Motivation Monday – When You Aren’t Motivated

First, a personal story:

After NYC, I didn’t want to run. Period. It was the first time I have ever felt that way.

Chris knew where I was at mentally (and physically, as my legs weren’t exactly working correctly!) and encouraged me to take all of November off. It was the first time someone’s suggested THAT much time off and I’ve been relieved to hear the suggestion. I poured myself into cleaning the house, taking care of the little things I’d been neglecting, working on my coaching business: online courses, creating templates, standardizing communications, thinking of a name, logo design, etc. It wasn’t until after 3+ weeks that I even felt the urge to get out the door.

Even at the end of those 3 weeks, I struggled. Chris emailed me a weekly plan; the first workout was fun: 3 miles. Woot, woot. Big mileage here, people! I was so excited to actually be RUNNING!

After a day off, I was scheduled to do 5 miles as my second workout. Easy enough, right? Except it wasn’t… I was up in the Cities running errands and came back home thinking, “Okay! Let’s get to it!”. Except I couldn’t get myself to strap on my shoes. I thought to myself: “Oh, don’t dissappoint Chris! This is the SECOND workout he’s written for you, you can’t skip it!”… but then argued against myself, remembering how awful some of my 5 mile runs before NYC Marathon went (where I struggled to even finish them). My brain filled with dread. I went back and forth with myself…. I should… I don’t want to… I should…

Yep! 🙂

Until I convinced myself it was “too late” to head out. 🙁

That’s the first time I have EVER skipped a written workout. EVER.

I wrote Chris in complete honesty that evening: “I am the worst athlete ever. The second workout you gave me, I didn’t do…”. I am a firm believer in completely honest communication, so knew I needed to let him know where I was at and that I had, embarrasingly enough, skipped his workout.

A bit of a story, but there’s a point. Motivation comes and goes. A runner is built on consistency, week-in and week-out, but there will be periods when you’ll struggle to keep lacing up the shoes. Sometimes it’s okay to take a break (after a long training cycle, for example). Other times, it’s worth pulling out tricks to get out the door.

It doesn’t matter the “reason” you are where you are – only that you recognize the need to shift the mental state (and that it should be switched – I am not advocating forcing yourself to get out the door 5 days after a rough training cycle that ended with a dismal marathon finish!).

What has worked for me/ my athletes?

1. Sign up for something “epic”. Are you bored with your current routine? Is it because you’ve done a few 5ks/ 1/2 marathons and the “newness” of the adventure has worn off? Would signing up for something new excite you? Would either an increase in distance or an increase in competition help motivate you? Scare tactics are sometimes a powerful motivator!

2. Create a HABIT. One athlete I’m working with has been struggling with motivation, so we agreed that the ONLY goal for the next couple of weeks is to not miss a workout – i.e. create a “habit” of working out/following the plan.

I went through the same thing when starting up this cycle. Make it your #1 goal to just get out the door or into the gym. Perhaps think “I’ll give this just 10 minutes“. Once you’re out the door, it’s a lot easier to continue with the full workout. And if you’re just motivated to complete JUST the 10 minutes, that’s fine too!

3. Find someone to be accountable to. A coach? A workout buddy? Find someone you don’t want to disappoint. For me, this has been Chris (and previously Jerry) – without Chris recently, I think I would have melted into oblivion. Instead, every workout I go into, I strap on my shoes and tell myself, “Let’s show Chris! I don’t want to disappoint him! I don’t want to make him feel like I’m wasting his time! It’s a honor to be coached by him!”. This has been my biggest motivator lately. I am honored to be coached by Chris and don’t want to let him down or waste his time.

Don’t just find “anyone” – look for someone who you don’t want to disappoint, hold you accountable, etc.

4. Set shorter-term goals: Sometimes when you have a far-off goal (i.e. a marathon in 5+ months), it’s hard to maintain motivation throughout the entire training cycle. I like to add in races mid-cycle (and also mid-cycle time goals) to break up the monotony of a really long training cycle.

