When You Don’t Feel Motivated, Lean into What You Love

When You Don’t Feel Motivated, Lean into What You Love

This winter’s been rough for many of my clients. Do you relate?

Between the Omicron surge and the general cold and flu season, many of my clients are now bouncing back from having been sick. Combine that with the normal malaise of mid-winter, cold weather, and short days, it’s easy to see why exercise isn’t at the top of most people’s priority lists.

Under the best of circumstances, exercising can push you up against challenges, like…

  • Getting out of a warm bed before the sun is up
  • Getting out of comfortable pajamas (or jeans) to squeeze into spandex and a sports bra
  • Dealing with bad weather (even if it’s just getting in a cold car to go to the gym)
  • Mentally pushing yourself to endure the sheer physical discomfort of exercise
  • Getting in a workout when you’re mentally tired after work

But when you’re stressed out, staying in bed, or in your comfortable clothes, can seem so much nicer.

Because exercise is good for your physical and mental health, not to mention weight management, I am a strong advocate for getting comfortable with discomfort and testing your limits.

But this doesn’t mean that you can’t grease the gears and make it easier for yourself.

Here’s my tip that I’ve been throwing out to clients like confetti this winter:

When you don’t feel motivated, lean into what you love.

When you don’t feel like exercising, don’t pick exercise that you don’t like. It sounds obvious, but I frequently see this with clients, that they set up a high expectation for exercise but then it’s so daunting that they don’t do it all. Whereas, if they had picked something easier or more enjoyable, they probably would have done it.

Day by day, or even week by week, choose activities that speak to you, that are relatively easy for you, and that you can incorporate naturally into your lifestyle. Maybe it’s even a type of exercise you that you love, but you don’t take it seriously as “exercise.”

For example, I own a treadmill (which I highly recommend whether you’re a runner or a walker, and this is the one I own). It’s in my garage, which is pretty convenient in my house. I also love to run – especially to improve my 5K time. So anytime life goes into a temporary “survival mode” where exercise suddenly seems like more of an inconvenience and drudgery, my strategy is to tilt my workouts more into running workouts and less into strength training. I may still go to the gym once or twice a week, but the reduced frequency makes it feel more manageable. Meanwhile, because I like to run, I sweat it out on the treadmill listening to podcasts or watching favorite documentaries on YouTube (i.e., other things I enjoy, which is what I call “sweetening the deal”).

As a personal trainer who really values and prioritizes strength training, it would be easy to think of fewer strength workouts as a failure. But I tell myself what I tell all my clients: exercise is exercise. If you’re moving, if you’re getting your heart rate up, if you’re working your muscles somehow, and if you’re doing it for any appreciable amount of time, you’re exercising.

Don’t discount the types of activities you really love and enjoy, which are easy to incorporate into your life. Don’t force yourself to do things you don’t like so you can get mental “credit” for exercising. Aim for activities that carry a low mental load – things that are easy to “check out” mentally while you’re doing them.

The only way you should “push” yourself is to do the things you enjoy as frequently as possible. If you love to walk, try to walk daily. If you love yoga, take three classes that week instead of one. If running is relaxing for you, hit the treadmill three or four times that week. Just try to do something every day, or almost every day.

So if you’re totally stressed out, remember to lean into activities you enjoy the most and “count” them as exercise, whether they include:

… and more!

When you do activities like this, you reap many of the benefits of exercise, like a boosted mood and heart health. You may not be moving your larger exercise goals forward for that season, or making a huge change in your physique.

But doing anything is better than doing nothing – and the latter is often what people do when they’re overwhelmed by their own expectations for exercise.

What you may not realize, additionally, is that doing “fun” exercise that keeps you in decent shape builds a bridge to when a stressful, de-motivating season ends, whether that’s a week from now or a month from now. You’ll find at that point that you do have the motivation to raise the level of discomfort, to test yourself, and to expand your limits.

But it’s so much easier to do that if you’ve built that bridge, rather than letting exercise habits completely lapse.

Trust me. Seasons of low motivation do end. Right now I’m reading The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi (which weirdly and perfectly summarizes many of the meal planning and time management strategies that I communicate to my clients). In the chapter called “Live in the Season” (one of her “Lazy Genius Principles”), she says:

Lean into what’s happening around you, and don’t assume how you live now is how you’ll live forever. Seasons change, and so do you.”

Kendra Adachi, The Lazy Genius Way

Winter’s going to end, folks. Hang in there.

(On the flip side, winter can be a great time to get serious about strength training – interested in getting a personalized plan of 3-5 workouts a week with the equipment you have? Send me a message.)