The Grit Doctor: Don’t let your motivation to exercise run out of steam
Q How did Christmas come round again so fast? I took up running in 2012 when I read your book and I went mad for it, even running the Dublin half-marathon later that same year having never left the sofa before. My bum made a dent so deep in the couch, it was a permanent fixture.
But since then my old habits have crept back in and I’m back where I was in 2011 – same weight (a stone and a half over) and addicted to Netflix. I haven’t been running in months; in fact, I’m not sure I’ve been at all this year. As I write this, I realise how bad it’s got. I want to get back into it but this weather isn’t helping. Why is it that I was so motivated then but now I’ve got nothing? It’s making me feel so bad about myself. Joan
A Sometimes, something happens in our lives that makes us sit up and take notice of our health, our diet and our overall wellbeing. It may be a brutal wake-up call from a well-meaning doctor, pointing out you are dangerously overweight and that is putting a strain on your heart or, worse, a heart attack that triggers the conversation. Or maybe it’s a vanity trigger, as it was in my husband’s case when a hideous 20-year school reunion photograph shocked him into taking action to deal with his weight.
In your case perhaps it was just picking up Run Fat B!tch Run that jolted you out of your inertia. Whatever it was, it had the effect of making you not only sit up and take notice, but, crucially, to do something about it and to take positive action.
Everything lined up at just the right moment to give you that much-needed kick up the backside and get you off the couch. It’s great this did happen for you, because for others that moment has not yet come and for some it may never come at all.
However, there is a flaw in relying on external factors, temporary “reasons” or events for helping to motivate us to commit to our exercise/diet/lifestyle regimes. When the perceived problem is dealt with – the weight reached, the blood pressure down or the wedding dress unzipped – the reason we had been using as fuel for our motivation tank goes with it too.
Without that fuel, we tend to slow down and stagnate. Then, the cake-scoffing, sofa-surfing and Netflix-bingeing start again.
Once that imaginary finishing line is crossed, we no longer feel the need to continue with our healthy regime because we have been linking our commitment to exercise/healthy eating with a goal that has now been achieved. Box ticked. Job done.
A mindset that provides us with a much better motivation tank, less likely to empty, is the one which says: “There is no endgame.” This isn’t for the office Christmas party or my wedding day or because I’ve read a book and entered a 10k race.
This is the body and mind I have to live with forever, and I need them to be in the best possible nick all the time to survive life’s daily onslaught and respond to their ongoing needs, tweaking and adjusting my routines along the way as and when necessary.
This is a commitment I’m making for my health for the rest of my life. Because this is not a vanity project, and our best interests are served when our bodies are working at an optimum level. Exercise is the most effective tool we have at our disposal towards that end: keeping our bodies operating optimally.
If it were a pill, the health service budgeting crisis would be solved. Everything that gets progressively worse as we age is improved through regular exercise: think heart disease, bone density, excess weight, low moods, poor libido, flagging energy levels, to name but a few.
Once we take on the philosophy that this is a life choice and not a seasonal one, we start motivating ourselves for the long haul. No matter how old we get, we can still keep on running (injuries aside, of course), and in so doing continue to reap the rewards.
I remember, back in 2003 I think, I ran the New York marathon, and, at about the half-way point, I met a man in his 80s. He asked me if this was my first marathon.
Proudly I told him that it wasn’t and that I had run the London marathon the year before. I asked him the same question and he told me it was his 48th marathon. He was smiling and in such good shape that he raced past me, a whipper-snapper at 28 years of age and supposedly in her physical prime.
His lifelong commitment to the sport was radiating through every fibre of his being, enabling him to live a full and active life in spite of his old age.
So, Joan, try to reframe your commitment to exercise as an ongoing obligation to your health. It may be this reframing which gives you the motivation to start up again; if it doesn’t, go back and read Run Fat B!tch Run and see if it can work its magic on you again.
Failing that, consider the looming prospect of meeting New Year’s Day 2016 a bit older, a bit fatter and a bit more out of condition than last year, with a list of resolutions so long it needs an appendix. Don’t let that be you.
Ruth Field is author of Run Fat B!tch Run, Get Your Sh!t Together and Cut the Crap.
Posted by Ike Onwubuya