How to Find the Motivation to Train When You Really Don’t Want To

It’s 5:00 in the morning, and your alarm goes blasting off directly into your ear drums. After being ripped out of your sweet, sweet sleep and maniacally smashing the snooze button on your phone, you lie still for a few minutes, desperately trying to cling to the final bits of sleepiness that remain as it slowly fades away. That’s when it hits you.

It’s time for Monday morning training.

You manage to haul yourself out of bed and drag yourself to the bathroom. As you gaze at yourself in the mirror and see how pathetically tired you look, thoughts of doubt and uncertainty begin to creep into your mind. You’re still ridiculously sore from last week’s training. You’ve been so busy day in, day out that you haven’t had a moment’s peace to yourself in months. It feels like swimming has been consuming your life, and to top it off, your results haven’t been very good in recent meets.

Standing there, staring at yourself in the mirror, you quickly realize that you really don’t have any motivation to go into practice this morning.

“I could probably call in sick….”, you think to yourself. You begin brainstorming ways you can possibly get out of going to practice, mentally combing through every potential excuse in the book.

“I think I’m injured.”

“I’m too sore to practice.”

“Wait….what if I actually AM sick!? I think I just might be!”

Sound familiar?

Look, when you’re swimming constantly, day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year, it’s easy for swimming to, at different points, start to feel a bit overwhelming and cumbersome, especially during the peak point of the season when you’ve been training non-stop, going all out, and pushing yourself to your limits both physically and mentally. After all, you’re a human being, not a robot or a machine, and the sport can take its toll on both the body and the mind.

However, you have to keep going. You can’t give up. You know that. And, it’s in these kinds of moments when digging deep and discovering the motivation to continue pressing onwards, despite the fact that you don’t want to, really does define whether you succeed or fail.

Perhaps you’re in that kind of situation now. Perhaps you’ve been there many times before. Or, perhaps it’s a situation you anticipate that could come up in the near future. In any case, here are some things that you can do to delve deep within yourself and find the motivation to keep going even when you feel like backing out.

1) Focus on the great benefits and rewards you’ll get by continuing to train.

As human beings, we’re essentially wired to focus on the negatives, leaving the positives to be largely ignored and unacknowledged. When you find yourself in a situation where you don’t want to go to practice, the usual culprit is because you’re allowing yourself to constantly think about and brood over the negatives – how tough training is, how difficult the sets are, how grueling it feels, and how painful it aches, both on the body and the mind. And, obviously, the more you focus on those negatives, the more you’re naturally going to feel resentful and disinterested towards practice and putting yourself through that.

To counteract that, you have to flip the script. Despite how tough the training is, how difficult the sets are, how grueling it feels, and how painful it aches, all of that ultimately serves a purpose – To make you a better, stronger, fitter, more powerful and improved version of your swimming self. There ARE great benefits and rewards that come as a result of putting yourself through that process. You’ll get fit. You’ll get stronger and more powerful. You’ll increase your endurance and the ability to last longer in races. You’ll raise your pain threshold, allowing you to push yourself harder in your races, go faster, and drop more time. And, most importantly, you’ll foster and develop the mental and emotional resilience needed to swim to your true potential.

When you don’t feel like training, focus on those positives. Remind yourself of them, constantly. Even better, see them in your mind. Picture them and visualize them. Create an image in your mind of the swimmer you’ll become by putting yourself through that process. Envision on how you’ll look in the water when you’re swimming with the added fitness, endurance, strength, power, and resilience you’ll have acquired. See the dropped time that you’ll receive as a reward for all that intense training.

By focusing on the great things you’ll get out of your training as opposed to all the stuff that stinks, that can serve as the leverage you need to push you to keep going.

2) Think about the consequences that will come from missing training.

Ultimately, in the end, human beings are motivated and driven by two basic desires – The desire to gain pleasure or the desire to avoid pain. Those two things are at base root of all motivation. No matter what you do, you’re doing it because you’re either trying to gain some kind of pleasure or avoid some kind of pain. And, you can use the consequences of that pain as fuel to motivate yourself when you don’t feel like training.

