Navigating the “No-Man’s Land” Between Motivation and Habit

After a Friday night food bender, you decide Monday will begin you health and fitness journey. You find a few workouts you’re going to do, join a gym, get some new clothes and compile a fantastic list of superfood ingredients for your new clean eating diet. You’re optimistic, excited and maybe a little nervous for this next step. Your dream body is in mind and you are 100% committed…for about 2 weeks (or maybe only till next Friday). Your diet is probably the first thing to slacken, followed by a drop in exercise intensity, and then perhaps exercise altogether.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, you’re one of the millions of us caught in what I call the “motivation cycle.” You’re committed, dedicated and inspired for a short while. Your intentions are good, and your excitement is genuine, but after the fitness honeymoon phase, your motivations wanes, which reflects in your actions. Motivation is a great tool; it gets you started on the path to self-improvement. It gets you excited about the possibilities for your future. That’s great! You need that, but you can’t rely on it to get you all the way to habit development.

When something is a habit, it’s part of your routine. You don’t think about it, you just do it. It’s assumed that it’ll be part of your day like brushing your teeth, or checking your Facebook. Granted, working out isn’t a habit like biting your nails. It’s a lifestyle, really. It takes time and planning, but it can become something you work into your day without having to go to great lengths to do so. You may not always want to, in fact, you’ll have days where you’d rather be forced to binge watch Teletubbies while buried up to your neck in an active anthill. However, you’ll make time to do it because that’s just how you live. But how do you get to this point from the initial motivation phase?

The short answer is time, consistency, and grit. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I say it takes way longer. This is more than a habit. This is lifestyle overhaul. It takes months to get started, years to find your rhythm, and a lifetime to maintain and perfect. You need to have a firm understanding of this before you can work through the motivation phase and break into the habit phase. A “21 day fix” or “6 week challenge” may not be enough to get you there. It can get you started, but where do you go after that? Have you chosen to commit to this kind of regimen for the rest of your life? Do you truly believe that? Everyone will be different, but here are my personal tips for making the jump from fitness honeymoon to fitness for life:

  1. Find something you love to do. Most people I’m aware of think they hate exercise. Most of the time, that’s not true. They hate what they’re doing to get exercise. Try new things. Be willing to learn new things and step outside your comfort zone. It may end up changing your life. This can be anything that gets you active: a sport, cardio, weight training, zumba, yoga, hiking, active hobbies…seriously anything! Doing something you enjoy will keep you interested longer and most likely provide you with a supportive network. It’ll be something that doesn’t always feel like a chore, but rather a way to let loose, clear your head and provide needed “me time.”
  2. Be accountable. This is more loaded than it sounds, and probably the best way to get over the motivation hump. Option 1: be accountable to others. Hire a trainer, find a workout buddy, start an instagram where those you know and love can follow your journey, join a team or workout class. Somehow find a way to work people into your circle who will rely on you to fulfill a responsibility of some sort. Option 2: be accountable to yourself. This goes beyond asking youself “Did I work out today?” This should also be done regardless of whether or not you choose option 1. Set goals (S.M.A.R.T. goals!), track your workouts and meals, take progress photos and body measurements, and reward yourself appropriately as you reach certain milestones. Accountability is crucial, so develop this skill early on to keep you working through difficult times.
  3. Do something every day. You don’t have to leave yourself dead on the ground after every single workout; this is actually a good way to burn out fast and potentially injure yourself. You won’t want to work out every day. You’ll have situations where you lack time, energy, equipment, or direction. Unless you are sick or injured, these are probably the days you will need to do something most. This trains your will to be stronger than your weakness. This also trains your mindset to look at cans instead of can’t, to focus on abilities and not excuses. Your workout may be lackluster, short, or deviate from your plan, but you will have achieved one of those small, consistent efforts that lead to lasting change.
  4. Focus on health, let everything else fall into place. You should have clearly defined goals, for sure. However, focusing too much on these as you do your day-to-day work can lead to feeling overwhelmed or stagnant. This in turn can lead to a lull in motivation and unwillingness to persue a lifestyle change. A watched pot never boils. A watched body fat percentage never drops. A watched 1 rep max never increases. Watched abdominals never turn into a six pack. Focus on your health, habits, accountability, and workout quality and all your specific goals will fall into place. Trust the process and give it time.
  5. Be strict in your goals and flexible in your methods. Be fearless and relentless in pursuit of what you want, but don’t let the minutiae crowd out your ability to live your life. Things are hardly ever constant. You’ll face obstacles in a variety of forms and flexibility allows you to work around them. Accept that there may be some deviance from your plan, but have Plans B, C, and D to fall back on. If things don’t go the way you planned during a workout, accept where you are and do all you can in that moment. If other weaknesses arise, find ways to strengthen them as you go. Have your goal, but realize in advance that there are multiple roads to get there.

Again, ultimately the change comes through time and consistency. I often get told, “I don’t know how you do it.” I’m several years into my journey. It’s been a learning process and had its ups and downs. Give yourself the chance to get there. Push through the times of struggle. Be gentle with yourself, but not lazy in your expectations. It can be done! Go you!

Oh, and let me know how I can help! This is my job. I’m pretty good at it. 😉

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