First? Take Action. Motivation Will Follow.

Struggling with motivation? Here’s the little know strategy you can employ right now to find it again.

Woman with no motivation lays in bed

This week I have spoken to several people who have told me that their motivation to work out was rock bottom. 

Does this sound like you?

“How can I motivate myself during this horrendous time?”

“I haven’t worked out in a week”

“I have been letting lockdown control me”

And several others that were – frankly – deeply emotional insights into how you guys speak to yourselves on the daily… You ain’t nice.

Motivation is fickle and is never around when you need it. Since we’ve been out of the gym, it’s dropped off. For some of you, it’s down to almost zero.

Not totally zero though, because you’re still responding to my messages. 

You’re still communicating. That’s awesome because once that stops, it becomes a lot harder to pull things back on track.

People make this mistake all the time, they think that first they need to be motivated and then they can work out and it will feel effortless.

Forget motivation. You can’t rely on it. Even when it does turn up, it’s the arse end of the night when you’re lying in bed and can’t do anything anyway.

(That’s exactly why it turns up then… trust me, I was a psychologist)

Instead of waiting around for motivation to grab you, I’m going to tell you the secret that a lot of people don’t know.

First: Take action. Don’t wait for motivation – that comes second. 

Take Small Deliberate Action.

It shouldn’t be crazy. Starting small isn’t a compromise – it’s an essential component of building momentum. 

What’s the one thing you can do right now that’s so ridiculously easy that you think it’s not even worth doing? 

Can you find your daps and lay them out by your front door?

Can you stand up right now and do a squat? 

Can you bang out 5 push-ups against the kitchen sink?

Can you walk to the end of your garden and back?

Once you’ve done one thing, something, anything – no matter how small or insignificant it seems, you start to feel that little kindle of motivation returning. 

Don’t believe me? Try it. 

Pick just one thing that seems minor and do it right now. I’ll wait.

If you didn’t do it – the thing you picked was too hard.

You’ve got to meet yourself where you’re at right now and that might be literally standing up off the couch. 

It’s a start. That’s all we’re looking to do.

Take action first and motivation will follow. Need more help to get started? I can help, let’s chat.

Are you willing to tell me what you’re struggling with most at the moment? I’d really appreciate you filling out this questionnaire. It will only take 2 minutes and I’ll use it to write more content that is useful for you.

What time of day should I work out?

Photo by Abhiram Prakash from Pexels

Let’s make something very clear from the jump, shall we?

Whatever time you can find during your day to work out – take it.

It’s one thing to have a discussion about what’s optimal, and when your mood and returns will be peaked – but it’s another thing entirely to have a practical decision about actually getting to the gym and doing the work.

Working out in the morning.

This is my preference and the preference of most of my clients.

Working out in the morning doesn’t give you a chance to talk yourself out of training. When I was a teacher, I’d be looking forward to my evening session, and by the time we made it to lunch I was looking for excuses not to go. I’d spend the afternoon in a battle of should I/shouldn’t I? Total waste of mental energy.

For lots of people, working out might be the biggest barrier in their day. It might make them nervous to go, they may need some confidence to attend. If you’ve done the hardest thing in your day first, the rest of your day will be easier. If you’re a little nervous about the gym, the earlier you go, the quieter it is.

My 6am squad say that they’ve done the hardest part of their day and are home and showering by a little after 7am. Imagine rocking up to work knowing that you’ve done the hardest thing you said you were going to do already, and after work all your evening is your own. Pyjamas by 6pm? Yes please.

You will probably be training fasted – having eaten nothing yet that morning. This isn’t a problem, but if you’ve been training in the evening and now you’re trying out the mornings, you might need to adjust your expectations, especially with regard to strength.

Besides, once your feet are on the floor, you feel okay. Sure, that alarm is a little early but the boost to your productivity and mental focus for the rest of the day is worth it.

Working out in the evening.

If you just can’t bring yourself to train first thing, and you can only make it after work, you’ve got some benefits too.

You’ll have had a chance to properly wake up – and be well fuelled, on at least one and possibly two meals. That means you’re likely to be stronger, and more alert than the morning folks.

