Where did my motivation go?
November 22, 2011 8:27 AM   Subscribe

What happened to my motivation and discipline with exercise that I had so proudly acquired and maintained for 5 months?!!

I started working out early June of this year and for the first time in my life kept it up and worked out an average of 4 days a week. I was doing an intense cardio workout and was watching what I was eating. I lost some weight and toned up a bit and was feeling really, really good! My husband was even saying that I was addicted to working out! Then around early to mid October I started to go through a little depressive phase (I go through those every now and then and they are not related to weight or anything like that). I was feeling pretty down and when I would do my workout I would only do about half of it and then just quit because I just didn't feel into it. My allergies were also acting up so I thought maybe that had something to do with it also...I was feeling more tired then usual and not having as much stamina as before. I finally just stopped working out altogether. Well, that little phase of depression wore off pretty much by early this month...but I still can't get back into working out. I always think of some excuse of why I can't workout...other things I need to be doing, etc. I have no motivation and I don't understand why. I was doing so well! I'm thinking that maybe the last couple of months that I was exercising regularly I wasn't really seeing any more changes in my body (although I was still trying to watch my diet, I wasn't watching the calories quite as carefully as I was in the beginning) and I felt like I was wasting my time. Also, I think that maybe I got burnt out on the workouts I was doing and need to change it up and do something different. So pretty much, I have an idea of what's going on with me and yet I still can't get myself to get back into that motivated, disciplined state that I was in. I don't know...I've pretty much resolved to making it my New Year's resolution to start again and just not worry about it for the rest of this year. What I'm wondering is if anyone has gone through this with your workout regimens and what did you do about it?
posted by daydreamer to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's similar for me. The only two things that work:
1. Doing something else while I exercise,
2. Exercising with someone.
posted by michaelh at 8:31 AM on November 22, 2011

it's called being human, but I wouldn't wait until NYE and call it a resolution. Just call it a down cycle you went through and get back into it.

Some things that may have contributed to the depth of the down cycle:

- a bit of burnout, as you said. Most of us start out going too hard.
- demotivation because the results are slowing down. Unfortunately, the body does that - responds really well to that first bit of exercise, then plateaus.

I think it's helpful, to the extent possible, to make workouts their own reward - focus on how it feels doing it, the endorphin rush, etc. (ditto for eating - focus on how much better you feel the day you eat right). Then weight loss, as it occurs, is a bonus.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:33 AM on November 22, 2011

I find having a workout partner to be invaluable. I also find having a concrete goal to be helpful as well - having a training program that's building up to something, even if it's just something as simple as a race on such-and-such date.

It sounds like working out got less and less rewarding for you as you got more depressed and discouraged. It turned into a vicious cycle. Since each time going to the gym was less rewarding than each time before it, you stopped feeling it was worth it.

For example: "I've pretty much resolved to making it my New Year's resolution to start again and just not worry about it for the rest of this year." I understand the thinking behind this, but how is this logical? How is choosing to abandon your workout routine for the next few months going to help you out? It's just going to make it harder to get back on the horse.

You should pick up some workout routines which ramp up to a specific goal, like a hundred pushups, or a 5K, or something in that vein. Do it together with a friend.

This same vicious cycle fed into the diet thing - what was the point of watching your diet so carefully, if you were already basically abandoning your workout? Even though this isn't very "logical," it's still a very human way of thinking.

But maybe you should take some of the pressure off of your diet. I wouldn't trust calorie-counting very much as a long-term strategy. Why not simply try to always eat fresh and in moderation, packing your own lunch for work, etc.? Don't worry about gaining or losing weight. Just cut out a lot of the processed, sugary stuff and get used to having comical amounts of fiber every day.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:36 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a fairly motivated cyclist, but I have real problems making myself get out as the days get shorter and colder, especially after the shift back to winter time. Even if you're working out inside, doing so before or after work, when it's dark, can take a real effort of will.

At home, my solution was to set up a set of rollers (like a treadmill for a bike) in my basement and do workouts while watching TV or listening to the radio news, with a bright, broad spectrum light nearby.

This year I'm overseas, living in a small apartment with no room for exercise equipment. I've noticed that I'm really slacking off. So I am rearranging my schedule to allow at least some cycle outings in the day, and designing workouts that emphasize intensity, not time. My goal is just to maintain my current level of fitness; I'll work on improving once the days start getting longer.

