Posted in Health, Strength Training, Wellness

Motivation is Overrated

My trainer Matt Wenning told me something in my early days at Ludus Magnus that I will never forget. I said that I was really surprised at how good a workout I was having that day, since I had been feeling stiff and sore before coming to the gym.

He said, “Never judge how a workout is going to go based on how you feel.”

Boom. Mind blown, grey matter everywhere.

Turns out, I don’t have to want to do something in order to do it. I don’t have to “feel” motivated. I don’t have to “feel” my best. I just have to physically pick my body up and go do it. Once I get into motion, my mind will usually catch up and want to be wherever I am, doing whatever it is I’m doing. Even if my mind doesn’t get with the program every single time, that doesn’t matter. It matters what I actually do, not how I feel about it.

For most of my twenties and thirties, I had it backwards. I thought I had to “feel like” doing something before I could actually do it. As I’ve discussed in earlier posts like Anxious Legs, I tend to get carried away by my feelings. I forget that they aren’t facts, and allow them to dictate my behavior.

Sure, I would go to work even when feeling tired and depressed (although sometimes even that was a struggle), because I enjoyed having a roof over my head, electricity, running water, and groceries. But when it came to caring for my health and my body, the weight of my own inertia often felt insurmountable. I enjoyed spurts of motivation, but they were typically short-lived.

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But there’s an old saying, “When the pain of staying the same is greater than the fear of change, change happens.”

The physical and emotional pain of staying the same eventually became greater than my fear of change, and propelled me into the door of Ludus Magnus (see Patient Zero and Anatomy of a Pain in the Ass). But since I was in such bad shape and still felt crummy most of the time in those early days, I often had anxiety about how I was going to get through the workout.

So that little conversation with Matt made a great impact on me, a conversation he probably doesn’t even remember. He went on to say that whether he was feeling great, or less than stellar, on any given day really had no impact on the quality or intensity of his workout. For him, they were unrelated. He could feel great and not do as well as he wanted, or feel lousy and do spectacular. But regardless of how he felt, he did the workout.

I took his words to heart, and have done my best to practice them ever since. My most recent lower body workout is a perfect example. I typically do my “leg day” on Wednesday morning, the metaphorical “Saturday” in my work week. It had been an exceptionally hectic week with little down time, and I hadn’t gotten as much sleep as I typically need to feel my best.

Even after getting a full night’s sleep Tuesday night, I felt sluggish Wednesday morning. My back was tight, my right hip flexor was sore, and I was still sleepy. An abundance of potential excuses to stay in bed. I was “feeling” less than motivated.

But I went to Ludus for my leg workout. Why? Because it was Wednesday morning, and that’s what I do on Wednesday mornings. It’s that simple.

And guess what happened? I had a great workout. I did some max effort squatting, and noticed that I’ve made progress with my ability to strain and my form not breaking when the weight got heavy (heavy for me, anyway!) Once I got into the workout, my lethargy went away and my mind wanted to be where I was. The motivation came after I got moving, not before. I certainly felt wiped out when I left (par for the course on leg day), but I also enjoyed a real feeling of accomplishment. Another one in the books, another thing I completed upon leaving that I didn’t know I could do walking in.

If I had waited to “feel” like going, to not “feel” tired or achy, I would have missed that moment. I would have missed so many moments that have added up to the wonderful place I am today.

I’m not saying ignore your body. Absolutely listen to your body. If I have a fever, a bad cough, significant nausea, etc., I will cancel a session. Symptoms like those tell me that I am ill and my body needs rest. But there is a difference between actually being sick and just feeling sluggish, much like there is a difference between the pain of sore growing muscles, and the pain of actually being hurt.

It’s not all roses and unicorns. I have rough workouts that I struggle to get through. But I do get through them. And I have found, time and time again, that any difficulties I may experience have little relationship to how I “felt” walking in the door.

If I am getting over an illness, or dealing with a flare-up of my back injury, I still show up for my sessions. I communicate the issues to Matt, and he adjusts the workload accordingly. And what blows my mind every time is that what I can do today in a workout after getting over the flu, or having a back flare-up, is still exponentially more than what I could do when I first started coming to Ludus in 2014.

Times like those are when I am perhaps most grateful to have such a great relationship with a trainer like Matt. I trust him completely. Going on three years getting stronger, ten inches off my waist, and almost 100 pounds lost, he hasn’t led me wrong yet.  I’ve had days when I “felt” an urge to bolt out the door, but with Matt’s help, to date I have not found it necessary to do so.

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Waiting to “feel” motivated? To “feel” like doing something different? You don’t have to wait on your mind, just take one small action and see what happens. I am currently seeing clients at Ludus Magnus for wellness coaching and strength training. Call me at 614-517-2520 or email to join us!

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