Top tips for getting out your motivation slump

Posted 1 year ago

Top tips for getting out of a motivation slump

As both a physique coach and exercise psychologist, one of the questions I get asked most frequently is “How do I get myself out of this motivation slump?”

It’s no secret that we all struggle or have struggled at some point with motivation to exercise and/or to nourish ourselves in a way that’s contingent with our goals. That’s because motivation isn’t something you either have or you don’t – it’s a lot more nuanced than that.

But what can you do when you’re stuck in a rut and feel like you want to but also can’t be bothered getting back on the fitness bandwagon?

Below are my top 3 tips for getting out of a motivation slump, that are both based on the evidence-base as well as my own experience working with clients over time.

  1. Set goals that are meaningful to you

It goes without saying that being motivated to do something meaningless is a lot harder and takes a lot more effort than being motivated to do something you enjoy, or has more meaning than a simple “workout” or diet.

Of course, this can be tricky when it comes to health and fitness – some of us love working out and eating well, but others struggle a bit more to find that enjoyment during the session or in their salad, and the buzz only comes when it’s done, or at the end of a successful day. If that’s the case for you, consider how you can reframe the target behaviour to be more meaningful to you.

For example, you may look at the cross-trainer as something that will help you develop cardiovascular health to live longer; or you might see the top set on a hack squat as something gruelling that helps you develop mental toughness; equally, your motivation to stay on track with nutrition can be reframed from “diet” to “nourishment”, or a way to practice self-discipline. Whatever it is, make sure that the endeavour you’re pursuing has a meaning that goes beyond just the behaviour itself. In this way, maintaining long-term motivation will be a lot easier, because it will mean more to you.

  1. Work your way backwards and do a pre-mortem analysis of the situation

One of the biggest mistakes we make when setting goals is to think about the end point, and assume we’ll get there seamlessly once the path is laid out in front of us. But of course, anyone who has committed themselves to a goal knows that the path is never straightforward, and that the roadblocks you’ll need to face are many. Therefore, a much more practical question to ask yourself is this: if at the end of [target time frame] I haven’t achieved my goal, why would that be?

You know yourself better than anyone else does and asking yourself this question is a good chance for you to get honest with yourself and lay down some truths. Ultimately, it can be a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is that you are the common denominator in your life. As such, if you’ve been wanting to make changes and haven’t succeeded, it’s evident that something needs to change. Yet, without that honest self-to-self discussion, nothing will. Therefore, rather than looking back on time with regrets and a sense of failure – because time WILL pass whether you’re working on your goal or not – try and put yourself in the future and think about where you’re likely to fuck up.

Once you’ve established what your personal pitfalls are likely to be, then you’ll be a lot more prepared to make some real changes. Nobody is motivated to pursue a goal they know they’ll fail at, so by understanding WHEN this is likely to occur, you’re better equipped to recognise and overcome that hurdle when it does show up.

In short, this step will help you get out of a rut because by doing a pre-mortem instead of a post-mortem, you’re setting yourself up for success: and success is inherently motivating!

  1. Action breeds motivation, not the other way around

Ah, if only I had a penny for every time I’d spoken to a client who was waiting for motivation to just spring upon them before taking action towards their goals… Unfortunately, this is one of the many misconceptions about motivation: we assume we need it BEFORE doing something, when more often than not, it’s the other way around. Yes, we do need a bit of a kick up the arse to get going, but action breeds motivation and keeps us going, not the other way around. That is, if you’re waiting to feel motivated to do something, you’ll never get it done, or you’ll most certainly find it a lot harder to keep at it and/or stay consistent with it.

Why? Because when we take action, that positive feedback loop reinforces the target behaviour – we start to see results, we start to reap the rewards of our own actions, and as such, it becomes easier to get excited about engaging in the goal behaviour(s). However, waiting for motivation to emerge out of nowhere is a waste of time and certainly not something that will get you any closer to your goals. Therefore, if you’re stuck and feel like you must do something about it, take one step, however small: DM a coach, book a call, fill out an enquiry form, book a gym induction, go for a walk, change up your food shop. Whatever that action is, if it’s in alignment with your goal(s), I can guarantee it will help you water that motivation seed, which will only keep growing as you continue to compound on those helpful actions.

In summary, motivation slumps are perfectly normal, because motivation isn’t static or permanent. As such, if you find yourself in a bit of a rut without direction, consider whether your goals are meaningful enough for you (and if they’re not, are you able to reframe them in such a way?); remember that the key part of overcoming motivation is backwards planning as well as forward planning, and that considering what will/could go wrong is important; and finally, bear in mind that action precedes motivation, especially in the long term.

Clara Swedlund MSc MBPsS