On January 1st, I bet you—like so many of us,—felt super-hopeful and enthusiastic about that new year’s resolution to start a running program, or go to the gym four times a week or do yoga every day.
Now, as we edge forward into February and March, maybe it’s not as easy to maintain that resolve, especially for those of us in the dark mid-winter when all we really want to do is hibernate. My running program stalled out last week because there was just no way I was going out there with a wind chill factor of minus 25 degrees Celsius. No. Way.
Weather isn’t the only deterrent. It’s just not all that easy to stay as excited about anything over the long haul as we are the day we embark on it, full of optimism and gusto.
If you’re having difficulty staying motivated, here are 14 suggestions for getting out the door, to the mat, or wherever you need to go to fulfill your training commitment.
1. Revisit your choices: Do you love—or at least enjoy—what you have committed to? If your enthusiasm is waning, maybe you just don’t like what you’re doing. Perhaps weight training in the gym three times a week isn’t doing it for you, but you’d like the classes over at the Crossfit gym instead. Or, as a runner, you’ve always let the cold weather drive you indoors but you hate the treadmill. It might be a good idea to take it outside at least on occasion. It’s really difficult to stick with something that’s not a little bit fun at least some of the time. And the good news is, we can always change to something else. If the usual slate of activities leaves you cold, how about roller skating (or even roller derby!), dancing, cross country skiing or some form of martial arts training?
2. Keep it fresh and get excited about new experiences. Do you do the exact same yoga sequence every time? Is your running route fixed or fluid? Have you tried doing something different, like running in the rain, or the cold, or on a different trail, or doing hill work or speed drills? All of these things can keep it fresh and keep you excited. My hot yoga studio, for example, has different kinds of classes. Some do the regular sequence, others focus on the vinyasa flow, on yin postures, or on power yoga. Taking a different class gives me something to look forward to. And last fall when I had my first run in the rain, I was shocked to find that it wasn’t just tolerable, it was energizing and enjoyable. In the right temperatures, I now look forward to running in the rain.
3. Know your time of day, and write it into your schedule. What time of day do you like to work out? When I was younger, I used to love going to the gym in the evening after a light dinner. Now, it’s mornings that work best for me, either first thing or right before lunch. I love starting the day with intense activity and it always feels great to have it done before my work day starts. If you know the time of day when your workouts feel best for you, commit to doing them at that time and write them into your schedule. For many of us, once something is written into the calendar, we are much more likely to do it.
4. Take a class. Signing up for a class that meets over a series of weeks can help us keep up our commitment. If I have registered and paid for a class, I’m not going to skip it unless I’m out of town. I’ve been doing this with my Iyengar yoga for over a decade. Every Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., I attend that class. When the winter session ends, I will sign up and pay for the spring session, and so on. It’s a rare Tuesday morning that you won’t see me at the yoga studio.
5. Plan to meet a friend. This morning I texted a friend as soon as I woke up to ask her if she wanted to meet me at a hot yoga class at noon. You can bet that I wasn’t about to stand up my friend after asking her to do a class with me. If you have plans to go running with someone, chances are you will keep your commitment. That’s why running groups or clubs can be effective.
6. Savor the time alone. For some of us, working out is a fabulous way to seek some much-needed solitude. If you crave time alone but find it is all too rare, keeping your commitment to yourself to go for that walk, swim, or run can help satisfy the need. I love running for that reason. And it gets me out the door. Sometimes, it even has a meditative quality to it. I’ve blogged about meditation and fitness at Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty.
7. Use a training app to keep you on track and give you goals. When I started to run, I used the Ease into 5K app by Bluefin to guide me. It’s an 8-week program that, as the name suggests, eases you into a 5K by telling you when to walk, when to run. The walk-run ratio changes each week. It tracks your distance, average pace overall, average pace for running and for walking, and has journal options for monitoring how you felt, what the weather was like, and what terrain you ran on. Using the GPS feature, it maps your run for you. All the data is saved so you can review it, read it in chart form, etc. If you want to listen to music, the app interacts with your playlist. I loved it so much that now I’m onto the Ease into 10K. These get me out the door because keeping up with the training schedule means running three times per week. That’s a manageable performance goal. If you want a more versatile app for more activities, Endomondo is popular. I recommend asking your friends about apps they use and taking it from there. Samantha Brennan writes about gadgets and smart phone apps in her post “Data Geekery and Fitness.”
