The Secret Ingredient to Staying Motivated

I don’t think of myself as accident-prone, but two years ago I hurt my back in a nasty fall while out jogging with my dogs, and last summer I fractured my shoulder in a bike wreck.

(Sitting on the couch is beginning to look like a smart choice!)

The two injuries were different, but they shared one thing in common: the path back to fully healed involved a time-consuming daily commitment to physical therapy exercises.

In theory, I was equally committed to rehabbing both injuries.

After I hurt my back I was diligent about doing what needed to be done. It took about four weeks to get out of serious pain and several more months to mostly get back to normal activity.

But then I petered out and slid into “meh, good enough” mode.

I wanted my back to get all the way to normal, but I just couldn’t stay motivated to keep up with the exercises. Instead, I bounced between frustration, an occasional dabble with an exercise or two, and a mindset of this is my new normal.

Life often presents you with opportunities to try a new approach.

A few months after I slid into “meh” mode with my back, I had my bike wreck. I wasn’t looking for an opportunity to rehab another injury, but that’s what I got when the bone healed enough to take off my sling … and I discovered I had frozen shoulder.

This time I did everything my physical therapist told me to do, including an hour a day of excruciatingly painful exercises at home.  Every single day. And my motivation never wavered.

My shoulder was 100% back to normal in record time.

I was inspired! I was certain that if I made the same commitment to my back I could take it from mostly better to 100%.

And so I … well, actually, I didn’t do much of anything different. I was still stuck in “meh.”  Unmotivated.


Last week I finally made the connection.

Progress on my shoulder mobility was super easy to measure, but I hadn’t found a way to measure progress on my back.

When you’re working with a frozen shoulder you gain a teeny bit more movement every time you do your exercises. I was getting immediate feedback from my shoulder, which meant lots of instant gratification.

Plus, every time I achieved a mini-goal (blow-dry the back of my hair, hang clothes on the upper bar in my closet, and the Holy Grail of achievements – get into a yoga top), I got another motivational boost.

(Turns out that last item falls into the category of don’t-try-this-alone … getting out was far more difficult than getting in!)

To stay motivated, you need to be able to see progress. And measuring progress sometimes takes a little creativity.

I know this. And yet in the case of my back, I forgot. (It’s always good to be reminded that life is a series of learning and growth opportunities ;-).)

My back is never going to give me the same kind of immediate feedback that I got from my shoulder … it’s a different kind of injury. But what I know is that the best (only!) way I’m going to stay motivated to stick with my exercises is to quickly see measurable progress.

And so I started thinking about how to get that instant gratification of, hey, look what I can do now!

And then it hit me. The exercises themselves can give me immediate feedback :-).

Now I have a way to consistently measure progress with my back: I add one additional repetition every day until I get to a target number of reps, then work my way into a second set, and then into a third.

Each additional repetition means I’m doing something I couldn’t do the day before. And there’s my motivational boost to keep my moving from mostly better to one hundred percent better.

Your turn.

Which of your goals would benefit from a little motivation? Choose one and consider how you can determine tiny increments of progress.

And then start measuring!

You’ll be amazed at how quickly measurable progress spurs motivation and gets you where you want to be.

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” ~ Confucius


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