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Finding your motivation

Wait, WAIT. Don’t panic. This isn’t going to be an instructional post about how to find your motivation. Because frankly, I couldn’t tell you. And I wouldn’t pretend that there is some magical ‘one size fits all’ solution for making exercise a part of your life, making it something that you just do and enjoy. I’m 42 years old and it has taken me the better part of 15 years to edge towards a point where exercise (in my case, running) has become an enjoyable and very neccesary routine. This post is intended as recognition of the fact that unless you can find something that gives you pleasure and hang on to it, you won’t keep it up.

In retrospect, Freeletics was only ever going to be a faddy thing for me. Sometimes I look back on when I started and wonder what I was thinking. Certainly there was a part of me that was all gung-ho about this new regime, and in fairness I stuck at it for a good while. But, as anyone with experience of Freeletics reading this will attest, it was hard work. And the rewards? Hmm. A bit thinner, yes. A bit more muscular, yes. Fitter? Sort of. But enjoyment? That was pretty much limited to a sense of satisfaction at having done the sodding thing, the fact that it was now in the past and I was reaping the benefits (I guess). Usually by drinking beer. Freeletics may have been good for my body but it did nothing for my soul. And I think that’s because it’s a business, and the model for success has to be based on fast results. For sure you can see some changes after a comparatively short space of time but will it get you to a better place in your head? It didn’t for me. It was a grind.

I’m sure it’s not like this for everyone, it can’t be. There must be people out there who love burpees, people who would look forward to doing stand up jumps and straight-arm pull ups. You know. Weirdos. (I kid, I kid. Horses for courses and all that.) But the truth is, you’re probably not going to be a fitness junkie. AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Most people aren’t. Most people don’t have the time. Or maybe they do have the time but are just too fucking tired, physically and/or mentally to really, truly give a shit. It’s life. The main thing I found arse-clenchingly annoying about all the gubbins that Freeletics posted as ‘motivational’ was the mantra of ‘NO EXCUSES’. I hated it when Nike first came up with ‘Just Do It’ back in the olden days, since the only correct response to ‘Just Do It’ is ‘Oh Piss Off’. But ‘no excuses’ takes it to another level. It’s basically saying ‘we both know that this is going to be horrible but… er… just do it?’.

Bottom line: unless you can find some genuine enjoyment in whatever it is you’re doing, and unless there is a very specific goal at the end of it, you’re probably not going to keep it up. That applies to anything, whether it be Freeletics, CrossFit, swimming, running, cycling, writing a blog… You’ve got to be able to glean some sense of pleasure from it beyond the finished result, because the finished result might not live up to your expectations.

So how do you find ‘your thing’? This is where this post becomes annoyingly unspecific, since there’s no right answer or method. I started running all those years ago because it was the easiest option; just put some trainers on and get out of the front door. I was crap. I was laughably crap. My early runs were usually no more than a couple of miles on the flat, and they were killing me. I signed up for a 10 mile race, thinking (hoping) it would focus my efforts. And it did, but only for a short time. I didn’t get the bug, because I didn’t really understand what I was trying to achieve. I was thinking short term: if I do this, then I will be better. It never occurred to me that I should, or could, just run for the sake of running. That I didn’t need to have a target, that I could just go out and enjoy the process.

A couple of things really helped me, and my one piece of useful advice to anyone in a similar situation is this: read. Somewhere out there, there is a book about the activity you’re doing, or trying to get into. In fact there are almost certainly dozens. Find them. Read them. Get the benefit of other people’s experience and insights. You won’t agree with everything, there will be things you find annoying and at times you will be wondering what all this has to do with you. But I can almost guarantee that you will come across some stuff that will chime with you, that will stick in your head and help you to look at things from a different perspective. I got into the whole barefoot running thing after reading Born to Run, but what really stuck with me from that book was this line:

“Nearly all runners do their slow runs too fast, and their fast runs too slow.”

This made me dig deeper into the logic of running, which led me to Phil Maffetone and so on. Almost overnight, my attitude and approach to running changed. It felt like someone had let me in on a secret, that you don’t have to kill yourself whenever you run. There are well documented physical benefits to slowing down that I’ll write about another time, but putting all that aside, the main benefit for me was mental. I began to enjoy it. I took more notice of my surroundings. I wasn’t bothered if I had to stop, I stopped being so focused on going faster, faster, faster… And I found myself wanting to run more. I got the bug. After a while, I found that I wanted to test myself a bit more, not taking the easy option, running up the hill instead of around it. Not because I had to, not because it was in some schedule or whatever, but because I wanted to. Because I enjoyed it.

But running is my thing; it might not be yours. Where I live in South Warwickshire, there is a pretty much constanst stream of cyclists going past my house. Some of these people have got all the gear and look like they’re attacking the Pyrenees. But many others are just happy to be out and are taking their time, or riding with others and talking along the way. They’re undoubtedly enjoying themselves, even if they do drive me INSANE when they ride three abreast on a tiny country lane.

Some people are quick to absolve themselves from all exercise on the basis that ‘they’ve never been sporty’. I get this, but it’s absolute horse shit. It doesn’t have to be about being sporty, or competitive. My wife was one of those people for years. She’s also one of the most committed and stubborn people I know, but it’s only recently that she’s got the running bug herself because she no longer views it as something to be endured.

Everyone’s different. There are many ways to get fit, but only you know what you enjoy. So get out there and find it. That’s an order. (It isn’t. You can sit on your arse until the sun implodes for all I care.) Until next time!

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  • Joel Benton

    Good post.