a barbell or running a mile. And if you’re really interested in health, there are factors other than your actual workouts that are going to come into play as these things settle into your life. I want to talk about two of them today: pain and stress.

The reason I want to talk about them personally is because they’ve been on my mind recently, maybe more than my actual workouts. I have a difficult time dealing with both, and so I think it’s time for me to get my thoughts out there. A lot of bloggers throw around the words listen to your body – but what does that mean? How do you learn to speak your body’s language, and how do you learn what’s a warning sign and what isn’t?

Pain
Pain is part of life, part of having a body – but it’s especially a part of working out. We work until we are in pain, because then we feel like we have pushed the hardest; it’s in healing us from that pain that our body improves. We lift weights until failure, until our muscles burn and ache and we can’t walk or lift our arms for two days afterwards; we run long and slow for hours until we’re pushing the limits of endurance, until our feet feel blistered and our ankles and knees feel like stones and our lungs are gasping. And then we take a rest day, and we do it again, and eventually 7 miles feels like 5, and 60lb feels like 35lb, and suddenly we’re better than we were before.

The pain that I want to talk about isn’t the good ache of a challenging workout. It’s the sharp ache of an injury, or the lingering ache of a strain, or the recurring pain you get during that first two miles.

Here’s the thing: if you let pain talk you out of a workout, you’ll never work out consistently. Or, I wouldn’t, anyway – I’m constantly in pain, somewhere. On a good day I’m hovering at a 2-3 on the pain scale (of 10). If I waited until my body was 100% to do a workout, I would never do a workout. Ever. My question is: how do you tell when you’re just using pain as an excuse to skip a workout, because you’re lazy or tired, and when your pain is a message you should listen to and take an extra rest day?

I’ve tried both methods. When I was training for my half marathon, nothing got in the way of my training plan. As long as I could move, I would still run. Sore ankle? Still running. Back hurts? Still running. Got the flu? If I can breathe, I’m still running. Might be a stress fracture? Run on it anyway. I did well at the half, but then I had to take almost an entire month off to heal up overall; I had to start training for another race afterwards, but after that race, I had to take off a long period of time. And what I remember most about those months of training for the half was just hating running. I was tired, I hurt, I didn’t like doing tempo runs because they were hard and triggered my asthma, I didn’t like doing long runs because they took up so much time and triggered my asthma, I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was agony. But on the positive side, I showed that I could stick with a plan through anything, and I also showed myself that plans work, consistency works: I got so much out of that dedication when I raced that year. I was better than I ever thought I could be.

But I’ve also tried the other side of it. After both my big races were done that year I knew I needed a break, so I decided that I would start erring on the side of a rest day: if I felt like I needed the break, physically or mentally, I took the break. If I didn’t feel like running, I didn’t run. If I didn’t feel like lifting, I stayed home. If something hurt, I’d try to take care of it with ice and heat and rest. And over the course of that, I lost almost all of my fitness, and gained 10 pounds. I’m not trying to say that heavy/fat = unhealthy here — but what happened for me was that I took the concept of a break or a rest day and used it as an out, a reason to just do nothing.

It’s something I’m struggling with now as I face the races I’ve already committed to and this awful thing in my neck/shoulders that won’t stop stabbing me. Do I take it easy, but then lose what I’ve gained? Or do I work through it – as carefully as I can – even though it makes the pain stay? Some pain is a message from your body saying I’m making you stronger; some is a message from your body saying cut that the hell out. I’m listening, but my body isn’t telling me what it wants me to do for it.

There has to be a place that’s healthy. Or healthier than either of the two extremes.

Stress
Stress is a part of life, too. Nobody gets a free ride. We have to work a job, to make money; we have to feed ourselves, and keep our homes, and care for ourselves – and others – too. Adding a workout plan into a life that’s already busy – work, school, chores, social life, etc – can fill up time, real quick. If working out is supposed to be so healthy, why does making that 7:00pm trip to the gym add so much stress, take so much effort?

When you’re stressed out, it can be that much harder to find the time, the willpower, the motivation to work out. Yes, we’ve all heard about endorphins and cortisol and how physical activity can relieve stress and combat those horrible hormones — but that doesn’t mean much when you left the house at 7:00am and worked all day and it’s now 6:30pm and you haven’t eaten dinner and you really, really, really don’t want to go run that 5 miles. Or is that just me? I don’t think, I’ll feel so much better after that run! I think, oh god, I don’t have the energy to do that.

It’s another thing I’m struggling with right now. My job has been more stressful than ever since January, and although it’s finally starting to come back under my control – now, in August – a lot of the damage has already been done. My dentist is pretty sure I’ve given myself TMJ because I’m so stressed out I clench my jaw during the day and gring my teeth in my sleep: I’m going to need a night guard. My doctor is pretty sure that I’ve triggered this pinched nerve in my neck through a combination of overworking it (lifting heavy weights) and stress – hunching my shoulders, carrying knots in my neck and back, and sitting at the computer: I’m going to need physical therapy. I’ve done a lot of damage to my body in the last six months, carrying all of this stress.

And it makes it harder to work out, not easier. I’m exhausted and stressed and all I want to do is relax. Maybe part of it is that I haven’t yet found a workout – or training plan – that I enjoy, but the last thing I want to do is go run 5 – or 7 – or 3 – miles. I want to sit on my couch covered in cats and do nothing. So is it healthier to give myself that break, or to make myself run? Where’s the balance between relaxation-time and workout-time?

 

Being healthy isn’t just about what you do and what you eat. It’s about how you live.

The Line of Hypocrisy

Sometimes this whole health thing feels like I’m walking a thin line through a grey area.

I have these great goals – calories, macronutrient ratios, protein target, daily workouts – but they’re just goals, just words, just arbitrary numbers in a black hole, unless I make them actions and choices and targets. It takes motivation and commitment.

But then again, I don’t want to be that person who can’t go out for drinks after work. I like drinks.

The whole reason I started this blog here was to track a month or two of actual serious, dedicated effort, to see how much of a difference it actually makes. But because of that, every day I don’t do something feels like a wasted chance.

Do I want a month of seeing what it feels like to go 150%? Or do I want a month of a system I can actually maintain as a lifestyle?

And on the third (? Fourth?) hand… How can I go on and on about being healthy and “listen to your body” and then get mad at my body when it wants a rest day?

Health isn’t just physical. There’s mental pressure and stress that comes with this kind of thing – because health isn’t easy – and there has to be a balance, between the health gains you get by doing certain things and the energy you spend to get there.

THIS SHIT IS HARD AND IT SUCKS

What keeps you motivated? Are you a strict life-plan type or a more general lifestyle person?