How Former Athletes Lose Their Drive to Exercise (And How to Rekindle It)
When I was in 4th grade, I fell in love with football.
And for years I did conditioning drills… worked on my speed… and hit the weights to build my strength and power. I felt pulled to working out. Almost no motivation was required. But when I reached college, something changed.
I decided to hang up my jersey (due to a back injury) and for the first time, working out became a real struggle. For the first time, I had to find motivation. But why? Why did it become a struggle? Why did it become so hard to stay motivated after years of exercising with little push needed?
Because my purpose for working out had vanished. My reason for exercising evaporated like a puff of smoke in the air. And I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this. Many collegiate athletes struggle with finding their drive to work out once they stop playing.
And after personally going through this, I learned a few key distinctions for rekindling your motivation to exercise (and what smolders it out).
#1: Find a new purpose.
More importantly, find a new driving purpose - a new compelling reason to exercise.
Something that excites you, something that rekindles your drive again. Maybe losing 5… 10… or 20 pounds motivates you. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe finding a way to be an athlete again does.
Here are some ideas:
Find a new sport to play
Sign up for a Warrior Dash
Sign up for a Tough Mudder
Sign up for a 5k (or 10k)
Sign up for a charity walk
Schedule a hike
Set a new strength goal (for bench press, squat, or deadlift)
Set a new running goal (running a certain distance)
These all can re-spark your drive, that inner athlete in you again. Now as vital as a new purpose is, here’s something that will smolder your motivation rather quickly.
#2: Inward Comparison
Inward Comparison is comparing yourself to your previous self.
We’ve all heard we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. But comparing yourself to where you were years ago… or even decades ago can be just as problematic. It’s constantly measuring yourself up to how fit or strong you used to be. And this constant comparison can hammer down your confidence and motivation.
Especially when you put on top of it the belief: "I should be better than this!"
This was a major de-motivator for me.
I would go to the gym and imagine how much I used to be able to squat… bench press… or how fast I was able to sprint. Then I’d compare it with the number I was currently doing and beat myself up. I’d think to myself: I should be stronger. I should be able to bench press 250. Or I should be able to squat 315 again.
The truth was, no I shouldn’t!
Not because I wasn’t capable of those numbers. But because I hadn’t put in the work. If I would have kept working at it, yes! But since I didn’t, I can’t be surprised.
So what do you do instead?
#3: Honest Starting Location
If you whip out a roadmap (or look at Google Maps), to get anywhere you first have to know where your ultimate destination is. Maybe it’s The Grand Canyon, Des Moines, Iowa, or New York City. Wherever it is, you also have to know where you are starting from.
If you aren’t honest about this detail you won’t arrive at your destination. Because different starting points require different routes. Some people have to take backroads and country highways to reach a destination. Others need to drive across the country on the interstate. While others just have to go down the street.
Same with fitness goals.
Some people have 100+ pounds to drop… or a reconstructed knee … or haven’t exercised in 20 years. Each starting point requires a different route. If I’m going to help a former football player who had rotator cuff surgery, I’m going to have a very different plan of attack than working with handyman who hasn’t lifted a weight in his life.
Your route should be individualized for you.
But to do that, you have to be honest about your starting location.
Being honest about your weight… your blood pressure… your flexibility… how many pushups you can do… how far you can run or walk… or just how much exercise you are currently getting each week. And this gets you grounded in reality. It may stir up some hurt and dissatisfaction.
But guess what?
That might just be just the ignition switch you need to fire up your exercise and nutrition habits again and kick it into the next gear.
Once you know where you are starting. Be at peace with it because it doesn’t mean you have to stay there for long.
#4: Focus on Constant Improvement
Focus on improving even if it’s gradual. Even if it’s baby steps (or crawls) forward. Focus on walking those few extra blocks… lifting 5 more pounds… doing 10 more minutes on the elliptical… focus on bettering your best. Just push yourself a little bit more each time. Better you best over… and over again. Do this and watch as you start to close the gap between where you are and where you used to be.
Even if you are no longer an athlete. Even if it’s been years since you’ve exercised. Even if you aren’t happy with the shape you are in today.
It’s time embrace your inner athlete again. It’s time to storm the field again. Just in a new way.
P.S. If you want to awaken that inner athlete again and crush it with your fitness goals this year - grab a free issue of my Mind-Body Breakthroughs newsletter- where I go in-depth on the mindset of skillset of lasting transformation.