Saturday 24 August 2013

Nevermind the lights and the camera, just take action

It's rainy. My head is full of cold. My tummy is full of last night's chinese. I'm pretty sure I can feel a little twinge in a muscle somewhere if I think about it hard enough. I just want to curl up on the sofa and watch TV.

But I have a gym workout scheduled.

I don't want to go.

At all.

In the slightest.

I have absolutely zero motivation to get myself out of the house, through the rain puddles and into my own puddles of sweat.  I can think of nothing I want to do less than spend several hours heaving and puffing and panting and straining.

Despite it being day 24 of Happiness Happens month, I am not at all feeling 'motivated.'

Mr. Motivator is NOT in my house at all today.

But, I still go.

How, I ask myself did I do this? If I can workout how I managed it this time maybe I can bottle it and call upon it next time I want to crawl into a dark hole until long after the gym has shut.

Here's what I came up with. My top 10 tips to give yourself a kick up the bottom when Mr Motivator hasn't showed up:

1. Find the intrinsic motivator, as opposed to fighting the external stuff.

External motivators are things like reward, pay, rules. Intrinsic motivators are all about you. Or me in this case.  My external motivator here was that I was supposed to go today, it's written on my programme that I go today. Whatevs, I could mix up the days and go tomorrow, no biggie. Not very powerful a kick up the bum.  The other external motivator is a societal one. Fat/unhealthy people are supposed to go to the gym if they want to get thin and healthy ergo I 'should' go to the gym.  Mmm, that has 'should' in it and therefore the only effect it has on me is to make me want to rebel and sit in a bath full of chocolate cake instead.
However, beyond all of that, deeper down somewhere a little voice says 'but you promised me'.  It's a quiet voice but I can't help but hear it and I know what it means. I have made a promise to myself that I will maintain my routine and I will be active 5 days out of 6.  I have made a promise to myself that wherever I have the choice, I will choose the option that best meets my needs and moves me closer to reaching my goals. My goals are to be stronger, leaner and happier.  Whether I like it or not right now, going to the gym is defo going to move me closer along towards my goal than lying down and eating more things. No question. I can't control my fat cells, or the scales, or my muscles, but I can at least try to control my behaviour. I can take action, and as long as I'm doing that I'm fulfilling my promise to myself.
So even while I'm paying lip service to cancelling, or going another day and just hibernating for the day, I'm putting on my gym kit and I know I'm going anyway.

2. Put on your gym kit...or take that first teeny step

It was filling me with fear and loathing in Maidenhead just sitting here thinking about the entire workout. Every rep of every set of every exercise, plus warm up, plus...snoooooooore. It was all a bit much to think about and was really putting me off going at all.  All good goal setting advice tells us to break unthinkable massive tasks down into manageable chunks. Great advice. But I'm going one step further.  Don't just break it into chunks, identify the one little thing you can do, not just today, but in the next 5 minutes that will help you get where you want to go.  In my case, very literally, the very next thing I could do to help me get where I wanted (or not) to go, was to get out of my pyjamas and into my gym kit.  An easy step to take but an important one in the right direction.  Once I'm all dressed up and ready to go, I'm much more likely to take that next step out of the door and much less unlikely to go backwards, take it all off again and get back into bed.

3. Just show up.

So, here I am in my gym kit.  All I have to focus on now is just showing up. Just getting to that gym. Once I'm there I'll do the workout. I'm hardly likely to get there and sit down for a few hours until it's time to go home.  Just showing up is the most important part.  Even when I was injured and couldn't do my workouts, I still just showed up. I went to the gym and walked very slowly on the treadmill so as to maintain some kind of routine, build up that "I'm the kind of person who goes to the gym regularly" muscle in my mind.  Just show up.

4. Don't aim for perfection.

Ok, so I'm not feeling my best, I'm unlikely to perform at my best...I may as well not bother. Incorrect.  Bother. Drop the perfection act, it doesn't exist.  Give yourself a break and accept that 100% is totally unattainable. Aim for 80% if you have to aim for anything.  I gave myself permission to not do my best workout ever today, as long as I showed up.

