Finding the motivation to exercise can be challenging. Turns out it can be challenging for even professional athletes. What to do? Our own resident pro Kelly Williamson has put together an honest and compelling conversation on exercise motivation. Whether you are dealing with a disability or not, Kelly will help you find that mojo, trust me.
I’ve been trying to write a piece on the topic of motivation to exercise, and why lack of motivation is such a common barrier to physical activity. Yet I’ve found myself struggling to start the article. How's that for irony? I guess lack of motivation “for exercise” is just one of many. Sometimes, it isn’t so much what we’re lacking motivation to do, but rather falling short on the initiative to start. Often times, taking the first step is precisely the biggest challenge.
There have been so many articles written on this topic of motivation to exercise—preaching why you should be doing it, and listing off the multitude of ways it’s good for you. So rather than rehash what’s been said so many times in my own words, I wanted to take a slightly different approach. I just want to have an honest conversation with those of you who find you’ve struggled to get it going, and furthermore to make it a part of your routine.
Now don’t take me literally here. I don’t think you are scared of exercise itself. But I believe fear is a common barrier to initiating something new (fear of the unknown) and possibly also a reason many don’t incorporate physical activity into their daily routines. What if it’s hard, and I’m no good? What if I fail, if I can’t do well… what if I can’t stick with it? What if I’m judged for how I look, for not knowing what I’m supposed to do with all these machines? I’m intimidated to step into a gym with all those “fit looking” people. (Side note, looks are not everything when it comes to fitness. Many people look the part and don’t have a clue what they’re doing!) These are all completely valid concerns.
Over the years I’ve felt fear countless times. I have worried about challenging workouts, and I’ve felt fear—of failing, in a session or in a competition; fear of letting people down who believe in me. But I’ve also found that while I have definitely failed, I’ve never regretted taking the risk. Not once. I’ve found the fear of failing has been outweighed by the satisfaction that I tried. And at times, I’ve succeeded. So in the realm of fear, I find, the best way to alleviate it is to address it, accept it and embrace it. And often times we fear what we don’t know, but we also may feel fear because something matters. So I ask you to acknowledge your fears, be kind to yourself, and jump on in. You just may find that tackling the fear of the unknown brings you a freedom and confidence that you didn’t know was hiding inside of you.
You are busy, and there aren’t enough hours in the day. I can fully appreciate this; we are a busy society. We have work, family commitments, commutes, house cleaning, grocery shopping, you name it. But you know what else we have? We have these little electronic devices at our fingertips that I know for me, consume far too much wasted time! We now have something we didn’t have when I was young. We have mini-handheld encyclopedias whereby we can know everything, immediately, about anything and anyone. When we’re bored, we can occupy ourselves by searching random shit.
One thing I’ve learned about exercise is, it doesn’t take much—especially if you’re starting from scratch. A 10 minute brisk walk a day is probably the easiest place to start. 10 minutes is all I ask. Do you think you spend 10 minutes looking at Facebook, Twitter, or Google? I know I do! My counter to this “time” excuse is, make time. Plan for it. Commit to 10 minutes a day of active movement; a bike ride, seated jumping jacks, a short run. I’ll always recommend early morning as it’s the easiest time to knock it out but maybe you find you have more time in the evenings. Maybe you can grab your 10-20 minutes on a lunch break. Think about how you spend all those 960 minutes in your waking day (minus 8 hours to sleep) and try to devote just 10 to 20 minutes to some form of exercise; whatever appeals to you. Look at how you spend your time, and make it a goal to spend just a little bit of it on exercise.
This is definitely a fair excuse… you’re simply too tired from all the commitments you have. However, I challenge you to try this exercise thing for just a few days. Ease in, and start by doing what appeals to you—that may be going for a swim, walking in your neighborhood, participating in a group class of some sort, lifting weights—and I am guessing you just may find a small bump in your energy. I can’t tell you the number of times I don’t feel like doing another workout; yet I get 10 minutes in and my energy is better, my mood has improved, the world looks a little brighter and I can’t even remember that I was lacking motivation.
I challenge you something very simple: Exercise, just a little bit, in whatever capacity you choose. And tell me honestly that you regret having done it. Call me crazy, but I don’t see this being the case. And another important note here, don’t overdo it in the beginning. Take it slow and steady, and build from where you start. One of the biggest deterrents to exercise is the old “too much too soon.” Something is better than nothing, and you don’t have to be a hero. Just move your body.
Do it because you matter. We are all told that it’s great to be selfless, and it is. But you know what else? To be our best “self” to the world, we must take care of ourselves. Often times people will put off spending time to exercise because there are so many other things in life that “demand” their attention. But realize that your well-being, happiness, stress levels and overall health matter just as much anything. “If you are traveling with a small child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, then assist the other person.” If you don’t address your own needs, you can’t help others. Don’t be ashamed to prioritize yourself and your needs at times.
Do it because you can. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been set back with surgeries or injuries. Suddenly, I find that I miss the pain of hard workouts. I miss the “high” I feel from challenging myself. And when I come back from these setbacks, a simple walk or easy swim feels simply incredible. Often times I’m not at 100%, but I do what I can, at the time, with what I’ve got. I just appreciate that I’m doing it; fast or slow, it just makes me more grateful. Perspective is a funny thing. So when I’m finally ready to tackle a tough session, rather than fear or dread it, I’ll try to strip away my ego and embrace it. Exercise makes you feel alive. It can connect you with nature, and it can allow you time to think—to clear your mind, get in tune with your body, and through this you’ll often see the world through a slightly different lens. It gives you time to yourself. And in this busy world we live in, where we are constantly slammed with outside stimulation 24 hours a day, exercise allows you to go inward, to disconnect from devices and to connect to you. While it may be challenging, it gives you back a dose of energy, confidence and self-assurance so you can handle all that life throws your way.
So the next time you find yourself feeling glum at the thought of getting out the door, or trying to make excuses as to why you don’t have time to hit the gym tomorrow, remember… the first step is the hardest. But a few minutes in, and no doubt once you’ve finished exercising, you’ll be glad you took the time to invest in yourself.