Motivation is great. That get-up-and-go, energising, inspiring feeling that makes you think you can conquer the world, your last-minute essay, your workout. But what happens when it’s not there? When your get-up-and-go has got up and gone, when you’re staring at a blank page 6 hours before the deadline, when you know you should exercise but Netflix is auto-playing the next episode of your new favourite show and you can’t bring yourself to get off the sofa.
I can’t help you write a killer essay in 6 hours, but I can share the things that help me get up and get moving when all I really want is to get some more sleep. Here are my five top tips:
1. Work out why you have no motivation.
Are you feeling sore because you’ve been working out for so many days in a row you can’t remember when your last rest day was? Did you try something new yesterday and now you have crippling DOMS? Alternatively, has it been sometime since you were last active and you’ve slipped into a habit of lazing on the sofa watching TV? If the former are the case, then you may want to consider taking a rest day. Rest days are a part of the process, not apart from the process, and not only is there absolutely nothing to feel guilty about when taking a well-earned day off, but rest days are crucial in order to allow your muscles to repair and strengthen. If the reason you have no motivation to exercise today is because you crushed it yesterday, then stop reading here and go take a rest day. If this doesn’t describe you, then keep reading.
There are all sorts of reasons why we might lack motivation or feel like we have no energy on any given day. Our diet, the amount of sleep we have had, hormone levels, other stressors in our life, our mental health… the list is endless. Maybe your toddler kept you awake all night. Maybe you were awake until the small hours worrying about a big presentation you have to give tomorrow. Maybe you don’t know why you have no motivation – and that’s fine. The important thing is that, if it’s important to you to overcome these obstacles, then you will overcome them. And if you’re reading this blog post, you probably want to learn how to do this, right?
Once you know why you have no motivation, you can work out how far you’re prepared to go to combat this. Maybe for you, you just don’t have it in you today, and need a self-care day – whatever that means for you. Or maybe, you know you will feel better if you get up and get moving, but you’re just not quite sure how to get there.
2. Anything – and I do mean anything – is better than nothing.
If you’re lacking motivation and the thought of a long, strenuous workout makes you want to run and hide, that’s okay. You don’t have to be setting personal bests each time you exercise, or pushing yourself to your limit, or doing absolutely every rep absolutely perfectly. In fact, these goals are not only unrealistic, but also harmful, and instead of striving for perfection, we can focus on bringing a feeling of awareness and acceptance of where we are on our fitness journey.
So if you’re not setting a new world record or training for the Olympics, what should you do? Well, anything. If your normal routine involves weightlifting, but you just can’t face it today, you could consider reducing your weight to a much lower level, or even performing the movements without any weight at all. By focusing on good form, you will still get a great workout, but using lighter weights gives your body and mind an easier ride. Similarly, if you normally do 12 reps, you could try doing 10, or 8, or even 5. You’ll be finished so much quicker, but you will still have done something.
If you normally run, or cycle, or swim, consider reducing your distance and/or tempo. Maybe today is the day for a slow jog (or even a walk!) around the block rather than a record-setting marathon. By reducing the pressure on yourself, you are still taking the time to be active, but in a much more sustainable way.
If this is still too much, consider what you can face doing, and do that. Maybe you can handle the idea of getting up from the sofa right now and doing five jumping jacks, and then sitting down again. Maybe some gentle stretching is perfect for you right now. Don’t put pressure on yourself to go beyond your limits, but instead celebrate that you have still taken the time to do something, and be kind to yourself.
3. Friends that workout together, stay together.
Group gym classes, running with a friend, a Zoom fitness class, discussing your workout goals with your partner… these are all ways you can include a social aspect to your workout. A structured class with other people can give you the chance to exercise without the pressure of having to plan it yourself, and you can enjoy watching other people look as silly as you feel! Being accountable to a friend can also help you push through and exercise when you’re really not feeling it – if you’ve arranged a 9am run with a friend, do you really want to let them down? Plus, exercising with others can be, put simply, just good fun. Being surrounded by energetic and motivated people can in turn make us feel energetic and motivated, as well as push us to try harder.
4. If you’re still not feeling it, put your workout clothes on.
Once you’ve made the effort to get dressed, you may as well carry on and do a workout, right? You can even trick yourself by saying ‘I just have to get dressed, I don’t have to actually do anything’, and you may well find that once you’re dressed in your workout clothes, you’ve got the motivation to use them for their intended purpose and do some exercise. However, if this isn’t you today, then that’s fine too. See point 1 – sometimes, we just need a day off.
If you need a little extra push, you can promise yourself that if you get dressed and get through your warm-up, you can then stop. If you normally run, you might warm up by some light cardio that gently raises your heart rate. If you’re a weight lifter, you might begin with some muscle activation exercises. If yoga is your jam, you might get the blood flowing with a few rounds of sun salutations. By doing your warmup, you are doing something (see point 2). A warm up on its own is far better than no exercise at all, and you may well find that you do your warm up and then feel energised to carry on into all or part of your normal routine. That’s great! But even if you warm-up and then stop, you’ve still done something, and that’s a win.
5. Finally, make it easier for yourself to exercise.
Setting out your workout clothes the night before can make it easier to roll out of bed and get ready to exercise sooner. My sleepy early-morning brain is not up to making big decisions like whether I want to wear leggings or shorts, or where my other sock has gone, so I can decide this the night before and give myself an easier time in the morning. If you go the gym on the way to or from work, having a bag ready to go the night before with your towel, shampoo, work clothes, superhero cape or whatever else you need can help you get going in the morning with less physical and mental effort. If your yoga mat is buried at the back of your garage or your weights are in the attic, getting them out ahead of time can make it easier to take advantage of whatever motivation you have, however small or fleeting, and get your workout in.
Exercise is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and this blog post wouldn’t exist. I’ve had my fair share of struggles with motivation and it’s only after months of solid effort that I am generally able to do something on a consistent basis. I’ve also had some of my best workouts when I’ve never felt less like exercising. What I hold on to for myself is taking pride in my progress so far and enjoying the journey rather than focussing on the destination. This acceptance helps me to find the right workout to match my mood and energy, and helps me to know when what I really need is a day off.
There’s no quick fix or cure-all for lack of motivation. Motivation doesn’t last, but neither does bathing – that’s why it’s recommended daily.