“After a break, how do you motivate yourself to get back into the gym?”
This question popped up on an “Ask Me Anything” session I was doing recently. It’s always a good one, because we all face this situation at some point.
Breaks are inevitable in our routine and our lives. We’re human. We get sick, we get injured, we get tired, we get busy. And so we end up out of our movement routine (whether that’s in the gym or on the trail or in the pool, etc.) and we have to find our way back in.
Sure, there are people who never miss a workout. They’re probably those kids who never missed a day of grammar school or high school, too. And they might be the folks who show up at work when they’re feverish or blowing snot all over. But the rest of us are human. And we miss a week or a month or … years.
So, how do you get back into activity after a period off?
1.) Show Up.
It’s simple, but it’s the start. All the motivational books in the world won’t help if you never get off your couch. Stop researching and thinking and preparing, and go do something TODAY. Your clothes don’t have to be stunning, your plan doesn’t have to be flawless, your nutrition doesn’t have to be perfect. You just have to get moving.
2.) Look For Joy.
In every activity, no matter how painful, there is probably one thing you like. Even if it’s something small. Say you hate deadlifting (gasp!) but you know that after a heavy lift, you get to sit on the bench for three minutes until that next lift. Enjoy the heck out of those three minutes! Make that your happy spot. Maximize your joy, and then get the work done. Or, say you have to run (Please, God, no), then remember this: At some point, you get to stop. (Booyah!) You don’t have to run until the end of time. See? Joy right there. A great life is made in the small moments.
3.) Settle Into The Pain.
Some things you might really despise, but you know they’re good for you. When that happens, just go deep into whatever you’re doing. If the workout calls for sprints, then sprint. Sure, you’ll be uncomfortable but so what? Life isn’t all butterflies and babies behinds. Be present in your experience. Really present. Don’t distract yourself out of it, because even in the middle of your pain, you might learn something. I remember hearing a story about the elite runner Joan Samuelson. Someone offered her headphones on the treadmill. She refused, saying what she was going to put into the effort was exactly what she was going to get out of it, so she’d rather be attracted to what she was doing than distracted away from it. If you can train your brain to do that, you’re going to develop resilience, and resilience will take you far.
4.) Once You Get In Motion, Stay In Motion.
This is where it gets harder. The second day brings soreness. The second week brings complications. But success doesn’t come on the first day, or everybody would have success. Success comes in the dark and quiet moments when everyone else has gone home. Success comes when it’s just you and your pain, fighting, struggling, and you might even be crying. It might feel like pain is winning.
That’s okay. Many of us know how you feel. And we (as well as your future self) urge you to keep going. They say quitters never win, but quitters also look like shit. Quitters don’t deadlift 300 lbs and quitters don’t smile big after their run. Quit that quittin’. Like Cheryl Strayed writes in “Brave Enough”: “You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue.”
5.) Adjust Your Attitude.
Stop beating yourself up. We all do this—and women are especially good at it. We turn our anger on ourselves. Stop that. Turn your anger onto the trail or the barbell. So you missed a week or a decade. Life happens. You will gain nothing through self-flagellation for past mistakes, but you will gain everything by learning to love yourself. It might sound trite, but it’s true! Remind yourself that you’re back in the game. That’s great news!
In my book “Strong Starts in the Mind”, there’s an essay called “Some Weeks Suck” because I KNOW that some weeks suck. I know how hard we are on ourselves. But I also give advice that I follow myself: “Grit your teeth and finish that ride. Not every day will be your day. Not every workout will feel good. Not every joke is going to make you laugh, and some jokes are going to make you want to punch somebody. But don’t punch. Lift. Run. Breathe. Survive. Because tomorrow might be your day. And next week? It might be the best ever. Our happiness ultimately lies not in the outcome of each thing we do, but in our outlook after each thing we do.”
Getting back to exercise is rarely as hard as your brain makes it out to be, so you have to focus on your outlook as well as your workout. Like that old Japanese saying: “Fall 9 times. Get up 10.” Or, in this case, “Stop exercising 9 times. Start again 10.” Get moving. You’ll feel better because you did—and you’ll move closer to your goals!
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