How to get motivated? ala Rocky Balboa on the steps style

During the lockdown, my husband bought a treadmill. A machine I always avoided at the gym. Now that it was sitting in my own basement it created a dilemma for me. This thing beckoned to me. “Come on Elen, try me out. I am here waiting for you.” I always hated all exercise machines at the gym. Who am I kidding? I hated gym period. Like the whole concept of it. Like even the word gym makes me think of stinky sweaty mess and an uncomfortable pain in my side. Now that one part of that dreaded world came to my house, I felt a sense of obligation to give it the cursory try. Just so that I could say: I tried it and it’s not for me. You know what I am saying? And so I found myself asking the question: “How to get motivated to use the darn thing?”

As I went about creating a strategy to answer “how to get motivated to use the treadmill?” question, I tried to capitalize on the effort to create a set of rules to motivate myself to do something more difficult. Tackle a challenge that is much harder. Figure out a set of rules from the treadmill and apply them to writing a novel. I have this other, much bigger, dilemma. I only write when I feel inspired, which means that I am a slow writer. I had this super clever idea: if I can figure out a way to provide a concrete answer to the question “how to get motivated to run on a treadmill?”, I can then apply the same lessons to answer “how to get motivated to get inspired to write every day?”

Will it work? Will I fall flat on my face? Let’s see.

climbing a mountain

The question “How to get motivated?” immediately brings up the image of Rocky Balboa from the first Rocky movie on the steps of Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rocky doing the victory dance at the end of his training.

rocky bilboa on the steps

I went about creating an equivalent motivational victory dance image for myself of myself. I have a troubled relationship with discipline. My problem with it, is that I am too good at it. I can force myself to walk through crocodile infested sewage, sporting a smile as if I enjoyed every step of the torture. I can will myself through anything, no matter how difficult or painful it is. My strength is a double edged sword. I have intuitively always avoided my disciplined self in my creative writing in an effort to allow the playful and creative juices to flow. But perhaps my undescipline has gone too far. I have been at it for several years. Perhaps it’s time to bring some gentle loving discipline into my writing. This brings up another issue that I struggle with. I am a person of extremes. I see things as either black or white. I go into one extreme and then the polar opposite. No in-between. The bazillion shades of gray and a rainbow of colors disappear in this view point. Can I learn moderation? Can I do something without going overtop? Can I have a tiny modicum of discipline and still enjoy the process? So here is my Rocky Balboa on the steps moment. I am dancing with balloons. It is complete unabashed fun. Reckless abandon at it’s best. A complete “don’t care” attitude.

how to get motivated

How to get motivated to exercise?

The first lesson that surprised me when I started using the treadmill machine is the realization that “I love exercise.” I thought that I hated exercise. I had this thought embedded in the back of my head. Dislodging it was a revelation. I just hate going to the gym. That was an aha moment. At the gym, I felt self conscious comparing myself to all the super fit people. Each time I started going, I would feel so awkward in my blatantly unfit body. My sluggish labored movements seemed comical. Now I know you will say: “But Elen! who cares about what other people think? Just do your thing and ignore everybody else.” And you are right, however I didn’t realize how that aspect of it colored my experience. But, the bigger lesson for me is that if something is not enjoyable, perhaps doing it in a different configuration would change my perception of it. Certainly, having the machine in the privacy of my home changed my experience of running on a treadmill.

I sat down with a piece of paper and a pen and designed a plan for myself to vanquish all obstacles. Both mental and physical. Here is what I came up with.

Design it for success. Start with simple then build up.

To get me started with the lovely treadmill machine, I told myself that all I had to do was spend time somewhere around the machine. I didn’t have to actually run on it. I could sit on it. Lay on it. Read a book next to it. Play with the fan to make my hair fly in the air. Experiment with the heart monitor. Dance on it. All this was fun. It lowered my internal resistance to the idea that I hate exercise by enforcing the idea the being around the machine could be fun. Eventually, I did start running. Then, for several weeks, I started with run and walk intervals that were easy. Over time I increased the running time. Gradually and slowly my fitness increased and I was able to drop the walking intervals altogether and increase the speed of the runs.

Become my own cheerleader.

To encourage myself, I decided to become my own cheerleader. I marked three points during my exercise where I would cheer myself on:

  • One point at the end of the run.
  • One point at the middle of the run.
  • One point in between the above two points.

I would cheer, yelp, give a loud “Oh yeah” “Go On” “You Go! Elen” Sometimes I would clap for myself. Pat myself on the back. On days when I felt particularly Middle Eastern I gave myself a ululation. This proved to be effective in uplifting my mood. It also gave me an extra boost of energy during sluggish times when I felt tempted to just give up.

End with gratitude.

As the run was over and I began my cool down portion of my routine. I would turn off the music. Turn off the fan on my treadmill and focus on listening to my footsteps walking. I tried to put myself into a meditative mood. Then when I finally hit the stop button on the treadmill, I would say a few affirmations. This part is too private but the general gist of it was things like:

  • I am brilliant
  • You are crushing this exercise thing
  • I feel great.