The gym is busier, often with instructor led classes at this time. This is a great opportunity to socialise with friends, get a trusted spotter, or even make the most of your membership with a group fitness class.

Evening workouts are usually a little less rushed – you’re not clock watching to get to work. You can take your time, and plan your post work out meal around your training – a really practical benefit.

There’s something quite cosy about getting showered after the gym, putting your sweaty kit in the wash and getting straight into pyjamas. I am mildly preoccupied with pyjamas.

However, exercising in the evening can mean a later night getting to bed. I always felt energised after a workout, and so I might go to sleep later if training after 6pm.

There’s research to support the idea of intentionally timing your most important behaviours. If this interests you, Daniel H. Pink wrote an excellent book, “When” about this, which discusses how highly important tasks shouldn’t be left until the afternoon as mood as well as cognitive function dips. There’s another book called “Eat That Frog” by Brain Tracy about tackling the most challenging aspects of your day straight away, and not waiting or warming up to them with other, lower value tasks.

To conclude; get your work out done. When you do it is less important than the fact that you’ve done it. Morning and evening people are likely to disagree about when the “best” time to workout is. Try both and see what works better for your lifestyle.

Training with intensity – stop faffing about!

Several times a week, I conduct in person classes which are performed at high intensity. In a CrossFit environment, people really get what this is meant to feel like. That 100% max out on the air bike that leaves your legs like jelly. The slam ball finisher which leaves you feeling your pulse in your eyes. The sprints… Oh, God, the sprints.

But in a mainstream gym environment, this is often very difficult to replicate. Especially if you’re used to exercising alone, you may not have ever felt that sort of physical effect before.

To some extent, I can control the intensity by selecting exercises which are low skill and so can be performed flat out without the risk of injury – that’s for the trainer to sort out, and that’s what I do. Exercises are chosen carefully, scaled appropriately and paired with other movements which will produce a desired effect. You don’t have to worry about any of that, that’s why I’m there. 

However, you must approach the movements with intention. If it’s a HIIT class, it’s not meant to be a comfortable 60-70% aerobic effect. You shouldn’t be able to check a text message during the interval. You should be resting – much needed rest, because your working periods were really very hard! If you’re not working as hard as you can, the 30 or 40 seconds of work at your comfortable endurance pace is just 40 seconds of faffing about and will get you precisely no-where – your heart rate probably isn’t even in the aerobic zone after those intervals, and with the rest ratio bringing your heart rate back down… Well, you might as well not bother.

It’s hard to say that as a trainer, but it’s true. I understand the intention of coming to the gym, and participating in classes, but not all classes should feel the same or produce the same effects on you, physically.

A HIIT class should leave you feeling like “holy smokes, what on earth was that?!” and if you don’t want to feel like that – simply choose another class. There are tons of low impact, aerobic workout classes available. But the stimulus in that particular class is high intensity interval training – it’s what the initials stand for. If that’s not for you – that’s cool, it’s not for everyone – just do something else because you won’t get the outcomes you’re looking for.

Cast a vote for the sort of person you want to be.

Today I want to talk about where you spend your money and time. Whether that’s on the things that support your vision of who you want to become, or take you further from it.

Do you invest in a gym membership that you never use, because that casts a vote for the you that you want to become – but you’ve not yet found a way to make it fit in with your current lifestyle? Do you begrudge paying for great quality fresh ingredients, because you don’t yet see that as an investment in your health? Maybe all that you need is a perspective shift.

Next time you consider sacking off the gym, or not hitting checkout on those new headphones… new trainers… or new bike – think about whether this supports your goal of who you want to be. Every decision you make every day is a vote for your identity. Make them deliberate choices for the person that you’re trying to grow into.

1. Keep this decision at the front of your mind.

If you’re trying to start a couch to 5k programme, keep your running shoes by your front door where you’ll see them every morning. If you’re trying to drink more water, keep a big bottle on your desk and keep topping it up. Don’t hide things away out of your sight where you might forget about them. Keep the fruit bowl full and on the counter where you’ll pass it every time you walk into the kitchen. Join the gym which is on your way home from work. Maybe think about getting an accountability partner to meet you at the gym, or just text you to ask if you’ve been.