Now, when I say consequences, I’m not really talking about your coach being upset with you, being punished, getting kicked off the team, or anything like that, although you CAN use those as motivation as well. I’m talking about the swimming consequences. I’m referring to the loss of fitness, endurance, strength, power, and resilience that will come as a consequence of not training. As Michael Phelps once said, for every day off you take from training, you need 2 more to get that back.

How would you feel if you lost some of that progression? How disappointed would you be to fall further behind and have to catch back up? How badly would it sting knowing that some of the positive forward momentum, improvement, and growth you’ve been making in your swimming recently will take a hit? And, most importantly, how let down would you feel towards yourself if you knew you backed out of training when you know you should have gone?

Pain can be very powerful and a really great motivator if used correctly. Though it’s better to focus on the positive benefits and rewards you’ll get from your training as opposed to using the painful consequences as motivation, it can certainly work if you feel nothing else is working. Pain is almost always more emotionally impactful than pleasure, so if you really need that heavy push to train, think about and remind yourself of the painful consequences to your personal growth and progression and the loss of forward momentum that will come as a result of not training.

3) Change your hierarchy of priorities.

A loss of motivation to swim is often times brought about by the sport starting to feel more like work you’re forcing yourself to do rather than a game you happily and voluntarily want to do. When swimming becomes monotonous and grindy, it’s easy to develop the perspective that swimming is no longer an enjoyable activity you look forward to doing, but rather a punishment that you’re forcing yourself to do because you feel like you HAVE to. You’ve invested too much into it physically and emotionally and you don’t want to let anyone down.

In other words, it’s not fun and enjoyable anymore.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an age group swimmer or an Olympian. You have to have fun and enjoy the sport you love. The moment you lose that, you’re as good as dead in the water (pun intended!) It also doesn’t matter how competitive the level becomes or how high the stakes get. Having fun and enjoying what you do is still equally as important. In fact, the more competitive your swimming level is and the higher the stakes get, the MORE important fun and enjoyment becomes, not less.

If you’re finding the motivation to train hard to come by, go back to basics. Just go there looking to have fun, enjoy what you do, and love the sport, nothing more. Give it everything you can and try to be the best that you can be, but do it with a smile on your face. Take it seriously, but not too seriously. See training as a fun challenge to overcome and not a problem to stress over. Say this to yourself:

“Look, let’s just head out there, have some fun, enjoy the day, and give it everything I can. Let’s just have fun seeing how great I can be today. Whatever happens, happens.”

4) Think of how proud of yourself you’re going to feel once you finish training.

Life is hard, and swimming is hard. It takes courage, strength, and perseverance to hoist yourself out of bed and face the world, or the pool. When you do something and give it everything you can, despite the fact that you didn’t want to, you experience a feeling of satisfaction and pride that’s really difficult to match. Internally, you’ll recognize the courage, strength, and perseverance you showed by getting out there and working as hard as you did, despite the fact that you doubted yourself. You’ll feel really accomplished and fulfilled knowing that you walked out your door and faced the pain of the pool despite the fact that you had second thoughts about doing so.

You’re always stronger than you think you are. There’s always more within you to give than you think there is. Sometimes, you just need that extra push to get it out of yourself on those days when you just don’t feel like facing it, and these approaches can help you to do just that. YOU CAN DO IT! I BELIEVE IN YOU!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week!

About Will Jonathan

Will Jonathan is a sports mental coach from Fort Myers, Florida. His clients include athletes on the PGA Tour, the Tour, Major League Baseball, the UFC, the Primera Liga, the Olympics, and the NCAA, as well as providing numerous talks and presentations on the mental aspect of sport and peak performance to various sports programs and organizations across the country. He’s currently the official mental coach for the Florida State University Swimming & Diving team. He provides private, 1-to-1 mental coaching sessions for swimmers on location or through Skype, as well as providing talks and presentations to swim teams on the mental aspects of swimming.

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Caeleb Dressel Will Win 9 Gold Medals in Tokyo
4 years ago

I relate to this so strongly.

4 years ago

Put ta Twinkie on ta end of da pool. When you finish a set, eat the Twinkie!

About Will jonathan

Will jonathan

Will Jonathan is a sports Mental Coach from Fort Myers, Florida. His past and present clients include athletes on the PGA Tour, the Tour, Major League Baseball, the UFC, the Primera Liga, the Olympics, and the NCAA, as well as providing numerous talks and presentations on the mental aspect of …

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