5. Just try to do/be a little bit better than yesterday.

For me, long term this means not falling down the 'I can't be bothered to go' hole and getting out there anyway. For me today, this meant increasing my weights on one of my exercises. Not all of them, and not by a lot, just a little on just one.  Another teeny step in the right direction.

6. Reflect on how far you've come and not how far is still left to go.

At one point this morning it flicked through my mind how pointless and hopeless this all was. As if one stupid little gym workout was going to make any difference in the long run. As if I was ever going to have the fit, lean, size less than it is now body I wanted. Sigh.  Then I thought about how far I've already come, I wondered if the 30 year old me would ever believe that the 36 year old me could squat, lunge and deadlift with the rest of them, wearing size not mahoosive gym gear at that. I remembered how hard today's workout was the first time I tried it and how not as hard it is now.  And that helped. Every day I notice something: a bit more flexibility here, a bit stronger there, a little more definition the other. I may not have reached the final shining pinnacle of my overall goal, but there are great signs all along the way that I'm heading in the right direction as long as I'm alert to them. But I didn't get to this point by some massive miracle all of a sudden. I didn't just wake up one day like it. I got here by showing up, taking the next little step and every day trying to be or do a little bit better than before. Today was no different, I just needed to do it....

7. Start today

...and, if there was one piece of advice I could give that 30 (or younger!) year old now, it would be to just start today.  It doesn't matter how long something will take, the time will pass anyway.  There is nothing more disheartening than reaching that time that originally seemed so far off into the future as to almost not really exist, and realising, if you'd just started way back then, you'd be there by now. Instead of still wishing, still hoping, still dreaming.  If you'd just taken action, just showed up, just started, you'd be there by now.

Nike were really onto something when they came up with that slogan weren't they?

8. Drive

Dan Pink, in his book Drive, talks about his view of motivation, largely based on Self Determination Theory and the importance of intrinsic motivational factors. He lists the three biggest drivers of human behaviour (and what is motivation if not a driver of behaviour) as: Autonomy, mastery and purpose.  What he means by these is a) having a say for yourself b) getting good at something and c) feeling a part of something bigger than yourself.  All three of these played a part for me today.

Knowing that I was choosing to go to the gym because I said so and not because somebody else said so and then giving myself permission to not perform at my best really helped.

The fact that I'm steadily mastering the moves, getting gradually better is a great motivation.

Plus, the programme I'm following is also being followed by a whole online community and I want to keep up, I want to chat about it in the forums. I want to feel a part of it.  If I don't go, I won't.  A gym class or an exercise club would probably have had the same effect. In fact just being surrounded by like minded people all exercising helped.

9. Strength training

Martin Seligman and countless others talk about focusing on your strengths for motivation.  Strengths are something that give us energy whether we're great at them or not. When we're using our strengths we don't mind keeping at it, we're less likely to give up. In this instance, my strengths are determination, resilience, stubbornness and competitiveness.  I called these into play to argue against and cajole my 'I just want to stay at home today' rebellious streak.

10. Oh go on then, reward.

I promised myself that when I'd been to the gym, if I still wanted to, I could lie on the sofa for the entire rest of the day. I pointed out to myself that I would enjoy the lying on the sofa part a whole lot more if I had actually done something useful and active first and I used that promise as the final push to get me out of the house. It might go against the whole thing about rewards not being the greatest driver, but added to everything else, it was good enough for me.

So in short, it's simple. Next time you're feeling a bit meh and can't quite summon up the energy you need to do whatever it is: Find your inner drive, ask yourself why you're doing this and focus on that. Work out what you can do in the next five minutes to move you a little bit closer and then do it a little bit better than you did before. Do it for yourself, not anybody else. Summon up whatever strengths you have in your armoury to get you through it.

And then just do it.

Just take action.

Just show up.

And then look back and thank yourself in 5 years that you started today.

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