Self-control comes in waves

I see a lot of parallels between saving money, dieting and exercise. Each of these activities calls on reserves of self-control, to spend less, to eat less or to relax less. I have been training for a short course triathlon for the past year (to lend a purpose and a goal to my exercise) and about three weeks ago, I just found that I couldn’t go on. That was awkward because it was only a couple weeks before my race. But no matter what I told myself, I couldn’t get motivated. Even if I dragged myself to the gym, my workout was half-hearted and shortened.

I have found that self-control comes in waves. For weeks and even a couple months at a time, I can work out steadily. I go to the gym, whether I feel like it or not, and I put in the time and effort. My goal and envisioning the outcome is usually enough to get me going and keep me going through the discomfort of exercising. Each week I have a rest day where I do no exercise, just to recover. And each month I have a lighter week where I can rest and recharge. Sometimes, I do nothing at all that week. This keeps me from burning out far sooner.

But once in a while, usually in response to an unexpected event, I’ll just give up, stay home from the gym and eat junk food. This time, it was a couple very painful trips to the dentist office. Something similar occasionally happens with spending. I’m normally quite restrained, but I’ve wanted to get an e-reader for some time, and my netbook really isn’t serving very well any more. So when I found a deal on a Nexus 7 tablet, I bought it almost on an impulse. Since that type of purchase is something I’ll only make once every couple years, I don’t feel any need to kick myself for splurging this time. And, similar to my rest day in my exercise schedule, we take the kids to eat out a roughly twice a month. That takes the pressure off deciding what’s for dinner and it provides a fun change of scenery. Since it fits in the budget, it’s not a problem, as long as it doesn’t become more frequent.

The trick, I think, is to understand the waves of motivation. If it works really well for us to eat out twice a month and to buy an upgraded gadget every couple years, then I should make sure that fits in our budget. If it does, I simply need to stick to those timelines and not let myself go beyond that. While I’m motivated, I do the best I can, a little better than I need to since I know I’m going to relax my resolve once in a while. I could do even better by setting myself limits or maximums for when I indulge. And I don’t get discouraged. I give myself a day, a couple days or even a week, but then I need to snap myself out of it.

With my training, it came a week before the race. I put the dentist visit out of my mind, I visualized the race, I read my training book and I got back into the gym. I completed my race with a new personal best, and I look forward to continuing to train. What do you do when you find yourself with low motivation? How long do you let it go on? How do you snap out of it?

2 thoughts on “Self-control comes in waves”

  1. A very timely post for me. The last two weeks I arranged my work schedule to have more time for personal pursuits and then found myself slumping big time, and not feeling like doing almost all of the awesome things I want to do instead of working. But I feel I’m starting to come out of the slump now, so hopefully will be more productive. I wish I had a way to turn motivation on. I tend to too nice to myself. But I refuse to do something that I absolutely don’t want to do.
    What I try, is if I have even a tiny bit of motivation to do something, to go with that. For example, I don’t get outside as often as I should. So if I’m thinking, hmm, going for a walk wouldn’t be the worst thing ever, I’ll go and do that.
    Also I find it’s sometimes about motivation about being creative. I wanted to be doing some writing, but couldn’t motivate myself to do so. But I also had a boring repetitive task project with a definite ending, so I focused on that instead. At least I got something accomplished.
    I think periods of low motivation are nice for easy boring work, like sorting the filing cabinet. You can drink coffee and listen to music at the same time. And then the break may make you ready to pursue harder things again in a little while.

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