I'd suggest that instead of waiting until 2012, you make a deal with yourself to start a workout a couple times a week. Give yourself permission to stop if you really don't feel like it, but at least make yourself start. Once you're in the swing of it, you'll probably want to continue. If getting started continues to be a problem, try the trick of imagining the best parts of the workout ahead of time; that kind of previsualization can be a big motivator.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:53 AM on November 22, 2011

If you aren't feeling energetic, simply watching your diet carefully will keep you from gaining any weight. Then you can pick up where you left off with the working out/weight training when you want to without feeling too bummed out. Also worthy of note, you may not have been seeing changes in your body 'cause your calorie count was too high. Diet is the key factor for weight loss, not exercise-- that's for fitness.

Don't beat yourself up. This time of the year marks a natural slow-down. It's normal to feel less energetic as the winter sets in.
posted by devymetal at 8:56 AM on November 22, 2011

This is standard. Just think of it as inertia. When you're going well, you've convinced yourself that you're never going to stop NO MATTER WHAT. When you're not exercising, gathering the motivation seems almost impossible.

So, here are some things that have worked for me or other people I know:

1. Make a public commitment. This only works if you actually keep commitments you make to/in front of other people. If you routinely break promises/cancel on people, this probably won't be effective.

2. Get a reliable workout partner. This is tough to coordinate, especially during the holidays.

3. Start a journal. Resolve to write down your exercise for that day whether you do anything or not. It only takes 5 minutes. It feels great and motivating when you put something in the notebook. If you have to write that you didn't work out, at least you're keeping your commitment to yourself to do that much, and you're forcing yourself to confront the fact that you're procrastinating.

4. Hire a personal trainer. Expensive, and I'm not endorsing them necessarily, but maybe actually paying someone will get your ass out the door.

5. Commit to just doing 3 days in a row. Then do 3 more. Then 3 more. This is actually really effective.

6. Once you start, make a rule for yourself that you will never miss more than 3 days in a row no matter what happens. Accept that 3 days off will sometimes happen and be part of the process, but that you're not allowed to just take a big long break after that.

7. Set a specific goal, like, By February 1 I'm going to run a half marathon, or a 5k, or run for an hour non stop, or do 25 pushups. Then break that goal down into what you need to do every week, from here on, and break the first two weeks down into what you need to do every day.

8. If you're having trouble finding the motivation to exercise, instead (and this is really hard), see if you can do an exceptional job on your nutrition instead. This usually works the opposite for me--when I am being a serious nutrition slacker I might allow myself to tolerate that for a little while as long as I'm busting ass in the gym. It's not great, but once I get my head back together I at least haven't compounded problems by losing strength.

9. Try a new challenge that requires fitness, like yoga. Or an energetic dance class.

10. Find something motivating to read. Here's a blog post I saw just a few days ago that I thought was amazing.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:46 AM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

People who work out even when you don't feel like it or have allergies or its cold outside are people who stay in shape. People who quit at any little bump in the road and who make excuses don't stay in shape. Tell yourself that everytime you make an excuse for yourself or give yourself permission to slack. Willpower is a muscle, you've got to use it to keep it strong.
posted by fshgrl at 10:24 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

We all go through down cycles. Everyone ESPECIALLY goes through them in the winter when it's nasty outside and all you want to do is snuggle on the couch with hot food. Also, after being really diligent for a long period of time, you may find yourself being "burned out" on being so diligent.

When I do this (I am sort of sliding now, but I didn't even go to the gym for a month and a half in the summer, what the hell), I pretty much do wait for the next season to try to "get back in the swing of things." It's a little easier motivation-wise in January...or April...or June...than it is in the bleakness of late November or December, when you've got holiday crap to juggle too and fairly good reason to be all "I need to go do errands during gym time." Or maybe just lower your expectations during Burnout Season. Like try to get to the gym once instead of whatever your usual amount is.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:19 AM on November 22, 2011

I would bet you money that it's a weather thing, or a sunlight thing, or both.

Seasonal Affect Disorder doesn't have to be a huge emotional blowout where people hide under the blankets until April. You may have never noticed a slightly lower level of energy in October, but what a big difference it makes when you had been working out for several months.

