My motivation has gone. I’m not talking about just feeling a bit ‘can’t be bothered,’ more like it up and left the premises. I can’t be sure when. It snuck out whilst I wasn’t looking, leaving me like a little shell of the person I used to be.
I know I’m not alone in this. Conversations with my Pilates participants and mums on the school run lead to similar conclusions:
‘I feel like I’ve lost all ability to do something nice for myself.’
‘I know that an hour, once a week, for myself isn’t much but I still can’t seem to fit in in.’
‘I know I need to do something to make myself feel better but I just don’t see the point.’
I’ve been a Pilates teacher for over 15 years. I love staying fit and well and I love motivating others to believe in their own ability to get fit and well.
Taking time out to exercise and finding motivation to do it has never been a problem for me, in fact my brain often has to do mental gymnastics to find a reason I shouldn’t exercise (heavy head cold or adding time stresses to an already busy morning).
But something has shifted. I’d noticed the change in around June, when I couldn’t face the organisation involved in doing my favourite activities. Let’s face it, I couldn’t even muster the enthusiasm to meet with more than one person for a socially distanced walk. Too complicated!
Then again in August, whilst on holiday, I was reminded (by my lovely husband who is very good at helping me with all the noticing) that the lack of motivation had turned into a need for permission. That somehow, I’d got into a rut where I felt I had to ask permission to do something nice for myself that wasn’t just a perfunctory 30 minute run or bike ride.
It hasn’t affected my activity levels. When Boris told us all back in March that we could only exercise for an hour a day, the rule abiding citizen in me maintained regular exercise for me and the kids (doing it for my country).
When rules relaxed and homeschooling continued we could be seen marching around the block to clear heads and try to find some iota of focus.
When the rages kicked in, in around May, I could frequently be found marching with tissues and dark glasses trying to find some sense in the black hole that was my brain as the ticker tape of failure became more of a flashing neon sign.
But a yoga class, tennis with a friend, a pedicure (my poor feet), or a social (distanced of course) coffee or wine with friends have been off my permitted list of things to do.
Why are we stuck in this rut?
In an era of being kind and talking openly about mental health, why, in the midst of a global pandemic, have we lost the ability to do the things that we know make us feel better?
Surely – as well adjusted, in touch with our mental health, lovers of holistic exercise – we should be reaching for our tools of mental health transformation. At the very least we should be clutching our quick fixes.
I’ve researched lots into the subject (which actually means listened to lots of podcasts whilst on those perfunctory, law abiding runs and read lots of articles whilst being distracted from what I was supposed to be doing).
1. We’re tired! Oh so tired. Especially if you’re the sort of person who usually copes well in a crisis. Hands up that’s me. Never more productive than when coping with a setback. Even before lockdown happened I’d been testing out ways of streaming my Pilates classes online so that within two hours of the ‘non essential contact’ decree being announced, I was live streaming Pilates classes via Zoom in my lounge. We didn’t stop. It reminded me of the time when we got stuck on a family ski holiday in Morzine when the ash cloud happened. We chartered a bus from the UK and Mr L and I roamed the streets of Morzine looking for others who wanted to get home to fill the bus up. But that energy only lasts in a crisis. The crisis hasn’t stopped so nor have we. There’s some interesting reading on surge capacity here: Your Surge Capacity is Depleted.
2. We’ve lost our autonomy and feel disempowered. It’s like HMGov turned into a governess and now we can’t work out what to do. Can we manage risk for ourselves? ‘No!’ says Boris. Can we go for a long bike ride? Only if you don’t have to drive there but not if it’s more than six miles from your home and not if there are more than five other people, unless it’s an organised event (in which case it’s okay) but it may not be okay in two weeks time when you’ve arranged with your significant others that then would be a good day for you to go because it fits in with everyone else’s plans.
3. We are afraid. We’ve forgotten about the initial fear but it’s still there. Our limbic systems went into fight or flight mode a good few months ago. We all feared for our lives, our livelihoods and our families. We all now know someone who has lost a close relative, lost their job or lost a business. We are not out of the dark woods. We are still battling the fear although less conscious of it.
4.Everything is weird. I’ve taught Pilates and exercise for long enough to know that people have different motivations for attending. What may start as ‘My physio/daughter/friend told me I needed to do this.’ Is quickly replaced by either the social and community aspect of belonging, or the soothing ritual of a regular class at a regular time. You leave your space to move into the other space. Having paid and booked in for that privilege is a part of the motivation and permission but there’s a comfort in the familiar, which has been taken away. We have to book in or do it via Zoom in our front room (where there’ll be others who want our attention). We can’t have our post yoga coffee. We have to wear a mask or wear socks. One of our long time participants recently referred to Fit School as, ‘a part of the furniture.’ I took it as a compliment but when you have a favourite sofa you don’t want it replaced buy a new and chic futon. You liked the old one.
5.Habits have changed. I’ve written about fitness motivation for long enough to know that it needs to be a part of a routine. For me, that’s a Friday morning bike ride. A Monday late morning run. A Sunday pre-church run or bike ride. Walks to and from school up the hill. It’s all part of what keeps me and my ticker ticking. That all went and was replaced by running a business in a new format whilst trying to home school two primary school aged children. It was replaced by having to accept I would fail at meeting my high expectations in most of those things. My routines went and so did my confidence. It’s going to take a little while to get either back.
So what can we do to re-find our motivation and verve.
1. Remember why those rituals were important to you. A basic rule of finding focus in work or play is to go back to what made you get started. What is your why? Why does it make you feel good?
2. Sleep. Don’t underestimate the power of fatigue in sapping your motivation. Sometimes you do need to rest.
3. Breathe. If our fight or flight response is on hyper drive, we can apply some first aid by breathing. Go back to the breathing techniques you’ve learned in yoga or Pilates.
4. Forget about technique for a while and just be. I recently did an online yoga class with the fabulous Tabitha (I met her recently by chance on a family holiday). She talked about letting go of technique focus and just doing what feels good. I’ve been using this concept in my Pilates classes recently.
5. Wear something that makes you feel good. We know putting on our favourite dress helps us to feel the part. The same is true for fitness or yoga fashion. Treat yourself to a pair of well fitting, fabulous leggings.
6. Book in. Commitment to being somewhere at a time and place really does motivate you. Lots of online classes have live instructors who can still critique your form.
7. Talk to a friend who you suspect might be in your boat too. Book in for a regular walk with them.
8. Create a secondary motivation. If you can’t motivate yourself, perhaps you could do it for a charitable cause. Join an online charity class or maybe start a savings plan for yourself. Pop £1 into a pot every time you do something nice for yourself.
9. Don’t underestimate the social side of exercise. You don’t have to do a bootcamp to get fit. Start with a regular brisk walk and work your way up from there.
10. Join a daily challenge. If you can’t find an hour for yourself, try a 10-15 daily boost. This could be via an online challenge or a challenge you set yourself. You could try my 5 day Pilates every day challenge.
And please. If your motivation for everything has disappeared, please please talk to someone. That could be a trusted friend or your GP. It’s okay to not be okay.
Karen Lisa Laing
Fitness Business Owner, consultant and freelance writer