Motivation is a curious thing. When you have it, everything is great – you are eager to train and make all the right choices. When you don’t have it, you make every excuse to avoid exercise. I’m sure the same applies to other areas of life too.
Having qualified for Paris-Brest-Paris a month ago, I then let myself get into bad habits. Understandably I was pretty tired after the Tour of the Borders and Galloway, but I made the mistake of taking too long to get back on the bike. I told myself I was too busy. I told myself I was too tired. I was both busy and tired, but in truth I had lost my mojo. I also kept on eating as if I were still in training.
As a result I put on 7lb in a month, nudging me into the category of being ‘overweight’ for the first time in about three years. This came as a shock, and I started to panic a bit. With PBP only about seven weeks away I was overweight and feeling unfit and demotivated. Something needed to change.
Our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing are all part of the same thing. When one is neglected, the others will soon start to suffer. For me at least, rediscovering my motivation for exercise over the last week or so has involved getting my whole house in order. The things which have made a difference haven’t all been about exercise directly, but they have contributed holistically to a renewed desire to train and get back to the level of fitness I know I need to be at. Here’s what I’m doing:
Drastically cutting-down on social media
The fact that facebook makes you less happy is one of those irritating truisms that I’ve known for ages, yet never acted on. Since signing up to facebook over ten years ago I must have spent 1000s of hours scrolling through stuff that really doesn’t matter, finding out about the lives of people I haven’t been in contact with for decades and with whom I have very little in common. Well, I ripped the band-aid off. I haven’t deleted my account, but I’ve ‘unfollowed’ EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. This is what my news-feed now looks like, it’s glorious:
I can still see what my friends are up to if I want by searching for them, but it means that facebook is now done on my terms. I’ve also deleted the app from my phone, so if I want to use it I have to do so on the laptop. I’ve also used the ‘screen time’ function on my phone to limit myself to 30 minutes a day for other social media (twitter, instagram…). The result is that I feel pretty liberated. It’s a bit similar to some of the suprising things I found about going vegan – it’s meant to be really hard, but when you do it it’s actually easy and it makes you feel really good.
Catching the train to work and using the time to read
I’ve been lazy with my commute to work recently. I’m lucky enough to be able to get to work on public transport, but I’ve spent most of the last year commuting by car. I want to use the car less (carbon footprint etc.), but it’s easy to be lazy. The stupid thing is that I actually really like travelling by train, it’s much more relaxing that sitting in traffic. So I resolved to travel to work by train and to use the time to read. Without the distraction of social media, I can have an hour or two each day to read – this is seriously good for the mind and the spirit.
Starting with a phenomenal book
Conscious that I was potentially at the start of a period of personal growth, I asked friends on facebook if there were any books that had been life-changing for them. Yes, I am aware of the irony of using facebook to find books that would fill the hole that facebook was leaving. The list that people came up with was amazing. The books themselves were as diverse as the contributors. They won’t all suit me, but I loved seeing how passionate people were about the books they had read. It reminded me how important the written word is to how we understand ourselves, and got me excited to start reading. My friend Alex recommended Immortal Diamond by the Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr, about whom I had only heard good things. This book is written with the intention of being life changing, and it doesn’t disapppoint. I’m still processing it, but if you need a sense of how it has affected me, it is the only book I have ever read which made me go straight back to page one after finishing it in order to read it all over again.
Buying a new bike
There’s nothing like having a new thing to help with motivation. I realised that one of the reasons I was reluctant to get the train to work was that I was reluctant to cycle the two miles to the station on the cheap mountain bike I had bought for that purpose last year. At £20 the cheap mountain bike really was cheap, but it isn’t much fun to ride. So I bought a second-hand road bike for commuting, and it’s great! It’s a lower spec than my usual road bike, but I’ve been so pleased with it so far. For those who are interested it’s a Cannondale Synapse 2015 model, it has an aluminium frame, carbon fork, Shimano Sora 9-speed groupset and I picked it up for £200. It’s smooth and comfortable, and I just want to ride it everywhere! I think the fact that I got a really good bike for the money makes the enjoyment of riding it even greater.
Cutting my hair
It’s a simple thing, but getting a hair cut makes you feel better. I hadn’t got round to it for a while (‘I’m too busy!’), and it was just another thing that I wasn’t liking about myself. Other little things make a difference too – for example, I’ve been making more of an effort to floss my teeth!
Eating and drinking properly
By looking after my mental and spiritual wellbeing, I have felt better able to make good choices that affect my physical health. I’ve cut out the crap food. I had got into a really bad habit of stopping on the way home from work and buying junkfood – crisps, sugary drinks etc. – so many unnecessary calories with minimal nutritional value. Wholefoods are back on the menu. I’m also trying to avoid alcohol. I’ve never been a big drinker, but I’ve realised recently that alcohol is generally more of a negative than a positive for my oveall wellbeing. I’ve been really enjoying alcohol-free beers – low calories and no fuzzy head! I even discovered that they sell them at the station – it feels a treat to sit with a cold beer and a book on my train ride home!
Making a conscious effort to lose weight
I need to lose a decent amount of weight by mid-August, and now that I’ve found some motivation I’m confident that I will. My approach is simple, this is what I intend to do:
- Exercise every day. I used to do this, but somehow I drifted. Where possible and practical I’m going to commute one direction by bike and the other by train. My commute is just under 40 miles so it’s a decent workout. I’ve done this three times in the last week, the other two days I was away in London. At weekends or days when there is a genuine reason why I can’t commute, I’ll do another form of exercise.
- Eat better. No junk food. No refined carbs, in fact less carbs in general when I’m not exercising. More wholefoods.
It’s working. 2lb lost in the first week, and I’m feeling better. I feel like I want to exercise. I feel like I don’t want the junk food.
Our minds are infinitely re-programmable. We’re not like the proverbial ‘old dog’ who can’t be taught new tricks. We can learn new ways of thinking and develop new patterns of behaviour. Exchanging negative behaviours for positive ones might seem daunting, difficult or even impossible. But it’s not impossible, in fact it’s probably a lot easier than we might think.