I just finished six straight days of boxing, with one class every evening Monday through Saturday. This is probably the most I’ve ever worked out ever, so this seems like an appropriate time to talk about motivation.
There are three main tactics I use for getting motivated to work out, and they work concurrently, providing motivation in the short, mid and long term.
From the moment I clicked publish on the first column in this series, I made myself accountable to you the reader. You might not give the tiniest little shit about whether or not I complete this challenge, but I know that if I give up, I have to do it publicly.
Accountability is what drives team sports. ‘Team spirit’ is just a nicer way of framing ‘not wanting to let everyone down’. This can work against you of course, I’ve deliberately avoided team sports most of my life because I was afraid that just by showing up I’d be letting the team down (the nice thing about adult sports is that no one really cares that you suck – if you’re trying – and if they do, they’re probably an asshole whose opinion you should ignore).
From a psychological point of view, the field of ‘behavioural economics’ suggests forming a commitment contract, as I have with you, even though you didn’t agree to it. StickK is an online market, started by a Yale economics professor, where people effectively bet against themselves that they won’t be able to reach a certain goal. The theory being that people prefer money to not exercising or continuing smoking.
If going to the gym or going to a fitness class was as hard in the fifth week as it is in the first or second, no one would go. At a certain point you stop having to make yourself go and you just go because it’s Tuesday at 7pm and that’s what you do on Tuesdays at 7pm.
There’s considerable debate over how long it takes to form a habit (the 21 days number you’ll get from Google is mostly bullshit) but it’s fairly accepted that the smaller a task is the faster it becomes habitual. That’s why working out at home is so much harder than doing so at the gym. If you’re exercising in your bedroom you’ve got to maintain motivation for the entire time, if you’re exercising at the gym, the only habit you really need to form is travelling to the gym. My current habit of going to boxing is extremely simple: I leave my apartment at 6pm and take the subway to the gym. I may feel like crap when I get to the gym, I might wish I’d stayed at home, but by then it’s too late, accountability has kicked in and I have to exercise in order to save face.
How your brain works is effected by chemicals that your body produces and you put in it. You are not ‘too tired’ to exercise, you are too tired at the moment. Caffeine and sugar (and various forms of amphetamine) are really really excellent at making people not tired. Hamilton Nolan said it best:
Some of these expert or “dork spurts” as I like to call them jocularly will tell you that even if you don’t feel like working out, you should just put on your workout clothes and get ready to go, and this will make you motivated. Yeah, motivated to sit on your couch watching the Adult Swim network’s programming in a pair of gym shorts. Better idea: get adequate rest. Eat a healthy diet. Make time in your schedule. Visualize exactly what you want to do at the gym today. Thenput on those workout clothes. And then drink a comically huge glass full of a highly caffeinated beverage. Then you’ll want to go to the gym simply to avoid the creeping insanity of being trapped in your apartment while wired. Caffeine may or may not help you in the gym, but it absolutely will help get your ass to the gym.
Billion Yuan Baby is a regular column by Shanghaiist editor James Griffiths, focusing on his experiences and those of his fellow competitors’ training for Brawl on the Bund.
Brawl on the Bund takes place on June 15, 2013 at Hyatt on the Bund. The event is in support of Leo’s Foundation, which cares for newborn infants with respiratory problems.