Stay Motivated by Refocusing Your
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Are you struggling to set goals, and to stay
motivated over the long haul even after you may have surpassed your
initial expectations? If you want to know how to set goals, what goals to set,
and finally how to stick with them over the long haul (and not just for a
season or two), then read on.
Hunter Hatfield writes that his first
serious athletic endeavor after a lifetime of inactivity was to attempt
completing a marathon in the years after college. He was successful in his
goal, but then struggled to stay athletic when he decided he didnt want
to continue the grueling lifestyle of a serious marathon runner.
Sandy Terwilliger did a sprint triathlon two
years ago, suffering from multiple physical ailments during the two months she
trained before calling it quits. At 53 years young, she would like to get back
in shape, minus all the illnesses she faced in her previous endeavor. With step
aerobics, weight training, and yoga mixed with light swimming and jogging, she
wonders how she can stay focused on this lifestyle and not succumb to the
misfortunes of intense short-term training that more immediate goals might
Kathleen Reddy is a former competitive
swimmer who, at 35, just joined a masters team and was humbled in her first
practice. Hoping to lose 30 pounds, compete in the Alcatraz swim race, and
finish a short-distance triathlon by next year, she has always relied on
training partners as a source of motivation. She struggles to keep her spirits
up, as the swim team experience was daunting for someone just getting back into
All of the above cases, and several others
who wrote, knew that they wanted to develop a program that would keep them
healthy and happy over the long haul. However, they each brought up the fact
that without concrete short-term goals or sources of motivation, they lost all
hopes of sticking with their commitment.
Within weeks or months, all of the case
studies confessed that they lost hope, lost focus, and lost interest in their
I am not a self-help guru, nor am I a
miracle worker. But I have been a competitive swimmer for nearly three decades
and a frequent triathlete and marathon runner for the last 10 years. My
lifestyle has always been athletic, and I have been fortunate enough to compete
at a level where I am surrounded by elite swimmers who have taught me a thing
or two about motivation.
As such, I can share a few ideas about what
keeps me motivated, and what makes the best athletes I know more successful
than their counterparts.
Love your lifestyle
The most important thing to remember is that
adopting an athletic interest and turning it into a habitual practice is a
lifestyle choice, not a task.
Our culture places far too much emphasis on
short-term tasks lose 30 pounds in six to eight weeks! Make $30k in one
month! Get in shape now! without offering realistic ways of maintaining
those unreasonable demands.
As a result, we hear of people who lose the
weight, only to gain it back. We all know someone who made a killing in the
stock market, only to lose their shirt. Weve each joined a gym or started
a fitness program as a New Years resolution, only to lose interest a few
short months later.
The answer lies not in placing such high
pressure on yourself that your training program becomes threatening to your
overall happiness, but rather in designing a long-term approach that you can
No one swims for three decades unless they
love diving into the pool every day. No one runs multiple marathons unless they
love the rush of endorphins during those training runs. And no athlete needs to
justify why they do a sport if they choose to commit to it with passion and
unwavering focus; the proof of their success be it world records, weight
loss, or lower blood pressure is in their dedication and love of the
Hunter, Sandy, and Kathleen need to identify
what they enjoy about the daily experience of practicing their fitness
activity, and use that as their source of inspiration to achieve their
long-term goals. Its a lot easier losing 30 pounds doing something that
you love than doing something that you dread, right?
Hunter Hatfield achieved his initial desire
of becoming a successful marathon runner. But without another monumental goal
after his first race, he lost interest in training. Besides, the physical toll
his body took from the endurance running prevented him from continuing such
Obviously, over the long haul, marathons may
not be the answer for Hunter. But if he enjoys running, there are several other
equally challenging goals he can set for himself. Perhaps he can work on
developing his speed, and train for and compete in 5- and 10Ks with a goal of
finishing in less than X time. Another option is to enter a
triathlon or open-water swim that might spike his interest in cross-training
suddenly the monotony and physical toll he may have experienced running
long distances is countered with two new sports and plenty of room for
improvement, recovery, and competition.
As for Sandy, it sounds like she dedicated
herself to eight weeks of boot camp, putting her body through a physical
beating just to complete a sprint triathlon. It is no wonder she suffered from
a series of ailments and infections that dampened her interest in consistently
Instead of focusing on such a monumental
task for eight unforgiving weeks, Sandy should give herself more time to
achieve a fitness goal, and make incremental changes to her routine. Rome was
not built in a day, and with foresight and a little planning, she can avoid
injury and develop a program that she enjoys over the long haul.
With several activities already in her
weekly schedule, she is on the right track to creating a habitually active
(read: healthy) lifestyle as long as she looks forward to what she is
Kathleen jumped into a masters program after
years of being away from the pool (and we all know how ferociously competitive
masters swimmers can be!). It is no wonder she felt humbled, and unsure of how
to continue without the support of a training partner her own speed. If she can
approach the masters workouts with an open mind, allowing herself a few months
to get in shape and drop the weight shed like to lose, maybe the sessions
wont be so daunting.
Kathleen may be a former competitive
swimmer, but she need not place pressure on herself to be the lane leader of
the fast group. By allowing herself the luxury of a leisurely re-acquaintance
to the sport, she will avoid feelings of inadequacy and the disappointment that
comes from unrealistic/premature expectations.
In time, as she gets faster, she may find a
lane mate her own speed who can become the motivating training partner she
wishes she had. Regardless of the sport, training groups, organized teams, and
workout partners are a terrific way of finding inspiration and motivation in
your peers the challenge lies in finding the right one.
Besides creating an active lifestyle that
you can enjoy and look forward to on a daily basis, it is important to allow
for flexibility. Many dedicated athletes keep detailed training logs,
documenting their every activity, repetition, weight lifted. A missed workout
results in panic attacks about gaining weight, losing muscle, or when to
squeeze in a make-up session. Remember that dedication and commitment is a
state of mind, and not necessarily a physical display of day-in, day-out 100%
There are days you may want in fact,
need to take off. There are weeks that you may opt to avoid your normal
workout in favor of a newfound sport. There may be entire seasons where you
replace one activity with the intention of mastering another.
Regardless of the reason, make sure to
remind yourself that you are training because you enjoy it and if you
dont its OK to find something else and modify your long-term
program. An organic, ever-flowing approach to an active lifestyle will help you
avoid burnout and in Hunters marathon running example it
could help you avoid injury.
People always ask me how I can swim for
several hours at a time and not get bored. My response is always the same: I do
it because I love it, and when I get bored I get out of the pool and do
I would recommend this approach to our three
makeover examples, and to the rest of the readers who asked about how to stay
dedicated and focused.
View your training time as a privilege and a
luxury, and apply yourself when you do it. Keep in mind that there will be days
when you wont have it in you, and thats OK too. But if exercising
is more like a necessary evil that you endure just to fit into those jeans you
bought 10 years ago, then I guarantee that it will not be something you adapt
as a lifestyle for the long haul.
Just as weight-loss experts recommend
permanent changes in ones diet in order to lose weight and keep it
off rather than gain it back, so too is it important to develop a
lifestyle conducive to physical fitness if long term health is a