Updated: Oct 23, 2020
Haven’t got sweaty for some time? Can’t seem to keep up a consistent training regime? More often than not find yourself on the couch instead of the gym? Sounds like you’ve lost your fitness Mo-Vo. Don’t worry! Help is at hand, just read on . . .
In the first instalment of this two-part blog we’ll take a look at five ways that you can get more motivated to maintain a fitness regime. We’ll discuss and examine some tried and tested motivational methods that you can use to fire up your desire to go get physical again.
‘Strong motivation is an absolutely essential requirement . . .’
(Grout & Perrin 2004)
A shocking number of people struggle to maintain the motivation to keep up a fitness regime. They start off with the good intention of committing to a comprehensive exercise plan but all too soon excuses creep in. Then they begin skipping sessions; at first just the odd one here and there. But before long, both health and exercise are sacrificed for nights on the couch in the company of a family-sized packet of Doritos and that horrific time trap called TV.
Reasons abound for why people slip back into bad habits: ‘commitments’ – ‘the kids!’ – ‘damn temporary traffic lights’ – ‘cold and wet British weather’ – etc., etc. ad infinitum.
The most prolific and pernicious reason why those good intentions succumb to comforting temptations is because of peoples’ inability to maintain motivation. This humble polysyllabic is the driving force behind any and all success achieved in health and fitness. Without motivation we wouldn’t get much further than the fridge.
But why, I’ve very often wondered, with a generous pinch of perplexity, why are some people overflowing with the stuff whilst others are bereft of a single solitary drop? Is it down to genetics? Nature . . . or Nurture? Or did those motivated individuals procure a secret formula – an elixir of motivation – from the devil at the mere price of their eternal soul?
Personally, I doubt it’s much to do with any of these reasons – especially the first one.
It is my humble contention that motivated people have at their disposal a bag of psychological tricks. A bag of tricks from which, whenever the temptation to take the easy option grips, they pull out a tried and tested trick and magic some motivation into themselves. Just like that! Almost with the wave of a wand.
Here’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his The Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding, discussing his idiosyncratic style of self-motivation:
“When I began to train, I wrote everything down – training routines, sets and reps, diet, everything. And I kept this up right through my 1980 Mr. Olympia victory. I would come into the gym and draw out a line on the wall in chalk for every set I intended to do. I would always do five sets of each movement. So for example, the marks / / / / / on my chest day would stand for five sets of Bench Press and five sets of Dumbbell Flys. I would reach up and cross each line as I did the set. So when I finished Benches the marks would look like X X X X X, and I would never think to myself, Should I do three sets today, or four? I always knew it was five and just went ahead and did them. Watching those marks march across the wall as I did my workout gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. They were like an invading army crushing all opposition in its path. This visual feedback helped me to keep my training goals clearly in mind, and reinforced my determination to push myself to the limit every workout.”
Over the years I’ve developed my very own bag of tricks – many of which are, I cannot deny, woefully unscientific; but where they lack in empiricism they make up in practicality. The aim of this blog post, then, is to share these tricks with you so that you can start filling your own bag. And when that day comes when the overpowering urge to skip exercise takes hold, and you find yourself being lured into taking the lazy option, you can reach in to that bag of tricks and pull out a handful of motivation.
No more talk; here are the Five methods to help reclaim your Mo-Vo
1: Set long-term goals
How long term should our long term goals be? Honestly, I would say three months and beyond. And can I just add there is nothing at all wrong with having multiple long term health/fitness goals, of different durations, running simultaneously. We might be preparing diligently for, say, an Ironman, or marathon, which is due to take place a year hence, whilst also pursuing the perpetual goal of maintaining optimum health. My personal overarching goal is that of being healthy. As nebulous and generic a goal as that undeniably is it should be the one to which we all continuously direct our health and exercise energies. With one eye fixed firmly on this long term goal we will, theoretically, have water enough in the motivational well from which we can draw in times of drought.
So, make your long term goal that of augmented health and, whilst you’re on that journey, continue to set sub-long term goals that will help you on your way. However, we must remember, goals ‘need to be fired with passion’. A ‘goal that is just cerebral, without any energy or emotional empowerment, is usually not achieved’ (Grout & Perrin, 2004). You have to believe in the goals you set and be passionate towards achieving them.
2: Set short-term goals
Setting short term goals, typically between one to three months in duration, is an excellent way to keep the fires of motivation well stoked. Now a short term health/fitness related goal could be something as simple as striving to lose a couple of pounds or attempting a personal best in a specific exercise discipline. I tend to focus on a particular exercise and over the course of two months work towards achieving a set time. For example, just recently I wanted to run 5 miles (on an indoor treadmill) in under 30 minutes (a sub six minute mile pace). Before setting this goal I firstly tested my current 5 mile performance to see how far off that time I was – so that I could gauge whether or not my aspirations were realistic – then I set about training myself up for the final test day.
I find short-term goal setting to be a remarkably effective method of fuelling motivation. In the above example not only did I achieve my desired goal of 30 minutes but exceeded it by 2:27. However, it must be understood that we are not always going to be successful in achieving our goals and we shouldn’t let this dampen our spirits. After the run, following a similar training formula, I attempted a sub 6:30 2000 metre Ergo row but failed to achieve my desired time by a few seconds. That doesn’t really matter though because I know that it is the means and not the end that is most important.
3: Get Competitive
Regular competitions are a terrific way of spicing up our training sessions, which in turn motivates us to keep on keeping fit; especially if there is a pecuniary reward or, better still, a nasty punishment at stake. A good few years ago I used to train with a semi-professional triathlete. I would design a training session that incorporated elements of our strengths and weaknesses. Once we’d come to an agreement on the session, which always resulted in lots of arguing, a punishment would be promulgated along with a competition date. Come competition day we’d both arrive at the gym suited and booted for a gruelling session and, like two fighting cocks, desperately duke it out for a couple of weeks’ bragging rights. But, as low key and, well, petty as this all was, by god did it motivate me to keep fit.