5. Tracking your workouts: it’s encouraging to log your workouts! If not for your own well-being (this is what I did this week vs. this week last year), perhaps it is to hold yourself accountable to your coach/workout buddies. I know this was key for me with Chris recently – once I had to start logging things in a shared Google doc for him, I didn’t want to show an unscheduled day off or a workout that wasn’t what he had written! That encouraged me to get out every day and re-start the daily training “habit”!

6. A mantra: What was your motivation for starting a program? A specific race? To prove yourself you could? Whatever that motivation was, try to start visualizing it each and every day. Write it down. Put a picture of the race/goal in a notebook or a screen saver. Recently I pulled out “Believe you can!” and “Every last second counts” mantras while coaching someone in-person. Find something that works for you!

7. Rewards: I’ve never been a big “reward” person, but some find this to be a big motivator. Massage, new running gear, something you’ve been wanting for a while, etc.

8. Don’t think “all or nothing”: If you’re too busy to complete the full workout written, you aren’t “failing” by just getting out and running the ~20 minutes or however much time you have. A lot of performance is consistency, so doing “just” 20 minutes vs. throwing in the towel all-together on a day will do you much better in the long term!

9. Start small: In my experience, beginners tend to start too hard. Pick a goal that is reasonable given your current activity/fitness level. It isn’t a good idea to go from running 2x/week to expecting you’ll run 6x/week! Setting big goals is good (dream big!) but setting unrealistic goals or expectations isn’t.

10. Be social! Reach out to a running buddy! It doesn’t matter if you’re now slower or faster than you used to be (or they are slower/faster) – having a “buddy” to meet takes a lot of pressure off you to get out the door. Now you can’t back out, right?!? Plus, conversation always makes the miles go by faster :).

11. Weather have you down? Consider that running in less-than ideal conditions makes you STRONGER!

So true! Especially in the Midwest!

12. Runner’s World has some good ideas as well:

As for me: I’m re-discovering the “old Nichole” slowly… but surely. At first, I needed to pull out the “don’t disappoint Chris” card for most workouts :). No joke. I’d lace up my shoes for him. I’d look forward to logging the workout online for “him”. I know this isn’t a sustainable method of motivation, but in the short term, it got myself out the door and that’s all that matters!

Now, running daily is becoming a habit and I’m starting to enjoy it again. It’s taken a while, though, and can’t say I’m totally back there yet. It helps that I’m *starting* to see slow improvements in paces and HRs. I am still NO WHERE near where I used to be or want to be, but know I can’t change where I’m at. It’s all about making yourself better every day… I know I can’t accelerate progress.

I’d appreciate any insights you have. Been through a slump? How did you work your way out of it? Any/all ideas appreciated!

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  1. What a great post – I definitely have moments along the training cycle where I really struggle with motivation. This week I'm kind of in one of those "slumps" as I head into my next week (and biggest mileage week ever). It's going to be FRIGID here and I'm not used to running in single-digit temps – couple that with the 4:45am start times and the fact that my body is coming off of a 72-mile week (never done that before!!) and I'm struggling with motivation. I loved all of your suggestions and definitely agree that getting out the door is usually the hardest part for me. Once I'm out there, I'm usually fine. But pulling my tired butt out of my nice warm bed while everyone else in the house is sleeping to go run in the dark and cold and on my own is TOUGH. 🙂 I find that little rewards (a coffee later in the morning at Starbucks) help me. And logging the runs (I use Daily Mile) is a big motivator as well. I also am motivated by reading blogs like yours and knowing that I'm not the only crazy one out there putting this kind of time into running. 🙂 Finally, having a schedule and being able to "check off" each of the runs satisfies my type A personality – I like being able to put a big checkmark by the run. 🙂 When I'm really struggling I try to remember how I felt during some of my longer layoffs from running (pelvic stress fractures) when I could only swim or do nothing at all. That usually gets my butt in gear and out the door for my run! Thanks for the tips, Nichole, and for honestly sharing the fact that you are struggling a bit with motivation as well!! 🙂

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