Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to Stay Motivated to Run (or Exercise in General)

My friend Melissa posted an excellent question today on Facebook:  How do we (her Facebook friends) stay motivated to exercise?

I intended to write a few words of encouragement in response, but, this being me, it turned into six or seven paragraphs of highly-specified advice.  I wrote that much not because I have all the answers; far from it.  Instead, words came pouring out of me because motivation is a constant struggle for me.  In my weekly routine of running three to four days a week, I have never, in five and a half years, had a week where every single run was awesome.

So today I thought that, for what it's worth, I'd expand here on what I told her about how I keep myself going.  Maybe it'll help you (nothing I say here is exclusive to running; I just use that as my example since that's my main form of exercise) or maybe you don't care (which is fine; I'll write about something less self-help-y in the next entry).  But in any case, here's my two cents':

Becky's Guide to Staying Motivated to Run

1.  Variety.  It's really easy to get bored.  Today, I took the simple step of going straight when leaving my driveway instead of turning left or right and wow, had a fantastic run.
Is this fun yet, dammit?!

 2.  Variety (of another, er, variety).  Have big days where you do a lot and light days where you go into it knowing you're only going to do a little.  And think optimistically about the big days!  For me, that means a long run on a weekend morning (for you, maybe it's an hour at the gym instead of thirty minutes) and if I want to run 6 miles, I plan out a route for 6.5.  That way, if I'm having an awesome day, I can get a little extra in.  If I'm having an off day, I can stop at 6 and have a nice cool-down walk at the end (or even the middle, if I'm really hurting).  And either way, I've gotten (at least) my 6 miles in.

3.  Embrace multitasking. If you have a twenty-minute workout that you do, that's perfect, because that's exactly the length of a single episode of a sitcom on DVD.  Or hey, Maroon 5 has a new album on the way. I plan on depriving myself of listening to it too often except while on solo tempo runs; that way, I can distract myself from the pain I'm inflicting on my body while simultaneously giving Adam Levine the attention he so sorely deserves from me.

4.  Set goals that aren't self-defeating. Things like "I'm going to lose x pounds," or "I want my abs to look like whatever," are too easy to relinquish when you don't meet them right away. For me, I'm trying more and more to just stay focused on the goal of feeling good after I exercise.  Why?  Because it's too damned easy to beat yourself up for not living up to some arbitrary standard!  (Witness me crying for two days straight after my first marathon, depressed about my time and completely losing sight of the fact that I had just run a freaking marathon.)  Your body knows what you need and will let you know when you've done yourself right.  Hold on to that feeling and make that your goal.

5.  Take breaks and give yourself some slack. If you want to exercise three days a week, then do it...and relish the days off! As I once told Megan, "I love to run because it allows me to feel no guilt on the days when I don't have to and can come home from work and immediately start drinking beer."* It is totally legitimate to, while exercising, think about what you're going to be doing while not exercising.

(*I said this back when I had a full time job.  Please don't think I come home and start drinking at 12:30 every afternoon...although knowing me as you do, you are forgiven if that was your first thought.)  

6.  Anything is better than nothing. There are days when I'm so freaking tired, and go out and run one terrible mile when I meant to run four great ones...but that one mile is always better than zero miles. One sit-up is better than zero sit-ups. 
I smile in order that I might lie to myself.

7.  Brag about what you're doing.  Newsflash:  I kind of like talking about myself.  So when I'm in the middle of a particularly difficult run, I often try to convince myself of how enviable I will sound when I tell someone I just knocked out x number of miles.  And a lot of times for me, I don't even need to say it out loud.  I can propel myself forward on just the thought of the weekly mileage tally I write down in my journal at the end of every week.  But if you need to say it out loud, then say it!  Call someone, Facebook it, whatever.  I don't care who you are, I guarantee you there is someone in your life who will give you a thumbs up for working out.

