Sports Psychology

Exercise Mojo – Mental Strategies to Stay Motivated

I didn’t want to go to the gym today…seriously. I was exhausted, my schedule got completely railroaded by family and work commitments, and, honestly, I wasn’t in the mood.

And, yet, I love, love, love working out. What gives?

Every athlete, no matter the sport, how they train, or their fitness level, has “off days” – times when they are not motivated to exercise. Yet, against the odds, they push themselves to grind out another training session, push through another practice and go the distance.

And, so did I.

Being motivated and staying motivated is a mental game. It’s something you must consciously think about and embrace wholeheartedly. Otherwise, you will fail time and time again. Think of it as an investment in yourself…

Here are three key mental strategies that always work for me…

Know Your Purpose vs Setting Goals

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Setting goals and achieving them is a noble thing, for sure. Something to be proud of and a great motivator. However, it’s not the same as having a purpose; understanding fundamentally why you do something.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of setting repetitive fitness goals – i.e. lose 5 pounds, squat a personal best, run a marathon, earn a black belt, win a bodybuilding competition. For many, though, the goal they worked so hard to achieve was the only motivation, the driving force behind their actions…and, once obtained, they are no longer inspired to continue.

Knowing your purpose is much more effective. It underpins the very reason you train and supersedes the multitude excuses we often make. In the past, I, too, fell into the same pattern, my training year-round was not consistent – based more on seasonal sports, a competition or race. I failed to see the “bigger picture” and embrace fitness as a lifestyle.

The defining moment for me was after I had my daughter. I realized that being physically fit made me a happier, healthier mom. I can do more with my child; I have more energy to play games with her; coach her soccer team; and just be actively involved in her life. And for my kid…that means the world to her. My daughter is my purpose, my reason. What’s yours?

Find Your Fun

The best things in life make you sweaty.
Edgar Allan Poe

Physical activity runs the gamut from dance classes, exercising at the gym, yoga studios and sports to home DVDs, gardening, chasing your kids around the playground and labor intensive work. The point is this: don’t settle for the one size fits all mentality.

Running and bodybuilding, in particular, are two sports that I absolutely adore; yet, even I know how polarizing these activities can be. People either love them or hate them. My philosophy is simple: if you don’t enjoy mainstream exercising and sports, try new things…find your fun. According to the World Sports Encyclopedia, there are over 8,000 indigenous sports and sporting games. Personally, I have a laundry list of things I want to take a crack at, including abseiling, ballet (a lifelong interest), snowboarding and wakeboarding.

Why limit yourself?

And if you thrive in group training, join a running club, recreational sport league, or boutique exercise studio. Group training is a fun, effective way to stay motivated through positive peer influence and healthy competition, while making new friends amongst like-minded folks. Research shows that training with others, either a workout buddy or in a group setting, increases the likelihood a person will continue the activity long term (versus temporary) and they’ll work harder mentally and physically, without even knowing it. Bonus!

The Feel Good Factor

The doubters said,
“Man can not fly,”
The doers said,
“Maybe, but we’ll try,”
And finally soared
In the morning glow
While non-believers
Watched from below.
Bruce Lee

Everyone who exercises on a regular basis can attest to the physiological benefits of working out. It’s a well-known fact that during physical activity, especially sports and training, your brain increases serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the body, which not only give you that amazing feel good factor, they counteract depression and stress. These neurotransmitters send uplifting messages throughout your nervous system, pumping you up, giving you that positive mental physical boost.

The Runner’s’ High is one prominent example. As I discussed in my running article, it’s a physiological response that is euphoric and immensely satisfying, as well as highly beneficial to your overall well-being, both physically and mentally. The same phenomenon occurs during any workout – endurance, skill or strength. For me, there’s nothing quite like hitting the squat rack, pounding out super heavy sets. It’s incredibly empowering. Honestly, part of psyching myself into going to the gym is knowing I’ll feel an incredible sense of accomplishment afterwards…and I’m not alone in this sentiment.

The trick is to own your experience – don’t just go through the motions. Really immerse yourself in the moment, allow yourself the space and time to feel, think and act like a champion. If you need some external stimuli, then don your headphones, crank up your favorite playlist and kick some ass. This is your time to shine…

The physical fitness mind-body connection is still the best legal high.

And, thank god, it’s also good for you.

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  • Reply be the best Mimi January 27, 2017 at 3:28 am

    Thank you, Rachael! You´re so right! You need to know your WHY to be the best YOU!

    • Reply drj2211 January 28, 2017 at 11:14 am

      Thank you, Romina! I knew you would understand completely! 🙂

  • Reply coachadele July 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Nice article cuz! We’re obviously related…even though we never see each other! 💪🏼😉

    • Reply drj2211 July 12, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks, Adele! 🙂

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    DR J 2211 – Rachael Jezierski, PhD