Lost Motivation To Exercise After A Big Race? Try This Simple Strategy
Finishing a race you’ve trained long and hard for feels exhilarating. Endorphins from crossing the finish line are running high. Mental and physical pressure that has been building up for months is finally gone. And that muscle soreness feels more like a reward than punishment. However, with all that freedom motivation to exercise can start to dwindle. And the dreaded question will inevitably come up – What’s next?
Some athletes seem to me immune to such lack of motivation. They are quick to register for the next adventure and continue chasing personal records. Which is a good way to motivate yourself to work out. What can be more inspiring than training to get in the most optimal condition to deliver the best performance when it counts the most – be it finishing an ultra endurance race or even trekking in the Himalaya. But what if there is no new race on the calendar? And what about those athletes who completed the race only to test themselves? How do you maintain motivation to exercise once the big race is over?
Athletes who do not have a confident answer to the What now? question risk becoming ‘stuck’ or even abandoning their wellness journey altogether. Even Michael Phelps admitted having a so-called post-Olympic depressions following his many victories. It’s very common for athletes to feel not enough, or not worthy, or even a failure. Such thoughts can easily be amplified by social media that tends to showcase only the best parts of life and lead to believe that others’ lives are more fulfilling and free of problems.
So, how do you answer that question for yourself? And how to get motivated to exercise again? Read on to learn how to bring back that missing spark to your life.
Why do I have no motivation to exercise?
There can be many reasons why athletes lack motivation to work out – too much mental fatigue, too high expectations, training plateaus, injuries or other setbacks, fatigue and so on. But more often than not lack of motivation to exercise comes from lack of clarity. For example, not being able to organize and prioritize all of the things that are happening in life. Or being bored from repeating the same workouts over and over again. Or even being demotivated by not making good progress towards hefty ambitions.
Sport has become more than a simple passion for me. Every day I feel its impact on my life and mentality as I continue on my quest from gold medals to personal growth. And while one might expect that I was born with unlimited motivation to exercise, the road was far from smooth. I experienced a lot of ups and downs – weeks when I’m inspired to put 150% effort in and weeks (or even months) when I’m not motivated to workout at all. I still experience ‘slow’ moments from time to time (as we all do), but those are rare and much less pronounced now.
Over time I realized that a lot of the volatility in my motivation had to do with me trying to rush the process. Having too high expectations for myself compared to my actual level and getting obsessed about reaching a very ambitious goal. So, when I’d fall short of my standards (i.e. my time not quite at the World Championship level), I’d feel disappointed about what was a pretty good performance.
Results that we get are just stepping stones to an even bigger outcome.
Gold medals and peak fitness are not the final destination. Those are just stimuli for us to go beyond the comfort zone and gradually adapt to a higher workload. With the purpose to reach even further next time.
And the most sustainable way to keep that inner fire burning is not to think in terms of how to make myself exercise, but rather how do I create an environment which inspires me to exercise.
Extrinsic & Intrinsic motivation
Before we go into actual strategies, let’s look at motivation from an academic background. According to the self-determination theory, there are two sources of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation grows in response to outcomes or rewards. These can be tangible results (personal records, awards, money), feedback shared by other people (praise or critique) and even social validation (social media likes, KOMs on Strava). Extrinsic motivation always comes from the outside in – from family, friends, competitors or the environment. And while there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s important to remember that such source of motivation will always be limited. Whenever the reward is taken away (i.e. expectations not met), motivation to exercise or achieve something plummets.
On the other hand, intrinsically motivated people are driven by the process and, in particular, by the desire to master a given task or skill. These athletes can be as competitive as the ones who are motivated by outcomes, but the source of that motivation is internal. Intrinsically motivated athletes put in the work because they enjoy the process – ‘for the love of sport’. They focus more on having fun and exploring the areas that improve performance than on attaining a certain outcome. As Daniel Pink puts it in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, “When the reward is the activity itself–deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one’s best – there are no shortcuts.”
How to create ‘inner drive’ and motivation to exercise?
According to the same self-determination theory, cultivating inner drive (intrinsic motivation) comes from nurturing our three human needs:
- Competence – the need for honing and demonstrating skills, whether physical or interpersonal. Achieving a form of mastery creates pleasure and satisfaction, which is why any opportunity to improve ourselves may act as a powerful internal motivator. Or, in other words, we always strive for progress and becoming better.
- Autonomy – the need for having a degree of freedom or flexibility. Athletes who can impact or make decisions about their training (i.e. plan ahead, select activity type or intensity) are more invested in the process than when simply following what a coach (or a training plan) has prescribed. Often athletes engage in a sport for the pleasure and satisfaction of learning, exploring, or trying something new, but lose that motivation in the process of chasing personal records.