2. Make sure it’s desirable.

Making something an attractive prospect in terms of fitness can be tough in the beginning when you don’t yet know what you enjoy. Some ways you can achieve this is to join a gym which offers classes as part of your membership. This way you can hand over your training for that hour to the fitness instructor, and you don’t have to think of something yourself to do. Over time you’ll learn which movements have a low barrier to entry for you, and a higher barrier to entry for you. For example, I never have to talk myself into a rowing workout, or deadlifts, or a bike ride – but I often have to talk myself into a run. That way when motivation is low – just go do your low barrier movements.

3. Make it super easy.

Ideally, you want to make the habit so simple that you can start it – and finish it in less than 2 minutes. This likely means doing something on a smaller scale than you might want until it has become second nature. It might be something like just putting on your running shoes – don’t worry about running the couch to 5k, just lace up and then see how you feel. Lacing up is the whole goal. If you want to eat more veggies in your diet, get the ones which are already prepped and take almost no work. It’s more expensive to do it this way, of course, but if it’s the difference between you getting your broccoli for the day, provided it’s within your budget – go for it. We can think about making it cheap once it’s easy.

4. Make it gratifying.

A satisfying behaviour is one you’re more likely to repeat, so find ways to reward yourself. For example, if I attend the gym 3 times this week, I’ll get a new workout shirt. Or if I complete the couch to 5k programme, I’ll get myself some new trainers. Eventually, the behaviour itself will become the reward but in the beginning, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Spend time reflecting on how completing the behaviour made you feel, possibly even write it down somewhere and formally consider that as part of your practice.

Another tip for developing habits that contribute to the sort of person you want to be is to track the behaviour in a habit tracker. There are all sorts of apps and stuff for this, but the easiest way to start is to put a tick on a calendar on the days when you perform your habit. Now after only the second day, you’ve got a streak going and the only thing you’re trying to do is not break this streak.

When I was a teacher my students would use this app called Forest to help them study. They turned the app on when they started to study and it started to grow a virtual tree. The longer they studied, the more elaborate and beautiful the tree grew. The more episodes of studying they performed, they’d grow more trees. They’d come to class, and be comparing the size of their little virtual forests, and they’d get quite competitive. Each of them knew how many hours their classmates had studied the day before, and many of them studied so long that the app even planted some real world trees – and they loved that!

It’s not a perfect system, but it is a system to get started – and often that’s all we need. 

Many of the ideas discussed in this article come from James Clear’s excellent book “Atomic Habits”. For a more in depth look at how to start a good habit, and how to break a bad one, it’s definitely worth checking out.

How to fix a gym slump & regain your mojo.

Gym slumps are not often talked about with fitness professionals because we seem to want to give the impression we’re always meal prepping chicken and broccoli and training twice a day, loving it.

The fact is gym slumps happen to everyone, including those of us who work in the industry, and I think it’s far more common than people think. I’ve been working hard to pull myself out of a training slump lately, so here are some of the things that may also work for you.

1. Be gentle with yourself.

Know that nothing good is going to come from berating yourself, and being unkind about your efforts. Don’t feel bad for the things you did to make yourself feel better when you were sad, or anxious, or grieving.

Working out, or not working out, is not an appraisal of your value as a human being. We train and eat well to show ourselves self respect and love, and if there was a dip in your ability to manage that, it’s probably because you were too busy showing support and love to others to prioritise yourself for a little while. We can get back on track any time you are ready to start!

2. Try a new style of training, or a new place to workout.

Start really small. Way smaller than you were training before your loss of mojo. Commit to less than you think you need initially, we can always add things in later. A new style of exercise, like CrossFit, bodybuilding, or spin classes might be something you could look forward to trying. Learning a new sport like swimming, rock climbing or weightlifting might excite you. Keep an open mind, and know that whoever is teaching that class is qualified to keep you safe, and make you progress. 

Maybe change gyms for a while, or skip the gym entirely in favour of an outdoor workout. Getting outside can be great, not just for physical health, but mental health too. And can help with sleep, if that’s something you need right now.