And then I would place one hand on my chest another on my belly, close my eyes and think of something that I am grateful for. Again this part is too private to give specific examples, but here are generic examples

  • I would think of the face of a loved one.
  • I would remember something that happened recently that I am grateful for.

On days when I felt too exhausted to do this last gratitude exercise, it meant that I had pushed myself too hard. Having discipline to push yourself is great. But, pushing myself so hard that it leads to self loathing is destructive. I took it as a sign that it was time to ease off.

Do it almost everyday

Something happens when you do an activity almost daily. It develops a momentum. Whatever mental or psychological barrier I had started to diminish over time. Once it becomes a habit, I started doing without thinking, like on autopilot. However, I also realized it was important to take at least one day off in the week. To give my body a rest. Also not to become obsessed with exercise. Whatever feel good magic I was gaining from it in the process, I want to make sure that comes from within and not be dependent on an external crutch.

Do it first

I found it beneficial that I did the running first thing in the morning. I woke up. Had a cup of coffee. Then had a cup of water and went straight to the treadmill. That way no matter what I did that day I always had the psychological lift of having exercised that day. At least one thing went right. It uplifted my mood through out the day.

Bounce back from failure

There were days when I got on the treadmill and felt like I had the wind in my sails. Then there were other days when it felt like somebody had poured liquid lead into my shoes. Every minute was a struggle. Each step was an effort. On those days I gave myself a double dose of cheering and encouragement. The curve of progress zigzags up and down. It’s never a straight line. When the curve dips it’s important that I remember that it’s still on the path towards progress. Instead of feeling bad about it, I cheered myself through it. It kept the defeated feeling at bay. I just kept getting up the next morning and getting back on that machine again and again.

Playing mind tricks

I am an expert at playing mind tricks with myself to talk myself out of doing stuff. The same superpower that I use for evil I can you it for good. I devised mind tricks to help me get through my exercise. Each time I felt like I wanted to quit, I would tell myself: “just run for 5 more minutes and quit afterwards if you still feel the same way.” Frequently, I gained momentum within the time frame and the desire to quit would pass. Whenever my fitness would go up and the level of speed and length would become easy, I would stay at that level for several weeks. I wasn’t in a hurry to increase the intensity of my exercise, even though I could. I did this to help me convince my subconscious that exercise is easy. Finally, It was helpful to have a playlist of music at the ready that inspired me to get moving. Here is my spotify play list.

For days when I wanted to hear Arabic songs, I used this playlist.

After three months of running on a treadmill I am finally ready to come up with rules for my writing.

How to get motivated to write

Make it a habit

Sit down to write everyday for three and a half hours. Simply turn on the computer with an empty doc. No distractions and no internet browsing. Do the time. If nothing comes out then that is ok. Eventually the boredom of staring at the empty doc will get me to write something, anything. Something is better than nothing.

Easy Gradual Progress

My goal is to write 1000 words daily. But start gradually. Maybe start with 100 words and then increase that week after week.

Cheer myself on

Become my own cheerleader in the process of it. Do a little victory dance at the end of each writing session.

Eliminate self loathing from the process

Keep watch for any negative feeling that pop up. No self flagellation is allowed. On days when nothing comes out, that is fine and dandy. Just try again the next day and the next and the next.

Will this work? Will I become the lean mean writing machine? Will I finally find the answer to the question “how to get motivated in a loving way?” I don’t know. But I will certainly give it a try and let you know.

Do it first thing in the day

Make it part of my daily routine:

  • Wakeup.
  • Have a cup of coffee.
  • Exercise.
  • Write for 3.5 hours.
  • Get on with the rest of the day.

I am hoping that becomes my new autopilot.

Now that I have been running on the treadmill for over three months, I realize that I absolutely love it. I love the energizing feeling that I have on days when I exercise. I also find that I think better, more clearly. I am sure that there are physical benefits to exercising. However, the part I appreciate the most is the emotional and physiological benefits that I get. On days that I don’t exercise, I actually miss it. I do have a history with running. Years ago, I would sign up to do a 10 k run and then train to prepare for it. That was good and all, but the problem with it is that once I would run the actual race I would stop exercising all together. My fitness would take a quick nose dive. This new daily, more moderate, exercise configuration suits me better.

The wonderful and brilliant part of the Rocky Belboa on the steps scene is that it takes place right before the match. He is already a winner because he has done everything in his power to win. In fact, in the final match he loses. But he is a winner for giving it his all. There is a monologue that Rocky delivers to his girlfriend right before the match that holds the secret to it’s charm:

“Ah come on, Adrian. It’s true. I was nobody. But that doesn’t matter either, you know! Cause I was thinking, it really doesn’t matter if I lose this fight. It really doesn’t matter if this guy opens my head either. Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed. And if I can go the distance, you see, and that bell rings and I am still standing, I am gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”

That is exactly what I want. I want to go the distance and not be just another bum from the neighborhood. With all due respect to all the bums living in all neighborhoods all around the world.

I have a confession to make. I don’t like boxing movies. I simply hate watching all the savage boxing scenes. But the first Rocky movie has a special place in my heart.

Have you struggled with the question “how to get motivated?” Did you discover a gem along the way? If yes, please share in the comment section.

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