"I want to give my body the best possible chance to feel as good as it can, for as long as possible. "
I had a client ask me this question last week: “Julie, how do you stay motivated to go to the gym?”
I’m not going to lie. I didn’t exactly know how to answer her question at first. Partly because talking about myself to my clients always feels weird (it shouldn’t- we were just trained to not share ANYTHING and that, in my opinion, isn’t good for the therapeutic relationship), but mostly because I didn’t know what the honest answer was.
I responded by saying something along the lines of, “I’m NOT always motivated. I don’t rely on motivation to get me there, because motivation is a feeling that comes and goes. If I waited to feel motivated, I’d never be consistent.”
But not the entire truth. In fact, that’s someone else’s response that I have read before and really appreciated, but I don’t think it tells my whole story.
A more accurate answer, now that I’ve spent some time thinking about it, is that I AM motivated. Consistently. But not to go to the gym.
Being fit is not my goal. Being a gym rat is not my goal. Being skinny is not it either (anymore). Rather, working out is a byproduct of my real goal- that I am absolutely motivated to work towards- and that is to take really good care of myself in this lifetime.
Making the decision to “take good care of yourself” is simplistic, vague/general, and also life changing. It means different things at different ages. It changes and evolves over time, depending on your needs. It’s a mindset more than anything quantifiable.
For me, it came from years of valuing results, but not valuing myself, and eventually realizing that my goals were hurting me. 149. That was the number I always wanted to see on the scale. Once a year, I had to hit 149. That was my rule for myself. When that was the object of my motivation, the pathway I got there was super unhealthy, both physically and mentally. I’m talking weeks of cutting out entire food groups and doing endless amounts of cardio, coupled with a drill sergeant voice in my head yelling at me for eating one piece of cheese or chocolate.
Somewhere in my journey that started to shift and I began to realize how much I hated this goal. I loathed the number 149. My motivation left because it wasn't sustainable or built on the right things. And somewhere between the birthdays adding up and my body involuntarily changing (insert chronic nerve pain, bulging discs, and all the fun things being in your thirties brings) I began to value taking good care of myself more than anything aesthetic.
I remember writing this in my journal a while ago:
I want to give my body the best possible chance to feel as good as it can, for as long as possible.
I spent a long time working through this and, I can’t necessarily explain the steps of how I got here, but taking good care of myself became bigger than just a number. Maybe some of the motivation is fear- fear of becoming like the older adults I used to see during my hospice career that had to be taken care of because they didn’t take care of themselves. Maybe it’s the fear that my nerve pain will one day impact my mobility and building muscle now feels like something I can control to combat that.
But it’s also driven by love, and this is still a work in progress. Now my motivation isn’t to go to the gym, it’s to love myself well. Which also means working to let that drill sergeant go, stop dieting, start doing the movements that feel good to my body, sleeping more, going to therapy, and all the other self-care things that aren’t fancy or fun. Learning to love myself enough to do what’s needed over what society tells me I should care about has been a huge part of the journey.
To answer the original question, I don’t have to feel motivated to wake up and go to the gym anymore because the gym itself isn’t the goal. Now I know it's what I need to do, because it’s one piece of a larger goal. I don’t ask myself if I want to go to the gym, because so many days the answer would be no. I check in with myself on whether I’m really giving my body a chance to thrive in the short amount of time I have on earth.
So before I go to sleep, I set my 5:30am gym alarm without looking for or requiring motivation (and then of course I take my preworkout first thing after rolling out of bed to feel like doing it, before I can talk myself out of it).