8.  If possible, exercise (at least every once in a while) with other people.  Other people understand what you're putting yourself through and can be distractions and/or cheerleaders when needed.  They also often push you to work harder.  Pack mentality is primal and unavoidable - might as well make it work to your advantage.  

9.  Mess with your own head.  You have to find a way to convince yourself that whatever you're doing is enjoyable to you. At my lowest of low points, I think back to our ancestors on the plains of Africa, and I think, 'Becky, just be glad you're doing this for fun and not because you might die of starvation if you don't run down an antelope today.' 

Sometimes that helps...sometimes it doesn't...but ultimately, exercise for non-immediate-survival purposes is all a mind game anyway, and I guess for me, the key has been just running through all of the tricks every time until one sticks, and then starting all over again the next time...

It's hard to exercise.  It's borderline counterintuitive.  Your body has evolved to question why you are expending energy for (what it see as) no reason.  But your mind is stronger than your muscles.  I try to remember that when I'm having a bad day...and I also try not to kick myself too hard when my body wins out.  Because that does happen.  But what's much more important than a bad day is the day after, when you pull yourself together and go at it again.  

And when you're rewarded with a good day, you won't need any of this, because the feeling itself will be enough to remind you why you do this for yourself in the first place.

(Eh, and how good you look in jeans helps too.)


  1. I'm printing this out and putting it in my journal! Some great tips that I've never heard before and could not really figure out how to overcome. Feel free to do a Part 2!

    1. Yay, I'm so glad you got something out of it!! I think I'll be referring back to this myself...many, many times... :) And if I come up with more, I will definitely not hesitate to post a Part 2. :D

  2. Gonna put that on my bed room door so it is the first thing I see in the morning.

    I am doing some nice brisk walks lately - but my body won't let me do more than 1 km at the moment with some severe pain some days ... yep I am bragging too now on how I throw myself in some temporary pain some days ;P

    Anyhow, I am preparing myself for a 90-day-challenge - one of the goals is to be able to walk a brisk 5k :)


    1. YOU CAN TOTALLY DO IT!! I know you can, Sasha, and it's awesome that you're already up to 1 km (not to mention that you're doing this while in pain...that's hardcore). As I've always said, any time you need a cheerleader, I'm here for you!!! (And I'm cheering you on right now! :D)

    2. Thank you Becky :) I'll keep your cheering with me when I do my walks


    3. Sasha, I don't know you, but I'm one of Becky's friends, and I wanted to add my encouragement to your walking!! Becky is a rock star and now runs marathons, but I started out with her and I still hobble along at a slow pace, barely getting through 5ks. But at least I'm doing something! Walking 1 km is more than so many people do, and it is helping your body, so keep it up!! I hope you'll let us know how you do with your 90-day-challenge - good luck!

      - Megan

  3. please submit this to the roadrunner - so much better than the "look at how easily I met my running goal" stuff they normally publish ; ) feel free to delete this comment if it will offend any of your memphis readers!

    - Meg

    1. My first thought upon hitting "publish" was, 'I should totally submit this to the Roadrunner.' :) I think I'll polish it up a little and make it even more runner-focused for that. (I love how a comment became a blog and now possibly an article. It was totally off-the-cuff and yet is somehow the most versatile thing I've ever written!)

  4. Definitely send it to Roadrunner . . and if they pass, send it along to Women's Running.

  5. Something this good couldn't possibly have been doomed to live only on Facebook. That would almost be insulting!

    I am glad my Sunday morning laziness brought about so many good responses. (And that I actually exercised, because I would have felt REALLY schlubby if I'd just sat and read responses!) However, now I want to go swimming and I'm not sure how to make that happen!

    1. I feel like swimming is a staple of the lives of so many people I know, but I'm with you on not really knowing how to make it happen! (I'd rather not pay to use a pool, but I'm not sure there's another option.)

      Good for you for exercising!!! The entire discussion that happened on Facebook was really good; clearly you tapped into something that a lot of people think about!