- Relatedness – the need for genuine connection. When we engage in a group or community of people who share the same interests, we get pleasant sensations, such as excitement and fun. For example, an athlete joins a training group and is inspired to become better by simply being in the company of individuals who share the same goals and aspirations.
You can see where this academic research is taking us. Developing intrinsic motivation is the ultimate goal for those who wish to enjoy success and longevity in the sport.
If a person can become driven by growth, the rest will take care of itself.
In my experience, motivation to exercise is not black & white. It’s not only about training to break a personal record in a race or – vice versa – having fun while traveling. Having lasting motivation – in sport or in life – is about combining both outcomes & achievement with the process of growth. Focusing on one of those will limit the energy we put into realizing our potential.
So, where to start? How do you generate that inner drive that will carry you through the rainy sessions, early morning workouts or just going to the gym after work?
Never lose motivation to exercise again with this 5-step strategy
Have you ever found yourself running around in circles? Promising yourself to start exercising tomorrow? Or chasing the next finish line or adventure with a goal to run away from problems? Or maybe even avoiding something new because “nah, I’m not interested” when deep down feeling intimidated? I sure did.
It is as if we’re following an old program installed some time ago and never updated. And instead of doing the uncomfortable we repeat the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
The way to sustain motivation to workout throughout the years is to stop doing what we’ve always done and focus on creating an environment that will lead us to adapt to bigger challenges.
Losing motivation to exercise after a big race is not a bad thing. Instead, it’s a signal that something has to change.
When we create peak experiences for ourselves, we feel joy, happiness, fulfilment and motivation to do even more. That is because peak experiences push us to the edge and force to reflect, learn and adapt. And creating those is very much in our control.
Step #1 – lean onto your vision to discover the source of motivation
Having a purpose that’s bigger than any particular workout or a race makes an athlete feel he or she advances in life – comes closer to achieving lifetime goals/dreams or contributes to other people’s lives. It helps to see things in perspective and – in a way – acts as a heading to stick to. What is all that fitness for, really? And is it worth making sacrifices for? Answers to these questions will help determine whether the lifestyle and fitness are sustainable in the long term – far beyond competitive career.
So, the first step is to ask yourself What was it that drove me to start exercising? and think of a specific thing you can visualize. Was it running the marathon that takes place in a couple of months? Or taking an entry examination to become a Baywatch lifeguard? Maybe traveling to China to learn Kung-Fu? If you have the visual – good. Picture it, feel it and, most importantly, focus on it. If it helps, write it on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet. This shall serve as a vision for you.
When we are brave to admit to ourselves what we want the whole universe will help us achieve that.
From now on don’t think about daunting workouts you have to complete. Think of the vision you created and the end result you’ll want to celebrate. Once you focus on the vision, it will pull motivation to exercise and help you stay on track without any extra willpower. You’re more likely to succeed when you know where you’re going.
When it comes to setting goals, it’s best to think of them as signposts along the way to a broader vision. Smaller and more achievable goals work better, because you have more opportunities to pause, reflect and adjust your course. For example, running a 3-hour marathon can be a signpost along the way to becoming a resilient athlete who is capable of taking on any adventure.
Winning isn’t everything – find the drive behind the process
As we age, the nature of our motivation to exercise will inevitably change. We will get slower. Priorities will shift. That’s just the way it is. So, it’s important not to measure yourself against any other person or what you used to be. Instead, be comfortable with training where you are at right now – not where you think you could be, or where you used to be.
In my professional career I found that often giving it all but finishing 2nd, 3rd or even fourth feels more rewarding than winning with ease. That is because we value effort we’ve put in, not result.
I found that a great way to approach training and competing is to set priority to learn, while aiming to win. When we shift focus to learning, all our attempts to succeed at anything become experiments. And when we fall short of our expectations we gain experience. In other words, we can never fail. And that attitude helps to make the process of chasing ambitions much more exciting.
Step #2 – add a dose of challenge and set inspiring goals
In life, just like in training, we only grow in response to resistance. Our mind & body need to be challenged, otherwise we will stagnate. In fact, without pushing ourselves to do something uncomfortable we will fall behind, because the world around doesn’t wait for us to catch up.
Who would you rather be, someone who is blown away easily by the wind of hardships or the one who stands firm on the ground? The only way we’re able to stand firm is by becoming stronger, which requires overcoming resistance.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
It’s those things that scare us eventually lead to growth. For athletes that is where adventure comes into play. After you’ve crafted a vision of adventurous life you want to lead, set a challenge for yourself that will bring that vision closer to reality. In other words, stay ahead of what might come and challenge yourself before life challenges you.
For example, if you’ve completed 20 marathons, finishing a 21st one will not give you much additional challenge. After all, it’s the same distance, same environment and the same training. However, setting a goal to complete a trail marathon or something completely different (like an unusual adventure race) will push you outside your current comfort zone and will provide a much stronger motivation to exercise.
