It's that time of year again. Cold, dark mornings and overwhelming urges to indulge in comfort food. Yes it's hibernation time! A time when the motivation to exercise and make healthy choices is often at an all time low.
This is the time of year when you see that monthly direct debit from your bank account and think “Geez I really need to get to the gym”. While at the time you had the best of intentions to hit that gym 4 times a week (and you may have achieved that over the warmer months), several weeks later....as the weather gets colder, that initial surge of motivation dwindles and you are left with the residual guilt that comes from that monthly reminder that you are wasting your hard earned money on a gym membership that’s gaining some serious cobwebs!
It’s a vicious cycle leading to feelings of failure and guilt.
So why does this happen? Here are a few of the main reasons:
- Our expectations and goals are too big. In a nutshell, we are impatient!
- We are way too hard on ourselves (see point 1!!)
- We let our negative emotions sabotage our attempts at being healthy (e.g., emotional over eating)
- We get bored
- We focus way too much on what we “should” be doing, and not enough on what we “are” doing.
So how do you get motivated and stay motivated, especially during winter? Here are my top tips to help you kick start your inner health mojo and keep it going!
- Find a virtual soul sister. This is all about selecting a role model. Someone who inspires you, not someone who you compare yourself with. Becoming part of an online #fitspiration community can provide awesome inspiration and motivation, as long you always bring it back to what’s realistic and achievable for you. Unless you are a professional athlete, chef, or some other type of health or fitness guru, it’s unlikely that you would be able to sustain a lifestyle (and body!) that mirrors those who have made a career out of health and fitness. Your aim should always be about being the best version of yourself you can be, not to be a carbon copy of Michelle Bridges or Cameron Diaz.
- Get Real. Who wouldn’t love a six-pack right? To stay motivated you really need to keep checking your expectations. Are they realistic? If you aren't sure, do your research or ask an expert. There is little point striving to achieve something that is out of reach. That’s a motivation killer! By setting realistic and achievable goals your self-esteem will thank you and the confidence you gain will drive you forward.
- Keep Score. Visit the online app store. There are some fabulous apps around which can help you set realistic goals, and then track your progress. Not measuring your progress is like having a competition without a scoreboard! So for all you runners out there take a look at Couch to 10km (or half marathon), RunKeeper, Nike running. For all round fitness and nutrition look at My FitnessPal, 7-min workout, Fitness Buddy, Lorna Jane App and FitBit.
- Get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. A recent study in Obesity by Teixeira, Silva and colleagues, showed that one of the predictors of sustained health and weight loss is lowering emotional eating. Understanding the emotions and feelings that trigger overeating, or the tendency to stay in bed rather than exercise, is really important, if you want to keep on track with your health and fitness goals. Learn to sit with these feelings rather than react to them. All emotions are transient, so remember that even the most distressing emotions don’t stick around.
- Be flexible. To be perfectly healthy you don’t have to be perfect. There is real power in embracing imperfection. You will make a mistake at some point. Whether it be missing a few training sessions, or over eating at a buffet. Accept it and move on. Don’t get stuck beating yourself up, this is another big motivation killer! Learn from it and move on. Simple. Now lets move on…..
- Mix it up. When you start skipping too many boot camp sessions, or sneaking in too many unhealthy snacks (and it becomes a pattern as opposed to an occasional boo boo), think about whether you may be getting bored with your routine. You also need to adapt your routine according to the weather. For example, in the cooler months consider trading outdoor bootcamp to the warmth of a gym class, and swap salads for soups and veges. Once boredom begins to set in, motivation has a tendency to slide at the same time, so get to know the early warning signs. Sometimes, something as simple as changing your playlist, or buying some new training gear can give you another boost of motivation just when you need it.
- Be Patient! Change takes time, doing too much too soon is not sustainable for long-term change. In fact research has shown that big changes over short periods of time might give you quick results, but they don’t tend to stick around for long. Keep your focus on what you have achieved, rather than what you want to achieve, and always remember to reward your achievements!
- Be Present. It’s great to have goals, but they should guide you and not become your sole focus. The only way you will get to where you want to go is by focussing on the here and now. Stop saying “I should”, as this immediately assumes “you won’t” and replace it with “I will”. Adopting a mantra is one way to keeping you focussed. It’s also a way of balancing out that little negative voice that sits in your head waiting for you to fail. Imagine something like “I’m strong” or “just do it” in the voice of Commando. Now if that doesn’t motivate you nothing will! (note: steer clear of negative self deprecating mantra's...they may work for US Marines or Special Forces recruits but generally not for everyone else ;-))
Remember your body has a wonderful way of giving you vital information, which can help you stay on track. Learn to listen to your body. If you are unwell or injured, focus on healing your body. Respecting your body is an important part of having a positive body image and healthy self-esteem. A recent study by Miriam Eisenberg from The George Washington University found that a positive body image leads to positive changes in exercise frequency and habit. In other words, learn to respect your body now by listening to it and giving it what it needs. Don’t wait until you have lost those extra kilos.
Accept that motivation will always come and go. However if you have a range of tools and strategies to kick-start it again, you can stop being a passenger on that familiar motivation roller coaster and start being the driver!