The other day I woke up at 5:50 a.m. to the usual sound of my alarm. It was my upper-body workout day. I was tired, it was dark out, and I asked myself, Do I really need to go to the gym today? What is the point of lifting weights? It’s not like I’m trying to become a bodybuilder or something. I should just sleep in. However, I know myself and I knew that if I slept in I would kick myself for it later. So I sucked it up, got ready, and headed out the door to the gym.
A lot of people ask me how I motivate myself to work out consistently. I usually just tell them it’s a habit. It’s second nature, a necessity in my life second to food/water. On the surface level, this is true. It is part of my daily routine now, and it does come pretty naturally. Although it’s easier some days than others, in general it doesn’t require much convincing for me to get my workout in. I get up, get dressed, and go. Simple as that.
But habit doesn’t really answer the question of why I’m motivated to exercise. Habit isn’t a motivator. Habit is a behavior, a practice learned by repetition. So I dug a little deeper to answer that question of why.
When I first started to run consistently, it was the summer of 2013 and my motivation was simple: weight loss. This can be a great initial motivator since it’s tangible and results-driven. I could see my weight dropping on the scale, and it was rewarding. I finally knew what it felt like to successfully lose weight. However, once you lose the weight you want to lose, there needs to be something deeper within you to keep you going. It’s not as easy as saying to yourself, Get your butt out the door. You won’t reach your goal weight by laying in bed. Because you’ve reached your goal. So now what?
It didn’t develop overnight, and I wasn’t even aware that this was my new motivation until I thought about it months later, but running/working out made me feel alive in a different way than I had previously known. My legs, arms, back, feet, torso weren’t just things stuck to me anymore; they could be put to use, and they could endure a lot.
I loved that the simple act of moving my body allowed me to access new experiences, good and bad. I’ve been on many a run where I felt like I was battling against the elements. I remember one run last winter the wind chill was so bad that every gush of wind felt like spears digging into my cheeks, and left me gasping for air. When I reached an area with no one else around, I screamed as loudly as I could– I just couldn’t hold in my misery any longer. As terrible as that run was, it turned out to be one of my most memorable and most valuable runs. Running through the elements teaches you grit– it forces you to deal with the unpleasant parts of life that you wouldn’t have to deal with if you were laying in bed. And it makes those sunny, crisp, 60 degree runs that much more beautiful.
As simple as it sounds, the feeling of being fit is another motivator for me. It’s a hard feeling to put into words. This summer, when I was training for a marathon, there was one week when I had to do my 13 mile long-run during the week instead of the weekend because I was travelling, and I was worried I would be too tired at work afterward (I usually nap after my long runs :) ). Not only was I fine afterward, but I had more energy that day than any other work day prior. I was productive, happy, and lively. I surprised myself. I felt so proud that day– it was amazing to see what it meant to be fit. I had proven myself wrong, and I realized I’m capable of so much more than I was aware. It motivated me to push myself past my own expectations, in both running and in life in general.
Whatever motivates you, it has to come from deep within. It has to be an internal drive– you won’t be able to get yourself to exercise consistently if your motivator is to look good for others. You won’t be able to get yourself to exercise consistently if your motivator is to fit in or be part of a trend. These can be good motivators initially, but it wears off quickly. In order for regular exercise to become second nature, it has to be for you. You’re not going to grow a passion for fitness overnight, and it’s certainly not going to develop because of external pressures. No one else can get you to work out but you. You have to nurture that relationship and let it grow and develop as you learn what your body likes/dislikes and what inspires you. It’s a slow process but it’s so worth it.
Lastly, attitude is everything. Be enthusiastic, live life with intention, and most importantly, be grateful. Be grateful that you have the ability to exercise, be grateful that you are on a journey to find greatness in a new aspect of life, and be grateful that you have the opportunity to learn so much about yourself and your body in this process. Being grateful has gotten me through many groggy mornings and tough runs.
Realize that becoming fit and maintaining fitness is so much more than a physical experience– it teaches you about your own potential, and it translates into all the other aspects of your life. You will find yourself willing to push yourself in every other way– in work, in school, in your relationships, in your nutrition. It changes your whole mentality, and it becomes hard to give up.
Like that morning last week, it’s not always going to be easy to get yourself out of bed and out the door. But whenever my motivation is lacking, I tell myself this: No one ever worked out and later said, Man, I really regret that workout.