8. Revisit your goals: Are they realistic? If you’ve just started running, you aren’t ready to train for a marathon. And if you weren’t working out regularly, having the goal of working out 5-6 times per week for an hour isn’t realistic now (even if it one day might be). If your enthusiasm level is low, it might be that your goals are too ambitious. Try scaling them back. You can ramp them up when the time feels right. For me right now, running three times per week with a weekly distance total of about 15K is perfect. When that gets too comfortable, I’ll be ready to do more.
9. Commit to less than you think you want to commit to and build from there. One way of keeping it reasonable and realistic is to commit to doing just a bit, even far less than you think you need to do. A few years ago, I wanted to ramp up my yoga practice. A senior Iyengar teacher who visited our studio to teach a weekend intensive recommended that I make a decision to do just 20 minutes of yoga a day. My first reaction was that 20 minutes wasn’t enough. If I’m going to do something, I should be doing it for an hour! But I took her advice, even set the timer. Knowing that I only had to be on the mat for 20 minutes got me to the mat every day. And after doing that non-stop for one month I saw noticeable advances in my yoga practice. You can do the same thing with running, walking, weights. Even a little bit is better than nothing.
10. Get new gear. Last week I bought some new winter running gear. I couldn’t wait to try it out! I was eager to see how well it would keep me warm and I liked the way it looked and felt. If you need an extra boost to get yourself out the door for your training, new gear, whether it be shoes, shorts, a top, or even socks, can give you an extra reason. New gear is especially motivating if your old gear was inadequate. If you don’t have an effective wicking fabric against your skin when you’re running in cold weather, you’ll get cold. If your shoes are worn out, you risk injury. If you haven’t checked your swimsuit lately, it may be a little more see through in spots than you intend it to be. Yoga tights can also get worn out in key places. After watching another student do a downward dog demo in class last month, the woman standing beside me leaned over and whispered, “Please, if I ever need new tights, please, please tell me.”
11. Get a new playlist, a new book, or watch a movie. I don’t normally recommend zoning out, but lots of people like to listen to music while they run or do cardio on the elliptical machine. Sometimes I let my playlist get old and tired. When I freshen it up with some new tunes and remove the ones I’m sick of hearing, it makes a difference. When I’m on the elliptical, it’s a great time to read or, as I discovered this past week, if I really need to zone out I can watch something my iPad. If I’m reading a really good book I can stay on for longer and I look forward to the next session (this works for the stationary bike too—one summer I read War and Peace on the bike at the gym. I did more cardio during those weeks than I’ve ever done before or since).
12. Have a back-up plan. When the cold weather drove me inside last week, I spent some time on the elliptical trainer instead of going running. I wouldn’t want to do this all the time because I much prefer running. But I don’t have a treadmill or a gym membership, and I do have an elliptical machine. It’s a good substitute. Having a back-up plan will allow you to be flexible if your first choice isn’t convenient or reasonable (as when the temperature plummets). Being flexible means you’re more likely to stay on task even when you’re traveling or when it’s too hot or cold outside to do your first choice activity.
13. Remember this: No one ever felt worse after a workout. When the alarm sounds in the morning, it can be hard not to hit snooze and go back to sleep. If I do this more than a couple of times, it will be too late for me to work out. One thing that works for me whenever I feel reluctant is to remind myself that I always, always feel better after I work out. It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga, a run, or weight training. I’ve never felt worse for doing it. And usually I start to feel good while I’m doing it.
14. Train like a champion, or at least like an athlete. Athletes have performance goals and they aim to meet them. My co-blogger at Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty, Samantha Brennan, has written about choosing athletic over aesthetic values when we embark on physical training programs and I’ve asked the question: Are you an athlete?
Mariah Burton Nelson, author of Embracing Victory: Life Lessons in Competition and Compassion, New Choices for Women, encourages women to think of themselves as champions. Setting performance goals that push us to train like athletes and to think of ourselves in those terms can help us take our commitments more seriously.
These are just some of the strategies that I have used at various times to stick to my commitments. I think too that it’s healthy to allow for missed workouts and down days when it’s just not going to happen. Missing a run or cutting short a workout session doesn’t mean that you’ve blown the week. Learning to forgive ourselves and move on makes it less likely that we will overreact to missed workouts.
If you have no difficulty getting yourself out the door, that’s amazing. Please take a moment to add a comment about what works for you!