How do you stay motivated during a pandemic?
It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot lately.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, many people stayed optimistic about fitness. They focused on the time they would save by no longer commuting, and dove into the world of Zoom workout classes and home gym setups.
But nine months later, so many of those people have lost that sense of optimisim that kept them going at the beginning, and are struggling to find the energy to stick with their goals.
Without something to train for, even athletes whose lives typically revolve around their workouts are having a hard time staying motivated right now.
And I get it. COVID has made me question my goals and priorities in all areas of my life — including my training goals. Short and long-term goals that used to feel so important no longer seem to matter as much any more.
Despite my dedication to fitness and long-term health, even I have days when I wake up and wonder why I even bother. Why put myself through the stress of a tough workout when no one knows when any of this is going to end?
Why Do You Workout?
If you also have thoughts like this, it can help to remind yourself of all of the myriad of reasons you do work out.
For example, when first asked, most people will say they work out to look a certain way, whether to lose weight, gain muscle, or both.
However, scientific research repeatedly shows that appearance is the least motivating reason most of us workout. And if we feel that there’s no real point in looking fit — we’re not going anywhere or seeing anyone, anyway — we’re even less likely to feel motivated by appearance-related goals.
If, like many people, you’re feeling less motivated to exercise than ever right now, it’s time to dig deeper and think about all the reasons you exercise, and not just those having to do with how you look.
I call this stacking your motivations — finding multiple motivators to keep you going even when you feel like there’s no real point in the moment. This is how you stay motivated to keep going long-term, even during a pandemic, even when you’re not feeling very motivated in the moment.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are several reasons to keep up with your workouts right now that aren’t related to appearance:
Exercise improves your immune system. It goes without saying that keeping our immune systems as healthy as possible is important right now. Along with good nutrition and getting outside in the sunshine and fresh air, regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep our immune systems functioning at peak levels.
Just don’t go too hard too consistently. Overtraining can lower your immune system, so do your best to avoid overdoing it.
Exercise improves your mood. Exercise helps put us in a better mood, period. Even just a little movement, whether in the form of a HIIT workout, yoga session, or even a walk, can help us feel happier, more grounded, and even increase feelings of hope and perspective. Outdoor exercise has even greater benefits.
Try it: The next time you’re in a bad mood, get some exercise and notice how you feel afterward. If you’re like me, nine times out of ten, you’ll be in a significantly better mental space than you were before exercising.
Exercise helps our brains function better. Research over the past few decades has shown that exercise has significant cognitive benefits. Even a short workout can increase focus and concentration, improve memory, and help us learn better for hours afterward. Exercise has long-term cognitive benefits, too, including increasing overall brain function and learning capabilities.
There are countless other reasons to work out consistently. A few reasons include keeping your heart healthy, staving off illness and disease, and staying independent as you age. Exercise can help you feel more mobile and comfortable in your body, allowing you to continue doing all your favorite sports and hobbies as you get older. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Try making a list of all the reasons you work out and consult that same list any time you’re not feeling very motivated or are wondering what the point is.
Motivation Hacks for When You’re Really Not Feeling Motivated
Sometimes, no matter your intentions or how many reasons you have to stay motivated to work out, you’re still not going to feel very motivated. This is normal, especially during times of stress (like now), so don’t get too hard on yourself if this happens.
I’m not a big fan of “hacks” because most of these tend to focus on the short-term rather than building a long-term habit or lifestyle. But when life is more chaotic than usual, and you’re struggling just to put one foot in front of the other, sometimes little hacks are all you need to build the momentum you need to keep going.
I’ve found that the following can help:
Schedule your workouts. This is by far my favorite hack to help ensure you fit in your workouts. Simply schedule your workouts in your calendar just like you would any other important meeting or event. If something comes up, it’s not the end of the world. Just treat them like you would any other important meeting and reschedule them.
Recruit a friend or two for a Zoom or outdoor workout. When you have someone else to help hold you accountable, you’re both less likely to skip your workout. Again, this works best when you schedule your workouts.
Add in mini workouts throughout the day. If you’re busier than usual, or are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, sometimes setting aside time for a “full” workout can feel daunting (yes, even if it’s just 12 minutes). Try and get away from black and white thinking around movement and start adding mini workouts into your day.
Add in simple exercises like a quick set of push-ups, bodyweight squats, or stretches every 30 to 45 minutes when you’re at home (set a timer if you need to) and go for a short walk to take a break. It may not seem like a lot, but all these short bouts of movement throughout the day add up and will still get you many of the same benefits of a longer, harder workout.
“If you’re in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you’re still in a bad mood, go for another walk.” – Confucius