Embracing the Grind - Workout Motivation


A difference between progress and stagnation in our lives is an imaginary line called “ I don’t feel like…” This is followed by some sort of action that we know we should do but in our minds we make excuses why we’re not feeling at our best and it’d be best to wait until we’re better motivated or the circumstance are just right. It’d be great if every day we felt fully motivated and energized to take on the world but the reality is that there can be a number of days when we feel flat. What this means on a personal level is that there may be days when you’re not in the mindset to workout because of stress, feeling lethargic, or you’re feeling weak. On days like these, a voice inside your head may be trying to convince you that the sense of accomplishment is not worth the sense of dread you may be experiencing at the moment and the discomfort soon to come because you’re feeling less than your best.

It will likely mean requiring more resolve but instead of retreating the healthier alternative is to embrace these moments as opportunities to develop a stronger mind as well as a more fit body. A strong mind and spirit are equally important facets of fitness as a strong body. We know that after a workout our brain gets as much of a benefit as our body and we also get a sense of accomplishment afterwards that is able to relieve stress and put us in a better frame of mind to deal with other areas of our life. In moments when the desire to work is lacking, it becomes important to be able to convince ourselves to embrace the grind (others may think of it as embracing the suck).

How to Embrace the Grind

1. Consider the alternatives

While your mind is trying to convince you that it’s not worth it to push yourself for the day, take a moment to ask yourself how you’ll feel if you don’t break a sweat. If you’re feeling like you’re in a funk, you can almost guarantee that you’ll continue to feel that way if you don’t do anything.

If you do go on to grind it out there are two possible scenarios. The first scenario is that by the time you get to the gym and by reminding yourself you’re going to do the best you can you’ll have found an extra sense of focus and have a better workout than you imagined and you were able to get through it. The second scenario is that despite your best intentions and efforts it just was not your day and it was an even harder day than you imagined.

In both scenarios though you come out as a winner. In the second scenario, your perception may be that it was a loss but to your body and brain it was still a win. By the time you come home, have a good meal, and get a good night’s sleep your body and mind are responding in a positive way to the workout (assuming there was no injury). So out of the three possible scenarios (do nothing, workout and be better than you expected, or workout and you had to gut through it), you have a two out of three chance of walking away in a better state (physically and mentally) than you were. Reinforcing that the payoff is far greater than the cost is a great way to help get through the grind.

2. Redefine what a win for the day is

Everyone wants to walk in the gym feeling like a workout warrior and crush it. The reality is that there are days when you’re not feeling close to par. On days like this evaluate what your best is and recognize you’re working with a different normal for the day and work off of that. By doing this you can still go in with a goal in mind instead of walking in just going through the motions.

For example, maybe you’re not feeling strong on a day so increases on lifts will be limited but you feel good enough to get all your sets done in a slightly shorter amount of time. That’s a win that you can build off of for another day. Or, it could just be that you made it through and feel as though you gave it everything you had (giving 100% effort when you’re feeling 70% is better than giving 70% when you’re feeling 100%). Getting the win may mean it’s an ugly or small win, but they’re still wins and having a win to obtain can help push through the mental roadblock while grinding.

3. Chunk it

On the days when things aren’t clicking for you, the prospect of a long, arduous workout can seem daunting and too hard for the day. Instead of focusing on how you’re going to be able to make it through the entire workout, mentally break the duration into several periods.

Start off by focusing on getting to the gym and the warm-up. At this stage you’ve already accomplished a mini victory because you made it to the gym instead of bailing and you’ve gotten your blood pumping. Here you can tell yourself that there’s no point in quitting because you’ve already started and if you can start you can finish.

The next phase is the actual workout, which is the meat of it all. Again, make things more manageable mentally by creating mile markers through the workout. For example, you could break it up by getting past a number of exercises (ex. if the workout of the day has 6 exercises you can break it up into 3 2-exercise rounds) or by time ( ex. you could break up a 40 minute workout into 5 8-minute rounds in your head). After each marker you know you’re one step closer to finishing.

Another way to think about this is mentally drawing a line in the sand and telling yourself that you’ll make it to that line and then you’ll draw another and keep repeating the process. On days where the grind seems to much to handle, just getting one foot in front of the other and repeating can get you through.

4. Overcome your excuses

Another way to mentally hack yourself from stalling and pushing through is to take away your excuses for not working out and replacing them with reasons for why you can’t do anything but suck it up and work out. If the night before you have your gym bag packed and placed right next the door for you to carry with you on your way to work the next morning, by the time you’re leaving work and seeing your gym bag in the car it’ll be hard to ignore it and say to yourself you can’t make it because first you have to get home and grab a pair of shorts.

If it’s a Saturday morning and your running shoes are placed in plain sight from your spot on the couch, it’ll be hard to not lace them up and get a run in while they’re staring you in the face. By taking away all of the excuses why it’s not worth it to push through for the day, you back yourself in a corner (in a positive way) where your only alternative is to keep your commitment and get a win for the day.

5. Remember your why

Each one of us has our own reasons why we prioritize fitness and regularly working out. Whatever they are, there is something that intrinsically motivates us to endure the times when the workout is kicking our butts.

The reason is that we know we’re getting a benefit beyond a healthy body composition, a higher personal record on a lift, or a lower number on a weight scale. For a reason that is unique to each person, working out is a facet of our lives that run parallel to the other facets and we draw inspiration from one to apply to another.

Breaking a sweat obviously has it’s physical benefits but maybe it’s also highly important because it’s a time where you need to decompress from the stresses of the day to help you manage other parts of your day. It could also be that you’re a person who likes to challenge themselves mentally as well as physically so working out is a time to strengthen your mental resolve and endurance as well as physical strength and stamina. When you’re faced with the option to call it a lost day, reminding yourself why the time to workout is important well help you focus on what the little bit of progress means for you and you life in the big picture.

Pushing Through

On days when the work appears to be more than the payoff, it’s important to remember that the discomfort, the grind, and the suck are only temporarily. The progress and achievement made in those moments last a lot longer and help build a foundation for future progress and growth, both physically and mentally. You don’t have to lower your standards, but getting the ugly wins are important for keeping a person moving forward.