Stay motivated, avoid burnout.

I recently read a great article by Navy Seal Craig Weller on motivation. I thought it would be good to share some of the nuggets from his article with you all as I have been hearing from many clients lately that they are experiencing the feeling of “burnout” from a hard year.  This may be in part from that last final peak in their training for the year, or maybe it’s from following an intense training or nutrition plan in detail and they need a “brain break”– I get it.  

However, come January, I then hear from many clients that they “got off track” over the holidays, or need to get down to “race weight” for their first race in X months.  So, what if we can give ourselves a brain break or incorporate planned breaks, but still progress us to our long term goals, without making us feel like we’ve set ourselves back?

When you set out to train in this last year, you were probably initially motivated and those quickly approaching races kept you on your game, but now that the last race of the year has come and gone, all motivation is GONE with that last race.  Something Craig said was “Where you start is far less important than where you’re willing to go”.  In other words, those that are willing to consistently do difficult things are the ones who are able to reach their long term goals.  Motivation is what got you going early this year, but it’s not what got you to your long term goals (races, body weights, healthy lab markers, etc), nor will it get you to future long term goals.

I think we can all understand and appreciate this concept, however, I do not want to encourage one to follow the “No rest days” motto and run into overtraining.  There is a smart way to train and REST your body to continue achieving your long term goals.  So, if you have not already intentionally PLANNED your “brain break” I suggest you do that.  As previously discussed I highly encourage my athletes to take a 2 week brain break from all things scheduled training as well as nutrition.  Many coaches will program this, and I love seeing that and syncing up with their suggested breaks to allow the athlete a true time where they can move how they feel, re find their joy in training, listen to their hunger and fullness cues, and enjoy foods without fear of hurting progress or training performance.

Training programs are great, nutrition plans are great, but brain breaks and rest are also great, and I would argue necessary. The key here is planning properly so the break does not become 3 months of meandering without a plan.  Plan your two week break and make sure you schedule check-ins with your coach and sports nutritionist at the end of the two weeks, so you can get the train rolling again.

After two weeks of brain break, your motivation levels might not be at their highest. That’s when we use these 7 tools: 

Step 1: Have a Fail Safe Reason

I’m talking about something that cuts deep into your core.  For example, are you training and racing because you want to become your fittest self after watching a family member who was taken away too soon from a health condition? Were you in a bad accident in the past and know that the feeling is nowhere you want to be again so you want to keep your body strong and healthy? Do you want to show strength to your kids and family by not giving up on this because it was “too hard”?

Step 2: It’s okay to feel uncomfortable.

In fact, embrace it!  Our brains will ALWAYS prefer the easy way out. For example, “I’m starving and there happens to be Christmas cookies on the counter. Those look delicious, and I can eat those now rather than cooking up some veggie omelette.” What do you do?  Your brain knows what it wants to do, but can you channel into that deep reason we mentioned above? Do those cookies support the long term goal? Be honest with yourself.  Most don’t outwardly enjoy doing challenging things, however, they do it for the long term goal and purpose. 

Step 3: Systems or Habits Over Willpower

This one is my favorites.  You can think of systems similar to habits. If we have an established system in place, it can become second nature, and we follow it blindly most days without even thinking about it.  For instance, you wake up, start the coffee, eat some breakfast, and brush your teeth.  Do you find joy in brushing your teeth? Most people don’t outwardly love brushing their teeth, but it’s a habit, likely from childhood for many.  

This could mean that you set up a time of day to do some scheduled movements. I suggest choosing the same time of day and find that most people are successful in getting in training sessions more regularly when completed in the morning before they start their work day.  Plan to move even when traveling for work, family, holidays, etc.  This is your time.  

If we think of nutrition, maybe you set up a system where you grocery shop or have the same groceries delivered every Saturday and you spend 2 hours on Sunday prepping for the upcoming week.  

“Shape your environment to help you succeed.” For example, if weight loss is the goal, try to keep those holiday cookies out of the house, or out of sight. You could try packing them away in a tupperware up in the hard to reach cabinet.

Step 4: Shift your feelings away from your identity.

The way you feel does not necessarily need to mean you are, or act that way.  Craig gives the example of a navy seal verbally expressing that he is “F*cking cold” and then moving on from it, rather than expressing and living in a feeling of misery, discomfort, anger, or sadness.

If we apply this to training or nutrition, one may say “My legs are dying!” in a training session, however, the goal would then be to not let that feeling turn into a lower power output. For nutrition, we may feel that food prepping is going to take too much of our time, however, that thought or feeling should not then deter us into completely skipping food prep. 

Step 5: Use Action or Behaviors to Shift Negative Feelings

I know many of you are familiar with this idea– You’re doing a set of intervals and that second to last one is excruciatingly hard, so you tell yourself, “Just one more, then I can quit”. Guess what, you do that final one and you survived, you made it, it wasn’t all that bad.

In Craigs Navy Seal experience, they use the phrase “Quit tomorrow”. For example, I can do XYZ things now and can quit tomorrow.  What we learn is that we can do these challenging things, and when tomorrow comes and we look back at that hard thing we did yesterday, it wasn’t all that bad. So, we can push ourselves to get through the XYZ thing today.  

With regards to nutrition, say you are trying to improve your post training recovery meal. You’re tired post workout, you don’t want to put together this perfect meal of protein and carbohydrates, but you do it anyways. You grab the blender and mix up bananas, oats, milk, and protein powder, and you go on your way.  Tomorrow comes and you need to recover again, you did it yesterday, so today looks a little easier. Alongside this process, you are building habits that you will be able to rely on moving forward.  Remember our mind and bodies will likely always try and take the easy way out, the path of least resistance, but you can do hard things.

Step 6: Life is a Series of Learnable Skills, Repeat and Practice Them

Here’s an example Craig gives to illustrate step 6. Say you set a goal to wake up at 5am to  workout. Your alarm goes off, but your brain says, “Ehhh, we could just lay here a little longer, hit the snooze. Do we really need to workout today, maybe we can fit it in later . . .  etc”.  All of these brain thoughts can sound really convincing at 5am, however, if we change our thoughts slightly to something such as, “It’s 5am. I should feel tired. I’m just waking up. This is ok and normal”, or “I know I will feel better once I start moving and put on my headphones with my favorite tunes”, or choosing something very small that seems too easy to achieve such as “I will just sit on the trainer for 10 min, and if I decide to do more than I will”. Let me tell you, once you get going, it only gets easier.

Let’s wrap it up.

I will finish this up with a quote I love: “There are two types of pain you go through in life, the pain of discipline and the pain of regret.  Discipline weighs ounces, while regret weighs tons.” – Jim Rohn

I believe in you, but do you?

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