You’re a few months, maybe even weeks, into your “quest for a more awesome you.” You’ve:
- lost body fat
- increased strength and,
- maybe had to buy “smaller” pants.
Waking up in the morning, you can feel that your confidence has increased because you have a little more pep in your step; people have been complimenting you on how more “fit” you look. You’ve comfortably settled into the groove of this exercise and diet thing for once in your life.
Then, life happens.
- Work becomes hectic and your daily tasks become 100x more stressful.
- There’s a family crisis that’s causing your levels of anxiety to skyrocket.
- You’re bogged down in school with papers or exams.
- Your car breaks down and it’s going to cost hundreds of dollars to fix.
During this time of high stress, your workouts suffer. Weights that you crush on a normal basis, now feel like a train full of elephants. You slip on your diet and have a weekend binge fest of beer and chicken wings. Because not only did life decided to strap on a dildo and fuck you in the ear, but now the one place you found solitude and comfort, the gym, has become a torture cell of misery.
After a weekend of throwing your diet out the window,
you’re not even motivated at all to hit the gym on Monday.
Hell, you are not even motivated to go to work, to kiss your significant other, or even to plan your meals for the week.
As you drive to work, you think to yourself: “I’ve been doing so well, for so long but now I don’t feel motivated at all.”
When those words seep into your brain you have entered what I call “The Dead Marshes”.
Like Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings, we all find ourselves trodding through the “Dead Marshes of Motivation” at some point.
Tolkien describes the dead marshes like this in The Two Towers:
“Dreary and wearisome. Cold, clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long-forgotten summers.”
You can smell the staleness of the air, you can feel the icy chill of death as it slowly seeps into your bones when you read this passage.
For me, the imagery of the marshes: dreary, sullen, and ragged is an excellent metaphor for those times when we lose motivation.
When we enter this area, our thoughts become dreary, and our bodies and minds are easily fatigued. Like Frodo, entranced by the faces of the dead in the murky waters, we’re easily pulled down into the depths of demotivation.
These desolate, shallow, murky waters are never easy to get out of once we allow ourselves to sink in.
Stay the Path
What do you do when you enter the marshes of the dead?
How do you reignite your motivation to get out and continue on your quest?
1. Create a Routine/Ritual
Make sure you have a routine or a ritual that you go through every day before you exercise. Human beings are creatures of habit. 95% of our daily actions are habitual. With a routine/ritual, you are far less likely to get too far off your path when your motivation wanes.
This routine could be listening to a song that “pumps” you up while you put on your shoes. It could be keeping your gym pack in the passenger seat of your car with the shoes on the outside, with your shoes on the outside they have a chance to sort of sit there and wink at you; “you know what to do with us, put us on”
Your routine could be as simple as putting your gym shoes right beside your bed so that they are the first thing you see or put on in the morning.
The more habitual the action, the easier it is for you to push through this motivational dead space as it has become a part of your daily actions.
2. Look Back at Your Successes
Look at an old photo of yourself or look at your last before and after. Then head over to the dumbbells and pick up the amount of weight you lost and hold it.
Stare at it while thinking to yourself, “I used to carry this around. This is what I’ve lost.”
Remember all the hard work you put in to get that weight off, then (if you can) shove that way above your head or do a goblet squat with it.
Knowing that you can squat or press the weight you lost for a few reps and not have pain or laugh at how insignificant that weight feels now, is an empowering moment and a great way to help reignite some motivation.
3. Reach Out to Your Support System or Coach
If you workout with a group of friends or in a class, there will come times when everyone loses motivation. The great thing about being in a group is that you will have more than one person there supporting and encouraging you.
Some of them even just came out of their motivational funk, a funk where you provided support and encouragement, and now it is their turn.
If you are doing this by yourself and do not have a partner or a group, talk to your coach/trainer. Send them an email or set up a Skype call and tell them why you are frustrated. They are there to help you achieve your goals. Sort of like your own personal Samwise.
If you have neither a group nor a coach, call up an old friend or confidant, someone who always seems to provide some wisdom or at least has a way of putting you back on the right track mentally.
4. Find Your Inspiration (books, podcasts, movies, music)
On those days where I am completely unmotivated to write, I do two things: get out in nature and take a walk and listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast.
Walking, in nature, has been shown to have a ton of benefits for breaking mental barriers. Maybe it’s the fresh air, the sound of the wind in the trees or the feel of the sun on my skin, but a 20-30-minute walk in the park can go a long way in clearing out the muck of my mind.
Grab your favorite book or one that has a way of inspiring you. Turn on your favorite song or listen to that album from high school that for some reason always helped you to settle down during those angsty teenage years.
5. Wade Through the Marsh (Take it one step at a time)
BJ Fogg, a Ph.D. behavioral science professor at Stanford University in this video tells us that motivation comes in waves. At the peak of our motivation, we can handle the toughest of tasks. In the down parts of the wave, even the easiest of tasks can seem overwhelming.
The truth is, you will have those times when you are completely unmotivated. When the trough of the wave seems too deep and you feel stuck in this desolate place, destined to remain here.
Take it one day at a time. It will get better.
For a little while, it may benefit you to refocus your goals on making the smallest achievements that you can.
Like when adding small pieces of wood, like sticks or twigs, to a fire to get it to burn. Small victories can go a long way in helping to reignite your motivational fire.
On to Mordor
We all get stuck in “dead marshes” at one point or another. Motivation will ebb and flow throughout your life, but when the lows come, the steps above can help you stay focused on your quest for a more awesome you.
If you do not have a support system or your own Samwise, please feel free to reach out to me if you ever have a question, need to rant, or need a bit of motivation as well.