Struggling with Motivation? This Unexpected Warm-Up Might Be What You Need
It’s dark. It’s cold. And there is cake readily available everywhere. The holidays are potentially the worst season for maintaining a fitness regimen. With such ambiguous goals as “look fit” and “feel fast”, no training program or class or cool gear has ever kept me from the siren song of the couch when it’s 40 degrees and raining. So this year, I decided to leave my body out of it, because it’s not just my muscles that need warming up—it’s my motivation.
Looking for a way to hack my motivation that I hadn’t already exhausted, I turned to meditation. I already meditated to deal with stress and anxiety, but had never focused my meditation efforts on my athleticism—or occasional lack thereof. So I tried Headspace’s Sport Motivation pack: a series of 10 meditations on the topic, dedicated to athletes trying to get their heads in the game.
It’s easy to think of meditation as a mental warm-up, but I’d never factored it into my actual warm-ups. And I wasn’t sure how something typically so calming was going to get me psyched to run in the rain. Boy was I in for a surprise.
Day 1: This is not what I expected.
I put in my headphones, waiting for a pep talk, but what I got was an internal investigation. There’s an acknowledgment of what I thought I would get (locker room, half-time “you can do this!”) compared to what I did get (some serious reflection.) Instead of trying to replace thoughts of laziness with thoughts of inspiration, I was asked to reflect on a question: “What’s the most important thing in your life right now?” The key to the reflection technique is to not actually answer the question, but to just feel how you react to it. Normally I wouldn’t consider existential questions motivating, but the most important thing in my life at that moment was my health. I started doing push-ups as soon as the meditation was done.
Day 2: Someone get my sneakers.
The sport focus becomes more clear in the second session when I’m asked to reflect on the following: “How does it make you feel when you’re playing sport?” It makes me feel amazing! The dirt crunch underneath my sneakers, the whirring of my bike as I descend, the give of fresh snow—it all feels like I’m an animal on the hunt. I barely finish meditating before lacing up.
Day 3: Thinking bigger.
I go into the third session psyched. But temporary motivation isn’t what we’re after here, and that was pretty clear when I was asked to reflect on this: “What is your dream goal?” Uhhh, when it comes to fitness? Is “looking good” the wrong answer? Day 3 proves to be a more challenging meditation, and the question lingers with me. How do you get motivated to push yourself if you don’t know what you’re pushing toward?
Day 4: The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Despite only meditating for ten minutes each time, the concept of a dream goal stays with me, and it narrows to this: be a motivation to others. On Day 4, I’m asked to reflect on whether or not my happiness is dependent on achieving that goal. Dependent feels like a strong word to me, but I imagine a scenario where I inspire others to feel the same joys I do when pursuing sport, and it makes me smile.
Day 5: I am the problem.
With a better understanding of my goals after Days 3 and 4, I am hit with a ton of bricks when asked to reflect on Day 5’s question: “What’s preventing you from achieving your goal?” The only thing I can think is “myself.” I open my eyes to check the time remaining in the meditation: two minutes. I keep listening, but turn the rest of the meditation into a wall-sit.
Day 6: Getting after it.
The question for Day 6 is: “How do you approach your life?” I immediately think to myself with gusto and feel both embarrassed and charmed. I ride my bike to work, faster than usual.
Day 7: Am I an athlete?
Question of the day: “Are you defined by what you do?” Well, are you? I never considered myself a runner, but I do consider myself a cyclist. At what point did I cross the line to allow myself that identity? After this meditation, I go for a run, more focused on my form than I had been in years.
Day 8: Giving back.
By now, my goals have gone from nonexistent to mildly defined, but Day 8 is what solidifies them. “What can you give to sport?” I might not be able to give anything specifically to sport, but if I can motivate others to pursue the joys of the mountain, I can give them what sport gives me: freedom, health, and joy.
Day 9: Outside of yourself.
We are back to curveballs when the meditation asks me to reflect on this: “How does it feel to see others share in your happiness?” It feels great, but sport has often felt selfish to me, like time I demanded for myself that I refused to give to others. Reflecting on this, I can’t help but circle back to the idea that I’m a happier, kinder person when I’m using my body regularly. And when I’m fully into my sports, I want to help other people experience the same thing. I barely squeeze in this meditation because I’m so keen to get on my bike.
Day 10: A motivation that lasts.
On the final day of the Sport Motivation pack, I’m brought back to an earlier question for reflection: “What’s your dream goal?” I smile when asked, because it’s starting to become more and more clear what that goal really is.
After finishing the ten-day meditation series, I can tell you that meditation didn’t motivate me—but it wasn’t supposed to. Motivation is yours. It’s the reason you do something, and it comes from within. And when you can better understand why you’re doing something, you don’t need a pep talk or an accountabilibuddy—all you need is yourself.
Kelton Wright is the director of editorial at Headspace. She is the author of Anonymous Asked: Life Lessons from the Internet's Big Sister, as well as two upcoming guidebooks to Los Angeles and San Francisco. A cyclist in Los Angeles, she’s just trying to stay to the right and write.