Article Request Series: How to Stay Motivated When Life Gets in the Way


Motivation as an emotion fades for everyone – everyone, at some point in their training career, therefore motivation must come in the form of strong reason why you’re doing this in the first place

Think of all the people with amazing intentions at the beginning of the year, it’s January, it’s a new year, and the motivation for change is at an all time high. A large number of those people will actually take action, buy new workout clothes, get a book on nutrition, sign up at the gym and for a few weeks to two months they will actually go! If you’ve ever been in a gym in January you can attest to all the new faces and the long waits for equipment, but, around mid February, the gym floor goes quiet, and you’re once again left with the same familiar faces week in and week out all the way to December 31st. So what separates these familiar faces from the ones who dropped out in mid February? Do they have less responsibilities, no kids, and an easy job that doesn’t have weird hours or mentally taxes them? Maybe, but probably not. What about those people who were there in January and into February? Were those months inherently less busy than the other 10 months of the year? Did life conveniently take a cease fire on all schedule crisis during those months? Maybe, but also probably not.

The biggest difference between those that make it day in and day out and those who start strong but quickly fade is usually the strength of their reason why they’re there in the first place. The second biggest difference is that they turned goals into habits, which are much less dependent on motivation to complete.

You should have goals, you should have specific goals, and they should mean something to you – that last part can’t be stressed enough. For me personally, I used to be motivated by chasing records, pushing my potential as far as it could possibly be stretched, and always competing against my former self. Now, 2 years ago two separate doctors told me I would never powerlift again, and fuck that, no one tells me I won’t be able to do something, I’ll show you – thanks for the motivation! These are the things that keep me going on days where everything hurts, I’m being a little bitch, and I want to make excuses as to why I can’t train that day. Your reasons should be different, but they’d better mean something to you. If you want to lose 20lbs of fat, why? What would be different? how do you view yourself now, and how would that change if you were to accomplish and maintain your fat loss goal?

Now that you’ve got your goal, and your reason why, write it down in detail as a note to yourself. Sounds cheesy? Fuck it, it probably is, but do it anyways. Tell yourself what drives you, why it really matters, and what it would mean to you to accomplish it. Now that you’ve got it put it somewhere you’ll see everyday; I personally recommend the bathroom mirror or taped to the side of the bedside table so you can’t cover it with other shit and forget about it. Read it when you need to, chances are you’ll stop reading it fairly quickly, but every time you see it you’ll be reminded why you’re doing this in first place. The plain fact of the matter is that you have time for what you deem important, and your schedule tells no lies. If you watch 5-6 hours per week of netflix or any type of non productive screen time, you had enough time to accomplish your fitness goals. What you’re actually saying if you choose netflix over fitness is that it’s more important to you, and you have a stronger reason to watch TV than to train, and you know what, that’s ok! BUT, DON’T TELL ANYONE THE REASON YOU COULDN’T ACCOMPLISH YOUR GOALS WAS BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME! You’re making barriers that don’t exist.

Now the second part is to turn that initial motivation into habits you can keep. So you’re motivated to lose 20lbs of fat and you’ve got strong reasons why, now what is it going to take to lose that? Depends on where you start and how much you have to lose, but science seems to point towards 5-6 hours per week of planned exercise and changes to your nutrition, and possibly lifestyle changes as well. So instead of trying to change everything at once, start with one habit, for instance, make it a goal to get into the gym 4x this week. Keep plugging away at this goal until you get in consistently for at least two weeks in a row, this is your only goal! Don’t worry if you fail, just keep trying until you nail it. Now on to the next habit. You probably don’t eat enough vegetables, so lets start there, try to eat at least a handful of veggies with every meal and eat them first. Got it two weeks in a row? Awesome, onto the next one. Maybe you drink too much juice, pop, beer, or wine, so the next goal is to drink water only for the next two weeks. Repeat these habit goals and the goals will accomplish themselves.

The cool thing about developing habits is that one at a time, you develop the skills to keep them. Say for instance you struggle with the first habit of making it to the gym 4x per week, perhaps you always struggle with finding the energy to go back to the gym after you come home and eat dinner, so you realize that you need to pack a protein shake in your car so you can hit the gym on the way home. You get to develop your own personal strategies that help you overcome your barriers one habit at a time, and once those barriers are defeated, and habits are formed, they require much less active mental attention and motivation to get them done, it’s not much different than how you made brushing your teeth a part of your routine.

One thing I’ll touch on is developing a good relationship with your ability to move and exercise. It’s easy to view hard physical work as punishment or dread some of the feelings of pushing yourself (muscle burn, nausea, fatigue etc.) but ask someone who’s had that ability taken away from them how much they miss the ability to move and be in control of their own physical destiny, and how hard it is for them to sit on the sidelines. My heart and mind goes out to Erin right now, who is battling cancer, just starting chemo, and can’t wait to get back in the gym the moment she can. She knows that movement and exercise are privileges, not punishment; don’t wait until your lifestyle choices make it to the point where you can’t move anymore without pain or complications to realize this. 

Motivation may start as an emotion, but it continues as a discipline, you may need to re-motivate yourself by reminding yourself why you started, but your discipline and habits will carry you through the rough times when you don’t feel like going. When life gets busy the only thing that can keep you going is making yourself a priority, dont quit! You deserve to demand better from yourself. Realize that the decision not get after your goals is always a decision, and your schedule will tell you what you’re making a priority. Remember, you have the privilege of having the ability to get after your goals, so do it! You fucking got this!


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