struggling to find the drive
Most of us are great at starting things off. Something clicks in our head and we want to do something immediately, make a change and a snap decision is made to do something. It is only a few weeks or months into it that the engine slows down and things start to unravel.
For the first few weeks, the novelty of things remain. While it might be difficult to endure, the dopamine hit at the end of it, the feeling of goodness that we get when finishing a workout - it just feels darn good. And we can feel ourselves getting better - mentally and physically. You feel good getting a sweat going, you feel good that you've done something you've been wanting to do and something you've been annoyed that you haven't done so far.
And then, suddenly things start to unravel.
We find that the time we were making is suddenly not so straightforward.
We skip a session here and there.
The results seem to slow down as well. Is it just you or is it getting a bit boring?
And we struggle to find the drive that was there initially.
Hitting snooze and sleeping in seems to happen a lot more frequently.
Making excuses seems to be happening a lot but they all seem valid.
what happened to our motivation?
There are many reasons that our motivation disappears. I'd like to address just a couple here, in this post.
One is our need for instant results and gratification. The problem with good habits is that they show their returns much later. If you clean up your eating and go to the gym for 12 weeks, you might see a spurt in results somewhere in there. But there will be days and weeks when results, as most of them measure it by the weight lifted or weight lost, will slow down. That's how it is. This is why I am a big believer in process and effort over results. Having a goal is great but I've found that for me and most of my students, "go to the gym 3 days a week" is a better goal than "lose 1 kilo a week". I've written more on these topics already - you can check out the links in the above paragraph. I also recommend you check out James Clear's posts sometime.
The second reason I want to address as that is pertinent especially today is the accumulation of stress. Work stress has skyrocketed in the past few years. Every year, we seem to be spiralling more out of control. The past few months, with the pandemic, the structure of a work-day has gone to shit for most of us. Losing that control and structure, coupled with unreasonable increase in workload, stupid meeting hours has made things extra terrible.
Throw in the stresses of working from home, managing chores and all that, and the stress of the lockdown itself, we realise why our stress has compounded.
Our sleep is affected. Our sleep cycles are off.
Our eating is on and off. Cravings seem rampant.
We are sitting even more than before, which did not seem possible. Spending an insane amount of time staring at screens.
All of this stress means that our body is constantly stressed out and in flight-or-fight mode, as it is referred to. This means that our adrenaline and cortisol is higher, that immediate functions are more important than long term ones. You might find things like digestion taking a hit, and that's why restful sleep seems elusive.
So, when we find the drive to go to the gym (or to eat better) disappear, it is because your body wants to go to parasympathetic mode i.e. rest-and-digest. It knows you are stressed and this has been going for a long time. And it knows it needs to shut you down. Working out is stress to the body, and by working out when you have not taken care of other things, you are pouring gasoline into the fire and making things worse.
And our mind + body is amazingly smart. After many weeks or months of constantly keeping that foot on the gas, it forces you to take it off.
While this is the perfect guidance we want from our body, unfortunately we stop working out. As that's the expendable - not doing your job is not, understandably.
The better solution is a lot lot harder and we all know it. Rationally, we all know it. We are working too much, we are not as productive as we'd like even though the amount of hours we spend working and putting out fires is insane. Cleaning up our work-day stress is the solution that will cascade into everything else.
If we can zone in to work, get some solid stuff done and are able to do a 40-hour work week - that will free our energy up to spend more time with our families, to spend time doing our hobbies, to do fun things and lower our stress.
And as we do this, our stress levels normalise. And our motivation to go to the gym comes back.
But what happens is that we have one more failed attempt at this working out thing. We find ourselves deeper into the mire with our stress eating.
And when we try working out, we find ourselves tweaking our back or shoulder or some such thing and that pisses us off even more.
what do we do?
We have to focus on the long-term solution. We have to stop running away from it. While the entire nature of our work-day might not be under our control, the point is not to go from a 80-hour work week to 40 in a week. But to identify that as the issue and work towards it.
Avoiding it will not work. Find out what part of it is under your control and take care of the controllables.
And on the health front, it is definitely the time to not let go of things. We need to make these good habits persist. This is especially the time for
- cleaning up our eating. While you should definitely eat your favourite foods, ensure that you are getting your vegetables, protein and water.
- do low-intensity activities. Walking is the most accessible thing to do. Spend anywhere from 15-75 minutes walking. Put your phone on airplane mode, chill to some music and just walk. Don't try to make "I need to burn 500 calories" out of it - instead, just go on a walk. Let yourself unwind.
- try taking a vacation. Leave your phone and laptop behind for a long weekend. Even if you cannot go for an actual vacation, lock the phone and laptop somewhere and let it be there.
- sleep without an alarm for a week.
- try to get back to nature. The more time we spend cooped up in our houses and between four walls, the worse it gets. If you can reconnect with nature, you will find yourself recharging much faster.
a question to finish up with
Do this now. Don't schedule it for later. You won't.
What is the big thing you need to solve to lower your stress levels?
Sit on this. For 99% of us, it is our work day.
Put your phone away. Turn off the WiFi. Probe into this question. Spend at least 30 minutes sitting still and trying to come up with multiple solutions and ideas for this.
Don't try to come up with only rational ones - everything works. Just write them down.
Solve the biggest problem.
And once you do, you'll realise it was never about not finding the time or lacking the motivation.