Motivation has peaks and valleys. There are times we feel invincible, strong, and proud of our fitness accomplishments. During my "peaks" in the past, I've found myself hitting the gym or taking classes nearly every day of the week, and I've been on top of my diet, sleep schedule, and overall wellness routine.
Then come the valleys. The days, weeks, and even months when we lose sight of our fitness goals, get down on ourselves, and feel like giving up. There are times when I've had a complex about even putting on workout clothes because my motivation is simply nowhere to be found. In those periods, I've beaten myself up for "letting myself go" — something that is my own perception rather than the actual truth. Lack of motivation can be disheartening, difficult to get past, and even, over time, detrimental to our fitness routine and health. So how do we get past these so-called valleys? Where can we find the motivation that eludes us, the lack of which has us out of shape, out of sorts, and out of inspiration?
"Acknowledge all the little steps. Be proud of the tiny milestones."
It was the words of a professional ballet dancer that changed how I view motivation in relation to fitness. When I spoke with Jennifer Stahl, a principal dancer at the San Francisco Ballet, I asked the obvious question of someone whose profession is tied so closely to fitness. How does she maintain the motivation required for something so demanding? Her answer surprised me: patience.
"There are definitely times when it's hard and you can lose track of the big picture and what's really important," Stahl said. "I think the key is being patient with yourself. It's easy to want to just be back full force, but it's important to know that every little step adds up, even if it's tiny."
Patience isn't something we always have with ourselves. We want to see results, and fast. We want to reach our goal, not later, but now. But the process is part of the puzzle; in fact, it's the most crucial piece. "The process is really important. Learning to just enjoy the process has been huge for me [in terms of motivation]," Stahl said. "I used to only think about the goal, and my show, but it's important to really savor and enjoy each thing."
It's easy to feel defeated — ballet dancers included! — but we should be kinder to ourselves. Stahl reminds herself to keep pushing, that it's worth it, and asks "what's my purpose?" in order to get perspective on her goals. "Acknowledge all the little steps," she said. "Be proud of the tiny milestones."
This is especially true with working out, she added, because there are such amazing advantages mentally, in addition to physically. "I'm a big believer in mind/body, and there are so many benefits that go along with [exercise], so having a holistic view of it and how it can impact a lot of different aspects of your life is motivating. We're only human! Do what you can!"
I've taken this mentality to heart. I've found that savoring the small wins individually and reminding myself that each day may be different but nonetheless equally important to my health and happiness makes me more motivated than ever before. We are, as Stahl said, only human after all.