In January each year, a new crop of folks sprout at the gym. They are easy to spot because they are the ones with the new workout clothes. Sometimes the women wear makeup and bring a venti latte to sip while strolling on the treadmill. Some of the men bring the newspaper or a sports magazine to read while on the elliptical. They are following up on their commitment to exercise, but you can tell their hearts really aren’t in it.
Other new gym-goers stand out because they are gung-ho. They don’t start small and work up. They put too much tension on the machines, crank up the speed on the treadmill, and begin with weights that are too heavy. Their grunts and groans reverberate above the motivational music and they quickly find out a warm-up period might have been a good idea.
The newly resolved come to spin class determined to show all us oldies that they can out-ride us, ignoring the fact that most of us, after twenty plus years of rolling out of bed at 5:00 a.m. and dragging ourselves to the gym, have built up enough leg muscles to kick box and developed a callous on our backsides. These newbie bikers try to pedal faster and with more intensity than those of us who faithfully show up three days a week. They last for one or two classes.
By the end of January, the attrition rate is obvious. The parking lot is emptier. Sore muscles have set in and everydayness of getting up and showing up is a reality. Excuses are created and people quietly disappear.
Life is a lot like the January gym. You make a decision to start something new, change old habits or patterns, or renew previously discarded attempts. You hit the ground running, attack the difficulty full force, but suddenly you begin finding reasons to slack off and your resolve fizzles.
Here are some ways to maintain forward motion when motivation sags:
Refocus on the goal – Sometimes, when you are in the middle of something challenging, it’s easy to get bogged down with the difficulties you face and lose enthusiasm. Giving up seems to make sense and reasons are plentiful to call it quits. Perhaps stress, over-commitment, or fatigue are about to defeat your motivation. If so, take a breather and look at why you set the goal in the first place, what the benefits are, and assess the negative outcome of giving up. Look for new inspiration. Envision yourself reaching the goal. Think about incremental steps from your current point on the journey to the goal. Decide to take one more step in the next small segment and keep going. Sometimes it works to tell yourself “I’ll do one more week, finish one more section, and then I can stop if I want to.” By the time you finish that next thing, your courage and determination are stronger, and you decide to keep pushing forward instead of giving up.
Strengthen your faith muscles – Weight-lifting is my least favorite part of the gym routine. I’m not sure why. I just don’t like it. But I know lifting weights not only builds muscles, but strengthens bones, therefore, I include weights in my workout. Sometimes, strengthening faith muscles is the same. You may not like the discipline of setting aside a quiet time with God every day. At times, reading the Bible may seem boring, and sometimes prayer seems like wasted effort, but strengthening your faith muscles works in ways you can’t see. Just as the results of weight-lifting aren’t immediately apparent so building faith muscles is a cumulative process. Persevering in spiritual growth—prayer, Bible study, and quiet reflection—strengthens you for times when your faith is tested by adversity or occasions when need to share or defend your faith.
Keep your eyes on the prize – Often, people give up on maintaining self-discipline with exercise and healthy eating because they think of the immediate rather than the future. They forget that moving forward involves one small step after another. Like the new folks in the January gym, they want to see immediate results, forgetting that lasting, solid change takes time and effort. Don’t allow the challenges of today to undermine the successes of tomorrow. Persevere even when it feels like you’re standing still or battling a strong headwind that threatens to push you backwards. Keep striving for the prize.
“Let us put everything out of our lives that keeps us from doing what we should. Let us keep running in the race that God has planned for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NLV)
“Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25 GNT)