3. Attend classes, or recruit a buddy.

Your gym almost certainly offers group fitness classes as part of your membership. Ask in the gym if you can see a timetable of classes, and pick something new. If group fitness isn’t your thing, finding a training buddy can do something wonderful for your training. 

One of the most successful elements of my face to face personal training business is the folks who do partner and group training sessions. They make friends, support each other with their goals, and the more people than join in, the more flexible the training schedules become! This was one of the best things I’ve introduced in my personal training – both for myself as a coach, and for the clients I train.

4. New kit!

Who doesn’t get fired up with a new playlist, or new lifting shoes? Whatever it is, this can be an easy and accessible way to give yourself a short term boost about getting excited to train again, and needn’t cost the earth!

5. Get a programme, or a trainer.

There are heaps of training programmes available out there for free – pick up any health magazine, or spend 5 minutes hopping around on Google. Even instagram can have some brilliant suggestions. If you’re looking for a little more guidance, accountability and support, spending even a short time with an excellent trainer can be just the thing you need to get your passion back. It might just be the best investment you make in your health!

4 Ways to Overcome Gym Anxiety

You’re thinking about returning to the gym after a period away. It’s on your mind, but you’re feeling anxious and apprehensive about going.  Whether it’s your first time ever, or you’re just making the transition back into fitness, the gym can be a place of anxiety for some folks.

It’s my sincere goal that everyone not only feels comfortable in the gym, but that it’s a place where you feel safe, confident and look forward to spending time in.

That’s why I wrote this list of 4 ways you can overcome gym anxiety!

1. First visit, then train another day.

This removes the barrier of having to do it all at once which can lead to feeling overwhelmed. The first time you go to join up, or the first time back after your break – just go to sign up. Wear clothes that you’ve got no intention of working out in (jeans & boots is a great one). All we’re going to do that day is get the membership set up, and maybe take a tour. This is a brilliant opportunity to scope out the equipment (or maybe new kit since you’ve been away) and gauge what times tend to be busier than others. Ask questions, and don’t be in too much of a rush to leave. Make sure you use the toilets while you’re there! This is time alone when you can collect yourself and have a chance to calm yourself if you’re feeling nervous.

2. Learn the person on the desk’s name – and use it!

The person manning the front desk may be a manger, a receptionist or a personal trainer. Take the time to chat, explain that you’re anxious, and let them take the time to chat to you about the best way to build up to training regularly. If you know one name, you’ve started one relationship. Good relationships are the start to any successful endeavour.

Let them take the lead; we really care that you’re having a good time in the gym, and any decent gym will take the time to make sure that you feel comfortable, and show you around. There may be a timetable of classes that you can take away, or maybe even fitness instructors or personal trainers around that can talk to you about getting started with some support. Managers may direct you to a specific person in their gym that tends to do well with anxious people.

3. Go when it’s quiet & start small.

Most gyms have times when it’s a bit quieter. It may be a good idea to prioritise working out during quieter times of day – most gyms will be quiet in the early and late slots, and busiest between 5pm and 7pm.

Going when it’s quiet gives you a chance to take your time with equipment which is unfamiliar, or ask staff to help you when we’re not too swamped with other tasks.

The first few weeks of any new habit can be challenging; tell yourself that you’ll stay for 15 minutes and if you want to leave after that, it’s ok. Make this time a little longer each week, and soon you’ll build up to 45 minutes to an hour.

4. Use headphones.

These take up next to no space in your gym bag, and allow you to disappear into your own world. Don’t be tempted to rely on them too heavily though – once you’re comfortable in the gym, headphones can make it difficult for people to speak to you. This might be exactly what you want – in which case, leave them in, but if you’re looking to get to know people they can be a barrier.

Finally, you have permission to leave the gym at any point. If you start to feel anxious, or that you’re just not feeling it today, know that you’re an adult and you can give yourself permission to leave it for that day, and try again another day.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever read about going to the gym was from actor and all round delightful human, Terry Crews. If it doesn’t feel good, you won’t stick to attending the gym, so treat it like a spa – give yourself permission to hang out there, chat, and leave if you want to, without working out.

More important than the workout is the habit of attending the gym. Work on the habit, and the rest will come.