Step #3 – plan your adventure
Once we know where we’re going it’s time to create a plan to turn that vision into reality.
A plan essentially splits the entire journey into many smaller parts (phases) that are easier to focus on and execute. Having a plan ensures that every important detail is considered, which reduces the pressure and allows a person to immerse him or herself in the present moment and fully enjoy the experience.
A goal without a plan is just a dream.
The process of planning can seem tedious and boring. But this is where big and inspiring goals are important. When we plan something meaningful and inspiring, we put our heart and soul into and actually enjoy it. In such empowered state it’s not difficult to consider small details, because they come to mind on their own. Moreover, being involved in the planning process satisfies the second need that cultivates intrinsic motivation – autonomy.
So, think of that inspiring (and a little scary) goal you’ve set and create a plan how you would attempt to complete it. Approach it as if you were designing your ultimate experience. Split it into as many little milestones as needed and try to consider every detail. What has to happen for you to complete the challenge. How training might look like (i.e. what intensity and recovery is needed). What resources would you need. Who can support you. What habits you need to develop right now. How long the entire process will take. What specific steps you need to do. And so on.
If you don’t have a coach, I’d be happy to create a balanced plan and coach you towards your crazy adventure. Go to my personal coaching page for more info.
Finally, while still in an empowered and excited mindset think of one simple yet bold action you can take right now to kick the entire process off and do it right away.
Step #4 – share your journey
As humans we thrive on communication and the sense of togetherness. We need to feel recognized, interact or just have someone to share our success & concerns with. Many pro athletes agree that having a community that pushes you is one of the most effective ways how to become a better athlete and stay active throughout the years.
Training with a group adds a bit of competitiveness to the training process and, in a way, makes it seem easier and fun. Often being part of a training group is enough to provide enough encouragement to workout after a big race.
Having meaningful connections also helps to satisfy the third need that affects intrinsic motivation – relatedness. An experience that is shared carries more power and provides much stronger stimulus to carry on. So, make an effort to involve more people in your journey and do something more for others – it generates positive sensations and is overall more fun. Join a training squad, find a mentor, hire a coach, start a blog or even create a movement – the choice is yours.
Step #5 – celebrate accomplishments
It’s easy to let a single thing become the entire world and wipe out the ability to see things in perspective. Obsession is a straight road to emotional burnout and comes from trying too hard to live life in a particular way. As a professional athlete I used to feel that I wasn’t enough and am only allowed to celebrate once I win or achieve the highest ambitions I’ve set for myself. So, more often than not I had a bitter aftertaste after what, in fact, was a pretty good performance.
Over the years I learned that it’s more important to take the time to stop and appreciate where I am and where I’ve come than to push ahead. And also to celebrate experience – not the outcome. If it was a bad race, celebrate what I’ve learned. If it was a good race – celebrate that I did something right. Cultivating that mindset still helps me to stay motivated to workout and prevents from going into destructive mentality in which nothing seems to works.
When we celebrate, we tend to immerse ourselves in the present moment where the stress of daily life and anxiety about where we want to be instead dissipates. The present moment connects us with joy that is within us. So, embrace that and let it fill you.
Keep it fun
A good place to learn to celebrate is to start seeing humour around you. Don’t take anything thrown at you personally and look for opportunities to make jokes instead of complaining.
Have some laughs, spend time with friends, add more music to your life (the kind that motivates you to sing or dance along). Don’t care about what people think. And don’t take life too seriously. A year later, almost all problems we face now won’t matter, so we might as well find humour in them. Being in good spirits is a signal that you’re in a good place in life.
Taking things lightly is an indicator of strength – not weakness.
At 70 years old and despite being a governor in the past Arnold Schwarzenegger still cracks jokes about his bikini wax during his interviews. Talk about not being afraid of looking silly.
Putting it all together
The goal of the strategy above is to self-drive your athleticism and create a foundation for continued growth. That will guide you to get motivated to exercise even in the lowest of points – be it after a race or in general.
The real magic happens when you incorporate all 5 steps in your life. Craft a vision that inspires you. Find an exciting adventure that is a little outside your comfort zone and take active part in planning it – from training to lifestyle. Involve others in your journey to make it meaningful and exciting. And, finally, celebrate the experience you get along the way to keep it fun.
As you can see, this process takes more effort than simply signing up for another race. But once you go through it, you’ll notice that you won’t have problems with finding motivation to workout anymore.
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How did I get here?
Hey there! My name is Andrejs and I am here to inspire, entertain and get you fit for any adventure.
I went from being an over trained pro athlete to an endurance coach sharing how to listen to your body and live life to the fullest.
Traveling, new sports & activities brought new meaning to my training and made it much more effective, fun and enjoyable. And I'm here to help you do the same.