Staying Motivated

Training for goals is time consuming and mentally taxing. There is no shortcut to performance and the necessary rigidity of a plan can be daunting. While there is a real difficulty with setting goals and building a training plan, an even bigger challenge is to stick with the plan for its duration. Since a plan can be anywhere  from 3 months to 10 years, burnout will more than likely edge its way into your psyche.

I would not consider myself someone who likes consistency. I have moved 5 times in 5 years to 4 different states. I had a job that was full time travel and only on a jobsite for at most a year at a time and that was too much of the same for me. Even with my hobbies I am for sure scattered all over the place. I find that I always wish there was more time to watch TV  or movies, play video games, get better at mountain biking, get better at climbing, ride my road bike longer and longer, run farther, hike more, and still have time to spend with my wife and kids. It’s fair to say that even if I didn’t have to work there isn’t enough time in a day to do all these things. 

Sacrifice and prioritization are essential skills to avoiding choice paralyzation when moving through goals. Sacrifice is also what leads me to burnout. It is difficult for me not to think I am missing out on doing other hobbies when I am spending so much time focusing on a specific goal. This is my path to burnout. Your path to burnout may be different from mine but the results will be similar. It will get easier and easier to skip workouts in lieu of almost anything else. Your nutrition plan will become more of a suggestion. Left unchecked these deviations will lead to a total abandonment of your plan and consequently your goal.

In an ideal world you would not have to deal with the pressures of burning out. It would be great if the goal itself managed to always keep you psyched. If this is true for you I envy you. For those of us who need more than a distant promise to stay focused; I am presenting the methods I use to manage burnout and stay motivated through a whole training program.

  1. Keep Your Goal in Mind
  2. Track  Your Progress
  3. Make Time for Other Hobbies
  4. Take Breaks When Needed

Keep Your Goal in Mind

Throughout the duration of your training plan there will be days that you don’t really want to do the routine. With the exception of a rare personality like Chris Traeger, everyone has peaks and troughs of their motivation. These dips, unfortunately, have a far greater effect on our ability to keep a routine than all the times we did feel motivated and executed well. It is so much easier to not do something than to do it. Once you’ve not done it once, it’s easier again to not do it. 

Through these troughs it is important to push yourself out the door and into the planned activity. The most effective way to make this push to yourself is to keep your goal in mind. Your goal is what made you sit down and build a plan in the first place. Your goal is what got you motivated enough to push yourself a little more. Remembering all that positivity and energy can often put you in the same mental position you were in when you started. Even if it doesn’t hype you up to think about how awesome your goal is, it will still remind you that it is something that you wanted to strive for and if you don’t get out the door now, are you really even striving for it? 

Track Progress

If you have a documented regime that you are already following then you should already be tracking progress. Tracking workouts and progress is the best way to programmatically ensure you are on pace to meet your goal. A secondary purpose to tracking progress is to help keep motivation high. 

There is something in most humans that loves seeing numbers go up. It’s a simple dopamine response that draws people to sports, gameplay loops, efficiency, etc. Tracking progress should not be limited to writing down results in a spreadsheet or in a notebook. Data written in tables across pages can be hard to visualize. Instead take some time to create graphs to summarize your data into one visual chart that lets you really see those numbers get bigger (or smaller if that’s what matters). The trend lines are a serious hit of motivating dopamine. 

Mesocycle 1Microcycle 1 (Muscular Power)
ExcersiseRest TimeRepsSetsLoad 1Load 2Load 3Load 4
Barbell Squat180s34235235235235
Barbell Dead Lift180s34275275275275
Leg Press180s34405405405405
Romanian Deadlift180s34225225225225
Mesocycle 2Microcycle 1 (Muscular Power)
ExcersiseRest TimeRepsSetsLoad 1Load 2Load 3Load 4
Barbell Squat180s34260260260260
Barbell Dead Lift180s34305305305305
Leg Press180s34445445445445
Romanian Deadlift180s34250250250250
Mesocycle 3Microcycle 1 (Muscular Power)
ExcersiseRest TimeRepsSetsLoad 1Load 2Load 3Load 4
Barbell Squat180s34275275275275
Barbell Dead Lift180s34320320320320
Leg Press180s34465465465465
Romanian Deadlift180s34265265265265

Data tables are great for writing out what you need to do in a programmatic manner but terrible for seeing long term progress

The same information from the above data tables summarized in an easy to see manner with a line chart.

Make Time for Other Hobbies

Training takes a long time. A lot of that long time is doing the same stuff day in and day out. This cadence day in and day out can be incredibly monotonous for some people (podcasts have made running training bearable for me). If you are one of those people (like me) it can be hard to stay on track for the entire time it takes to complete a training plan.

To break up this cycle of monotony and to keep your head from focusing on the stale aspects of training it is important to make time for other hobbies. Be careful, though, to not make so much time for these extracurricular activities that you fall behind on training. Any plan you have made should have rest days in it. These rest days are not only critical to your physical body’s recovery but also as a time to give your head a break. Use these rest days to catch up on the other things you like doing. I love bingeing a show, catching up on a movie I missed, or setting a big block of time for playing games that I am normally training. Sometimes I like to go back to an exercise that isn’t beneficial to my current goals. While training for running I like to use rest days to still keep up on my rock climbing or weight lifting. Even if there isn’t enough time to improve at more than one thing it is still fun to do the other things you enjoy and it acts as a good reset to make it easier to get back to the main task at hand.

There are a few watch outs with catching up on other activities during rest days. Don’t let your recreation on rest days change your pattern too much with the training. Still get a good amount of sleep, do not be hungover when you have to train, don’t overwork muscles that you need to perform your regular training. You are taking a quick mental break, not abandoning your goal all together. Try and not derail yourself.

Take Breaks When Needed

Sometimes it is not enough to take one or two days a week off. It is very possible that you will be in a situation where you simply do not have the motivation to get out the door. Ninety percent of the time pushing yourself to take the first step and start your routine will solve that problem. Sometimes though it won’t. Sometimes that dreadful feeling will precede every routine. It will persist throughout the routine, and gnaw at you in your down time. 

At a point like this it may be unhealthy to continue pushing through. If you find yourself truly dreading or feeling real burnout (not just a down or tired day) it is time to take a break. The length of that break is up to you. If your goal is time sensitive taking this break may mean postponing the goal which is ok. Most goals are not once in a lifetime type things. If the amount of time you need off is long enough you may have to restart your training plan when you come back. That is ok. There is lots of time in a lifetime to start again.

 At the time of me writing this I am just coming back to training for a very long single push run in the Utah mountains. I have spent the last 4-5 months building up my running fitness just to start training in earnest for this run. Over these months I have been working night shifts and trying to be as present a father for my infant twins as possible. These factors have led to me not getting anywhere near enough sleep to recover from the long runs and made me incredibly tired almost perpetually. I had gotten to a point where I could not be as present as I would like even when awake and I was losing all motivation to run since I was so tired and I did not see the end in sight. So I took 1.5 weeks off. I slept 14 hours the first day off and 12 another day. I focused on my family and video games and sleep. By the end of the 10 days not only did I feel rejuvenated but I also actually missed running. Something I couldn’t have fathomed two weeks prior. Taking the break in this case instead of pushing through for four more months probably saved this goal with only a minor setback in time.

Finishing a goal is hard work and requires consistency. It will be difficult to see to the end. If you make it to the end though there is no greater sense of accomplishment. Do not let a temporary lack in motivation or a feeling of not making progress or the dread of stagnation keep you from realizing your goal.

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