Tricking and Rewarding Yourself

Recently, I was emailing back and forth with my good friend who lived across the street when I was a kid. He had just finished reading Juggling Elephants and we were discussing some of the concepts and how they applied to our lives. He currently juggles a career as a physician and a "relationship ring" that includes his spouse and three young children. He shared with me some great insights and ideas around motivation and sticking to a "healthy self ring routine" – even when it is not easy. With his permission, here are some of his thoughts that I found very helpful:

"I exercise 3 - 4 times per week in the winter, 5 - 7 times per week in the summer, mostly cycling (more spinning in winter). I know that I MUST exercise REGULARLY in order to have the energy and endurance for the rest of my life's activities. Ironically, although I LOVE to ride, and I do it often, I almost NEVER FEEL LIKE RIDING. I consistently work 9 -12 hour days (or nights). So, when I get home, I am "beat". I FEEL PHYSICALLY TIRED, although intellectually, I know that I am more MENTALLY EXHAUSTED than physically tired. Either way, I honestly don’t feel like jumping on the bike to exercise. But, I know that exercising REGULARLY means YOU HAVE TO DO IT EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT, just like having a job means going to work even when you don't feel like it.

By far, the path of least resistance is to grab a snack and hit the sofa. My mind and body are telling me that I am too spent to exercise. But deep down, I know from experience, that it probably isn’t true. So, I have to "trick" myself into getting on the bike instead of getting on the couch (or plopping down in front of the computer). I tell myself that I'll just ride to the mouth of the canyon, a short 6 minutes from my house. I tell myself that if I still feel "lousy" when I get there, I'll allow myself to turn around and go home to the couch, guilt-free. This gets me over that important first hurdle: changing into my cycling clothes, mixing a bottle of Gatorade and getting out on the bike, turning the cranks in fresh air.

I am sincere in my promise to turn around if I still feel poorly at the mouth of the canyon, but I have done so less than a half dozen times in more than 10 years (the rare occasions when the "test" proved that I REALLY WAS too exhausted, or too ill to ride). The overwhelming majority of times, I feel a LITTLE BIT better by the time I get to the mouth of the canyon. So, I tell myself, "just up to the Cutler Trail head (about 1/3 of the way up the canyon), and if I'm not really into it by then, I'll allow myself to turn back". Again, I've turned back at the trail head a half dozen or so times. But nearly always, I feel QUITE A BIT better (or at least no worse, ha ha) by the time I get there. So if needed, I make myself another "deal" and so on. More often, by the time I hit the trail head, I have forgotten all about feeling poorly and my mind has moved on to better things. I'm able to clear my mind and do some of my best thinking on the bike. Before I know it, I'm summiting the canyon, mentally AND physically refreshed. With the day's stress left behind and my thoughts freshly focused, I can continue the ride or return home energized to DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE rather than vegetate the rest of the evening.

It is funny. I've "tricked" myself literally 1,000's of times this way over the years, but it has never lost its effectiveness. By breaking it down into manageable bites, I am able to get through a great workout that I would have otherwise skipped. While some would say "I don't have time to exercise", I know that I simply can't afford the time I'd waste if I weren't refocusing and re energizing through exercise.

Another "trick" that I use to motivate my exercise is buying myself "treats" for cycling. It is the one place (OK, one of a FEW PLACES) in my life that I truly indulge myself. Nice bikes, nice bike shoes (just got some REALLY sweet ones last week), nice bike clothes, etc. I am cheap enough that it somehow motivates me to "get my money's worth" by using them often. Plus, and perhaps more importantly, it makes me FEEL GOOD when I'm on the bike. I'm comfortable no matter what the weather, and I look like the pros that are also often grinding up the canyon (not like the "poser" that I really am, ha ha).

I also draw motivation from others when possible. Until recently, Lance Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, lived near the top of the canyon. His CTS athletes, the Olympic Training Center athletes, U.S.A. Cycling Federation athletes and other serious riders are constantly in the canyon. On one memorable ride several years ago, despite a sunny start, I found myself grinding up the canyon in a driving rain, with lightning crashing down on the peaks above me. It was my annual "birthday ride", a long, hard, mathematically-defined ride done as close as possible to my birthday each year. Given the weather, I was the ONLY one still out. But, I was a little over half way through the ride and was hell bent on "getting the job done" regardless, if not in spite of, the adversity. I felt someone behind me in an SUV following close, but not passing. They followed for a mile or so, then slowly passed and gave me the thumbs up. It was Chris, in one of his CTS support vehicles. I FELT like a pro! The rest of the ride seemed effortless. It is stuff like that, that helps us keep going! We hang onto it, internalize it, and use it the next time we need a little inspiration to get out there and keep those cranks turning."