Maintaining Motivation

A recent article in the Yoga Basics newsletter cited “Five Things to do Every Day for You”.  First on the list – as it should be in my opinion – is “Move Your Body”.  The prescription is no more specific than that.  It doesn’t need to be.  Any kind of movement, any length of time, or any intensity will fill the bill.  You can walk outside or around your house, take a class or just get up from your desk, chair or bed and stretch for 5 minutes or so.  At first a myriad of excuses may arise:  I’m too tired; it’s too cold outside; I’m in a hurry; I’ll get sweaty and mess up my hair; I need to do x, y or z first (which, of course, is more important); and so on.  You know the drill.  Everything takes precedence over the things you need to do for yourself.

When this happens it can be useful to take an honest look at why it is so difficult to maintain the motivation necessary to prioritize your own needs.  You know that if you ignore your excuses and move anyway, you always feel better.  In fact, whatever movement you choose usually feels so good that the 5 minutes or so you were going to allow yourself quickly turns into 10 or even 30 minutes.  The class you were going to walk out on if it felt too hard suddenly isn’t that bad.  In fact, you may even find yourself making moves you thought were beyond your skill level.  Why is that so difficult to remember?

There are many obstacles that can arise when we set goals and try to accomplish something.  Some of them are genuine circumstances beyond our control that arise without prior notice.  But some obstacles are ones we create.  In fact, there are times when it is hard to tell which is which.  After all, there really aren’t that many things we can control yet somehow we still manage to live our lives.  Still it’s easy to blame our own lack of inner resolve on some external circumstance.  Mostly, though, it’s really a matter of prioritizing. When in doubt it helps to stay motivated.  If you find yourself consistently confronting obstacles in the way of your plans to exercise, maybe lack of motivation is the real problem.

So what can we do to regain motivation?  First thing you can do is remind yourself why you want to move in the first place.  Maybe you want to overcome some chronic pain.  Or perhaps you’re trying to lose weight.  Is there a trip you are planning or an event that would be more fun if you were in better shape?  How about a walk for charity that you would like to complete?  Can you remember how good you used to feel when you moved regularly?  You can get there again.  You can’t turn back the clock, but you can feel better than you do right now.  A repeated mantra in this blog is that the more you move, the more you want to move, and the easier it becomes to keep moving.  It doesn’t happen overnight, although you might feel better right away once you get started.  But the key is practice and consistency.  Don’t give up.  Let others help you.  If you take a class, the other participants will support you.  Find a friend to walk with.  Or walk your dog.  Or walk someone else’s dog.  There are always dogs in need of walking.  Make it easy and fun!

When we’re young, time seems endless and unlimited.  But as we age we begin to recognize the importance of using our time wisely.  In this case “wisely” means using time in ways that will contribute to your overall well-being.  When you feel good, everyone around you benefits.  So you needn’t worry about the others in your life.  Just focus on yourself.  If you want to bring more movement into your life but can’t manage to make it happen, you will feel bad about yourself.  Whatever condition you’re trying to overcome won’t get any better.  This is not a contribution to your overall well-being.  Remind yourself that the time you take to move your body is a small amount that won’t be missed later in the day.  But that small investment will eventually yield a big reward.  That’s certainly a carrot you can dangle when you need motivation.  It’s never too late.  If you can move and breathe you can improve.

Take Advantage of This Moment

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There are several people in my life right now who are suffering from serious illnesses.  These conditions seemed to arrive out of nowhere.  In particular, I am thinking of two people who considered themselves healthy and active prior to the sudden onset of illness.  This has caused me to again spend some time reflecting on the fragility of human beings, the impermanence of all things and the sacred nature of time.  Time is a precious commodity.  We don’t understand it, but one thing that is certain is that it only moves in one direction:  forward.  Relentless forward motion.  We can’t stop it and we can’t back it up.  Yet still we waste so much of it dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.  

So it becomes especially important to celebrate each moment.  No matter how much you think you lack or wish things were different from what they are, chances are if you really pay attention to the moment you are in right now – THIS moment – there is almost certainly at least one thing for which you can be grateful.  Consider these questions:  Do you have enough to eat today?  (Maybe too much, but that’s another story!) Do you have a place to sleep tonight that is protected from the weather?  Are you breathing?  Maybe your breathing is labored or difficult, but if you’re on the planet and conscious, chances are you’re breathing.  That’s a miracle right there. Take a moment to just follow your next breath.  Think of how it contributes to your body’s well-being, even if it hurts.  It costs nothing to pay attention to your breath and it will bring you back to the present.  

Reflecting on what’s right in this moment (as opposed to what you think is “wrong”) can help you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. That may be difficult at times, so it helps to develop a practice to bring yourself back to those positives as soon as you recognize that you’ve slipped into negative thinking – that is, lamenting what’s passed or fearing what’s ahead.  Recently I heard a suggestion for an anxiety-relieving practice:  if you’re feeling anxious or fearful try looking around you and making a list of everything you see.  It might help bring you back to the present moment or at least provide a distraction.  If you read this blog you know, I’m a strong advocate of practice of any type. That’s because it works.  The more you practice – anything – the more it becomes part of your life. Pretty soon it is so natural that you can’t imagine being without that practice and you miss it if something keeps you from it.  

Since time is so valuable we all want to maximize that value.  If you have ever been sick you know the value of good health. There are no guarantees, but there are things you can do to feel better and try to maintain good health.  These are not strange new techniques. We all know what to do. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep and keep your body moving to the best of its ability. Even these simple concepts vary from person to person.  There is no “one size fits all”.  We each have to find our own way.  But that means finding a place to start and following through. Even if you stumble, starting is the hardest part.  Once you do that, it’s easy to get up and try again or try something else.

Yoga and Pilates both help us to connect mind and body so that we can begin to understand what each of our bodies requires. Those requirements will change with time, but the more tuned in you are the more you will recognize when change is needed. If these disciplines don’t work for you, find something that does. There are a myriad of ways to support your body and all its complex systems.  Treating your body will also treat your mind. Whatever you choose, adopt it as a practice.  Set a regular schedule that you can stick to. Start as slow as you need to so that you know you can do it.  If you find you can’t stick to it, adjust the schedule.  Make it work for you.  Now is the time to take control of what you can control while you can control it. Take advantage of this moment. It’s the only you have.