So. Now. Pat yourself on the back for realizing the change you wanted to make, and for making it, and sticking to it. Pat yourself again for recognizing that you had stopped, and for wanting to start again.

As for getting started again, start small and ramp yourself back up. You may not need to start exactly where you started the first time, but don't go back to where you left off!

The most important thing, is getting started again. As for keeping going when you do:

Keep track of your progress. Times, reps, miles, whatever. Track your progress on a chart if that kind of visual thing is good for your brain. Leave empty days as empty boxes, so that you might get a bit antsy at seeing them pile up next to each other.

Forgive yourself when you miss.

Find a workout buddy. (When I had one, we'd joke that I got her into the gym and she'd keep me there. Left to my own devices I'd spend 20 minutes on the treadmill and then go home, which is better than nothing...but still.)

Have a goal. Run this distance/swim this distance/achieve this time/enter this race/lift this much weight/etc.

Consider other ways to add exercise to your life that are not so intense. Walking is good if you do it briskly. Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity and tackle some lifting jobs. Garden in the spring. Chase toddlers with a friend at a park in the afternoon. Do jumping jacks while you watch tv, if you're a tv watcher.
posted by bilabial at 12:06 PM on November 22, 2011

I understand what you're saying fshgrl, but that's what is confusing me...I went the whole summer and all of September with aches and pains (some of them pretty bad) from working out and I never let it stop me. Then all of a sudden boom I lost my momentum. Thanks for the advice and suggestions everyone. They have been super helpful, especially reading that I'm not the only one that has gone through this. I definitely think that the change in season has something to do with my slacking off even though I live in the south and all we get is a cool front now and then. Not to mention that I have 4 kids so of course it's easier to work out in the summer (I didn't even think of that before). The month of September went fine, but I guess things got a little more hectic schoolwise last month and this month. I would love to workout with a friend, but unfortunately, I don't know anyone whose schedule coincides with mine to be able to workout with me. Luckily I have not noticed any weight gain, but I have kind of lost the toned look in my upper arms that I was LOVING! I'm going to follow lots of different pieces of advice I got here and take it slow and get back into things next week...(I would do it this week but screw it...it's Thanksgiving week!)
posted by daydreamer at 12:26 PM on November 22, 2011

There are a bunch of free or $1 workout apps that you can do at home with just handweights. They are brilliant for days you don't feel like going to the gym.

Search for "free daily workout" in any app store or on YouTube.
posted by fshgrl at 12:57 PM on November 22, 2011

I understand what you're saying fshgrl, but that's what is confusing me...I went the whole summer and all of September with aches and pains (some of them pretty bad) from working out and I never let it stop me. Then all of a sudden boom I lost my momentum.

FWIW, it appears that six moths is the cutoff timeframe by which most of the people who make New Year fitness and exercise resolutions drop out. For those who manage to make it past 6 months, the drop off rate attenuates dramatically. I forget how many inflection points there were, but I think the first was a big group dropping out by week 6, then another by week 8, then some other point I don't remember, but by the 6 month mark, the attrition was mostly done. You happened not to make it to the 6 months, which means you're still safely in the big drop out cohort. It would be much more noteworthy if it happened after 6 months. Just wanted to address this, since you found it confusing - it's very common up to 6 months, so 5 months is nothing unusual (i.e. you're quite normal!).

As to what to do about it, there are many good suggestions above. For me, it's three things. First, a workout buddy (for cardio - my wife); second, super convenience so there are no excuses - you can make a workout station in almost any space, including a single (for strength training) - personally I hate gyms, what with the driving, the waiting for machines, the depressing atmosphere, the evil visuals and so on; minimize all that, it's entirely possible; third, find something else to do while exercising (at least for cardio) - listen to music, watch TV, listen to the radio, learn a language, read a book. Good luck!
posted by VikingSword at 2:47 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get back on track with your diet and your exercise by monitoring them closely so you can actually see what the results are. I use livestrong's daily plate and frankly I've been stunned by how linear the relationship is. It is very motivating to know that you get out exactly what you put in. 2+ years and counting and I'm down 50lbs.
posted by srboisvert at 7:35 AM on November 23, 2011

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