Finding it hard to get moving these days? Struggling to consistently work out with your routines thrown off? Consider telling yourself stories about yourself to help you get started and keep you going. It’s what I’m doing, and it’s really paying off. When I’m struggling to stay motivated, these internal narratives push me through to the next set.
“I never regret getting started.” This one is completely true for me, and for that matter, I almost never regret working out. Very occasionally, when I’ve been pushing too hard, or I’m coming down with something, or my life is exceptionally stressful elsewhere, I find that I just can’t finish a workout. But even then, I’m glad I made an effort. My body feels better, my thoughts usually feel clearer, and I like knowing that I did what I could. This story gets me into my workout gear and gets me to give it at least a start. I almost always finish.
“I’m an athlete and this is training, not just another workout.” This story (and it is a fiction in my case, albeit a powerful one) helps me focus on the task at hand. When the goal is training, the movement and intensity matter. I can focus on what muscles I’m using, the quality of the contractions, and on how my technique matters. Whereas if I’m just “exercising,” there’s some permission in my head to back off and go through the motions–after all, I’m still getting in my daily movement, so what does it matter if that last set was a little easy or sloppy?
“I am choosing to be a person who does this, it isn’t something I do out of obligation.” Yes, taking care of myself makes me a better wife, friend and daughter. I’m nicer when I take time to work out. I’m also decreasing the likelihood that I get certain diseases and conditions. But, I have a choice every day about continuing to do this work. And some days, I choose to take a break. It’s all ok, but it isn’t ok to act like someone is forcing me, because they’re not. When I tell myself this story, I reduce the rebel inside me that wants to say “Eff you” to the world and skip working out to “do whatever I want,” because this IS what I want.
“I am lucky I get to do this.” I cannot overemphasize how deeply motivating this story is for me. I have been physically disabled to the point that walking a block would make me lightheaded, breathless and in pain. It has taken me years, decades, to get to the level of fitness I’m at today, and I do not take it for granted. I feel so lucky that I’ve been given this time to push myself. This story reminds me to acknowledge this reality with gratitude.
“I’m at the gym right now.” This is a story I’ve had to start telling myself specifically during my home workouts these days. If I’m at the gym, I’m not checking email, doing chores, talking to the cats, or otherwise wasting time. The goal is to use the hour to get some lifting done so I can “go home.” Incidentally, I’ve started to tell this story to my husband, too. Now he knows that when I’m “at the gym,” unless it’s urgent, conversation and other interruptions can wait until I’m done. I am really loving finding some “alone” time even when I’m never alone in the house these days.
In the midst of the surreal realities of our current situation, I am finding the structure of my lifting to be a valuable tool for self-care. These stories, the mindset with which I approach my lifting, have become important to get me off the sofa and to my trusty resistance bands more days than not.
Your turn, dear reader: What are you telling yourself to help you stay motivated?
Marjorie Hundtoft is a (mostly online, and not very good at it, yet) middle school science and health teacher. She can be found using positive imagery and self-talk while pretending to pick up heavy things and put them back down again in Portland, Oregon.