When the weather turns cold and the days grow short, motivation to train can falter. Holiday parties and family gatherings bring joy along with the temptation to overindulge. If you struggle more this time of year, you’re not alone. It takes a lot more motivation to get out on a cold, dark morning or evening than it does in the middle of summer. Here are some ideas to help you stay in the game this winter.
It’s OK to not be in your best form year round.
Everybody needs a break and your performance will improve as a result. It’s OK to not push yourself to the max year round. This is why periodization of training is important: planned downtime is essential for physical and mental rejuvenation.
Find and stoke the spark within.
Is the spark to train within you? If so, time to fan that flame. Make your goals present and real with a sense of urgency in the process of completing your off season training. Keep that inner light alive and thriving when the going gets tough.
Accountability and socializing.
Train with a buddy or group, even once in a while can be helpful. You’re less likely to roll over and turn off the alarm when you know someone is expecting you to show up. And when you’re with a friend or a group, the camaraderie is motivating. You’re in it together. Do you normally do your strength training or yoga alone? Try taking a class from time to time.
Make a plan and hold yourself accountable.
Or hire a coach to help you out! Remember your goals and the deep reasons you love to train and feel strong, fit, fast and healthy. Fit your workouts into your daily and weekly calendar. Make time for you and your goals.
Your present and future self.
This is a new area of research in social psychology. The theory goes, we have a past, present and future self. Your present self would rather avoid the discomfort that comes with getting up early for a workout on a cold dark day. Visualize your future self today: What do you want to look like? Feel like? Accomplish? By putting yourself into the shoes of your future self, you’re more likely to achieve this future image of yourself (your future goals). Make a pre-agreement to commit to tomorrow’s workout, tonight. By making a clear commitment the day before, you’re already invested and more likely to accomplish your workout.
Avoid illness or at least shorten its duration.
We’re all exposed to more cold and flu viruses in the winter months. If you’re starting to get sick, best to shut down your workouts and your day as much as possible and sleep. For more information on how to prevent illness read my post on this subject.
Apply the 15-minute rule.
If you’re not motivated to train, there may be a good reason. Here’s how this rule works. Start your workout and, if after 15 minutes, you’re still tired or unmotivated, head home. But, if you feel better keep going. The concept here is that most of the time it’s an emotional or mental block that keeps us from ‘feeling’ motivated to train. Once you get started and get the blood flowing, get out of your head, blow off the stress of the day, you feel better and can have an amazing workout.
Change it up.
Try a new sport like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. OR improve your triathlon skills. The off-season is the perfect time to do this.
Encourage more endorphins.
Exercise makes us feel good, in part, because of the release of endorphins. Exercise boosts your body’s serotonin and norepinephrine and decreases your stress response to induce a natural state of calm. You can increase the production of endorphins by listening to your favorite music and/or getting out in nature while training.
Remember your race goals
Don’t be afraid to make big scary goals. When you know your big goal races are right around the corner, you’re less likely to skip a training session (future self). A little bit of scary pressure can be a good motivator.
Carrot or stick? Both?
Are you motivated more by the threat of the “stick” or by looking ahead for that “carrot”? Maybe both. The stick might say: “If you don’t do this workout, you’re going to regret it.” The carrot might say: “I know I’ll feel better when I’m done. Achieving my short and long term goals will be a great reward. I’ll treat myself to a nice coffee or tea when I’m done.” In any event, thinking of how great you’ll feel when you’re done and how much worse you’ll feel if you don’t workout can get you over the hump. Most of all remember why your workouts are important to you.
Breath work. Meditation. Mindfulness.
When the day ends and all you want to do is veg on the couch, start with some good deep breaths, inhale and exhale consciously. This is a good way to get your blood flowing and more oxygen to your brain. With a clear mind you can remember your goals and reasons for training. Clearing out the fog reminds you how much you really do want to train today.
Remember to laugh.
Bring the attitude of joy and laughter. Even if you have to fake it for a little while, you’ll always feel better and more motivated if you can keep your attitude light. And, more bring more endorphins. Add a few giggles and smiles to your deep breathing.
Clothing can make a difference.
If you’re training outside, the proper gear makes you feel and perform much better: gloves, jackets, leg and arm warmers, hats, ear warmers, tights, etc. You’ll feel more enjoyment, comfort and enthusiasm when you’re out in the cold. Treating yourself to some new gear is a boost in and of itself.
Get on a roll and keep the momentum going.
Once you’ve got your training routine going, keep at it. Momentum in your training translates to improved consistency; That’s what gets you to your long term goals.
Get comfortable with discomfort.
Let things be a little different this time of year. You may feel great, but if you’re struggling, relax with the struggle. Fighting it only creates more stress and anxiety. Find a way to be gentle with yourself, but still honor your body’s need to move.
If you worked extra hard at the workout or just extra hard to get out and do something, pick a little reward for after…. Another carrot?
How bad do you want it? Mastering the psychology of mind over muscle
If you’re looking for serious motivation to nail a really big goal (for you), I highly recommend this book by Matt Fitzgerald. Thoughts and feelings have a strong influence on how hard, how much, how fast we train. And, we have more control over our performance through the power of our minds than we may know. Your mind can be your strongest ally or your greatest enemy.