“Tomorrow is a fresh start, that’s it back fully committed to training, I’m buying that green smoothie I seen in the health store and joining that spin class where Patrick lost twenty pound ”. Beer bellied Jack had been down this road before and wanted to make sure that this time would be different in his weight loss pursuits.
Day one, and the dreaded alarm hits Jack’s eardrums like something from hell is stabbing him inside. Still dark and birds not even singing Jack boils the kettle.
The smell of coffee fill Jack’s nostrils, while a well crafted to-do list is written out with twenty things on the list with training tossed in among the pile.
By lunchtime Jack strolls out of his third meeting. Usually Jack would celebrate successful meetings with a large bagel and crisps but not today. The salad has been holding up instead and the gym is still high on the list of things to do as soon as he gets home from work.
Come 6pm and the stop/start of rush hour traffic finally ceases , Jack arrives home with the kids opening the door for him. His wife Jen in shortly before himself.
In a rush this morning his wife hadn’t got dinner prepared so a quick chicken nugget and chips meal is rustled up for the kids to make sure that they are fed.
Dinner is going to be delayed an hour or two so Jack decides to sit down and relax for a minute while Jen tries to piece together their own dinner for the night. First mistake. Slouching like a sloth into his couch, Jack Imprints himself savouring the peace of mind after work as the kids eat their dinner. He decides to delay training and leave it until after dinner.
No problems he has plenty of time. He’ll be home before 9pm once he gets to the gym for 7:30pm. He decides to check his email and catch up on a bit of the news. 7pm rolls around and Jack and Jen tuck into their dinners.
After dinner it’s only right Jack has a nice cup of tea and some biscuits to help the dinner go down. He’ll go the gym at 8pm it’s no problem…..
As Jack watches the sun start to fade he still doesn’t feel like training, An interesting email has caught his eye that he has a nice read on. Another half an hour passing and Jack is exhausted. Where has the time gone? He decides it’s a bit late to train today anyway. “I’ll just do a bit extra tomorrow instead”.
Come bed time and Jack feels like there’s not enough time in the day. He’s worked hard but nothing worthwhile has been done for himself. You go to bed disappointed and say tomorrow you’ll start again feeling deep trapped between work and rest.
Sound familiar? If you have ever felt this way when there seems a complete disconnect between what you wished to accomplish in the mornings/nights and what you actually accomplish, you have succumbed to the phenomenon known as ego depletion. Ego depletion is the belief that willpower works in waves, being the highest in the morning and the lowest in the evening.
In the mornings before all the kids get up, before the meetings, the deadlines, the emails, the television shows- the mind is focused and grand plans and aspirations are laid out with to-do lists as big as our arms created but never finished.
There is nothing inherently wrong with mental and physical fatigue after work, however at these times, we are so susceptible to bad habits creeping in and sabotaging any productive goals we want to act upon. One day of missed gym sessions is not the end of the world but these same old patterns repeat and repeat. We end up 6 months down the road feeling older, fatter, more stressed and less in control of ourselves and what we want to accomplish.
Old Habits Die Hard?
So what can we do? As smokers can attest to, changing bad habits and patterns can be extremely difficult. If you decided that training is a priority after work but continually see yourself “too tired” or procrastinating when you get in the door, realise that willpower alone won’t get you out of this.
Willpower isn’t in constant supply throughout the day. Even things such as lack of food can have a detrimental effect on our willpower. For that reason we must have strategies in place to overcome the mind’s tendency to want to be lazy after work.
Our goal with these strategies is to bypass the need for motivation to train until we get into the habit of performing some sort of exercise.
1) Be completely clear with how you’ll start
When we know exactly what needs to be done it’s a lot easier to take action. It’s one of the main reasons we procrastinate on any task. The human body is designed to be as energy efficient as possible. If any action involves energy expenditure such as thinking or moving, then the mind will try its best to halt our efforts.
Have you ever delayed a task that when you eventually started you realised how easy the task actually was? If you haven’t trained in a long time then the mind will project the exercise as so much harder than it needs to be, which is why when willpower is low, not training is the default.
