Struggling for exercise motivation? Its easy! All you need is to have a chronic illness!
Ah yes, motivation. The stuff is like gold isn’t it? Oh to have a huge motivation hoard to dive into and swim around in like Scrooge McDuck! To be motivated is to feel the satisfaction of making progress, to feel forward momentum towards a goal or dream. Lacking it is a place of guilty procrastination. Not showing up – it doesn’t feel good.
So how do you get it (and trap it so it never leaves)? Especially for exercise. Urgh. I’ve started many a new year off with a hiss and a roar and a fresh lot of optimistic resolutions on becoming extremely awesomely fit, only to fizzle out in Can’tbefaffedland by February. Being motivated enough to keep going and never give up, even when it gets hard has felt to me as being as achievable as solving a mind bogglingly impossible-looking equation, the kind you need to write on a whiteboard in some hall of academia and hope Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting strolls past.
Now I have an advantage in the motivation stakes. This advantage is so great its almost unfair, it literally gifts me motivation on a plate. The secret of my success? I get an immensely greater pay off from exercising now, and the shadow-side is just as big. If I don’t exercise I feel many shades of shit.
Yeah, yeah I hear you say. We know. Exercise makes you feel good, it releases endorphins, blah blah.
But that’s not what I mean. I don’t know what it is, or how exercising achieves it, but if I don’t exercise almost every day (skipping more than a day in a row is dire) the level of crappiness to which I rapidly sink can be devastating. I’m talking about going from a normally functioning human being (well, sort of normal!) to someone who moves like they’re in a YouTube-like dimension where the playback has been set to 0.25 speed.
Getting to a stage of self generating motivation does, unfortunately, take effort. I had to get past the feeling that lying down is the best response when I’m shaking and struggling to lift my foot. To do this I had to shake the belief that because it is hard to lift my leg, that this means I can’t lift my leg, and to substitute a visualisation of success. Doing this builds mental (most important) and physical (next important) strength. Over time your confidence grows; but it won’t happen over night.
Finding something really fun to do, involves intense workouts (good intensity for me is when I’m challenged by it, my heart rate increases, I’m out of breath and sweaty), and that supplies a constant source of difficult things to learn, really helps. My drug of choice is karate (although I supplement it with all kinds of other things like stretching and strength training, intervals, LSVT BIG exercises, running around being silly, doing handstands, jumping on the trampoline). I think I find karate so fun because it is really challenging, and over time I’ve realised that at karate training I enter a calm state of mind. I focus, but I do not think. I love going to training. If I ever feel a bit like “yeah, nah, can’t be bothered tonight’ I push through it, because it always feels better to turn up.
Karate for me provides a good structure that I find helpful, a framework in which I’m learning specific things for a purpose. For example, I’m working on the strength in my legs to help me hold deep stances, and do powerful kicks. And incidentally those strong legs help me to balance, walk, avoid falls, and look cool doing said stances and kicks.
It also helps when you get some wins along the way. Tasting success keeps you motivated. When I began doing karate I was overwhelmed by how much I had to learn. To be honest, at the beginning I thought getting to yellow (the first colour belt you can earn) would be a miracle. Changing belt colours encourages you to keep going, it gives you a sense of moving upwards. You feel a real sense of achievement when you pass a grading, and that sense of pride is a great source of dopamine!
The fun of it for me also comes from learning new things. Nothing comes easy, and you don’t learn something after being shown once. You have to layer. You get shown how to do a move, you practice it, you go to training and get shown more new aspects of that same move, you keep training, practising, you improve, you practice, you pass a grade, you practice. As you go you continue to learn new aspects about moves you learn at the beginning, you never stop learning or practicing.
This is motivating, to me. I want to learn, am hungry to learn. There is no specific end point, or destination. I’m not fixated on arriving anywhere. I just want to keep moving. To move is to live; to live is to learn.