It’s vital for this reason Instead to know exactly what you will do once you get to the gym. For example with myself.
When I don’t feel like exercising (which is surprisingly a large amount) I make it clear that all I will do today is put my earphones in get to the stretching area and start with some light stretches. As soon as I start with this then rest tends to follow
You could use the same strategy or it could be something as simple like ”as soon as I go to the gym I’ll do 5 minutes on the first Treadmill I see with my favourite playlist.
The actual choice isn’t important as long as it’s made easy and as clear as possible in your mind. If you’re one of those people where starting is the hardest then this might be all you need.
Have this in your mind and nothing else and the thought of training no longer becomes some vague annoying task.
2) Avoid the bad pattern before it happens.
What happens with Jack is not unlike many of us. In the mornings we plan so much of our day and how productive we plan to be and then once the end of the day comes, willpower becomes all but non-existent. Jack comes home, first his email is more important. He delays training until after dinner, he decides to have a treat straight afterwards.
In a previous article I speak about how habits are so important to our fitness goals. A habit involves a cue or a trigger which we follow up with a familiar unconscious action whether good or bad. You see getting home from work tired acts as Jack’s trigger. When he sits down it triggers his body to relax, wind down and stop everything energy consuming for another day. In this case training goes out the window.
One of the best ways to overcome this bad habit to completely avoid it in the first place. Just like an ex smoker might decide to skip the smoking area on nights out or an ex drinker might skip going to the pub altogether. Rather than placing yourself in these difficult situations lying to yourself that you’ll muster up the willpower to train, why not just skip the need for excessive willpower in the first place. Instead avoid the cue that causes the pattern. Instead of going home straight after work, head straight to the gym, make this the new pattern.
3) Be Accountable to somebody .
We as humans are risk averse, in other words we tend to move away from pain rather than move towards goals that might be beneficial to us. For example if you were to toss a coin in the air and heads you lost €50 and tails you won €50. odds are you would be more concerned with not losing the €50 than winning any money.
Very often we don’t appreciate the consequences of something until the stakes are much higher. It’s why we don’t give up cigarettes until we get a major health scare or start our diets until our health takes a significant turn.
Unless we are offered vast amounts of money to stay fit and eat healthy then motivation alone will not get us to the gym every single day after work.
For this reason having processes that pile up guilt and consequences on us when we fail can be a huge driving force to action.
It’s no surprise that clubs like slimming world and weight watchers can be so successful. The thought of having to stand up and get weighed in front of people can force even the laziest people to change their diet.
Some examples include:
i) Have a training partner
The easiest person to fool is ourselves. We have an incredible talent for rationalizing negative and lazy habits into ourselves. Having a training partner can create that accountability that we may not be able to create ourselves.
ii) Having a personal Trainer-
It’s not the just the workouts and the diet plans that make personal trainers a great option to reach our goals. The guilt associated with missing workouts and the thoughts of having to tell the trainer how your diet actually was the previous week can scare us to think twice.
iii) Financial Punishment for not training.
Nothing can jolt us into training like forcing ourselves to pay someone every time we miss training. A great example is setting up a system where every time you miss a training session then you must donate money to a cause that you despise. Brownie points are also awarded if you tell friends and family about this to keep yourself accountable.
So guys, there we go, balancing work with the rest of our lives is tough. From experience I have been a victim to the catastrophic effects of ego depletion. No matter how motivated we are in the mornings or how little we actually work in the work day, we can still find ourselves lounging around after work when we have tasks that we could be doing.
I have outlined three steps that may stop this negative cycle to make us somewhat more productive after work. Give one of these a shot for a couple of weeks and switch to another if you find it was useless. Whether it’s laying out exactly what you are doing before you start, or just completely avoiding the house before the gym or finally if you paying good money to someone to keep you accountable if you think of quitting. By making these changes the excuses for not training can stop.
Let me know what you guys think. Post below or on Facebook.