I don’t know anyone (including myself) who is totally immune to the “should I train today?” self argument. Training can be a physically and mentally draining experience, so our bodies and subconscious find all kinds of excuses to do something less strenuous. Among the classic cop-outs are:
“I had a tough day at work today.”
“I’m not feeling very good.”
“The kids/spouse/pet/house plants are being a real pain, I should pay attention to them.”
“Ohh my ______ is feeling weird and sore, I should rest it.”
“But American Idol is on tonight!”
Let’s be honest – we’ve all made these excuses. It happens. The trick is recognizing when we are setting up artificial barriers in order to allow ourselves to stay away from exertion without any sort of guilt.
A personal experience helped me put this into perspective a few years ago.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve hated flossing. Unfortunately, I also have soft teeth which are prone to cavities. This combination resulted in many unpleasant trips to the dentist. Every time I went I was reminded that I needed to floss more, but I knew better. Instead I doubled my brushing time, integrated mouthwash, and cut down on soda and high sugar juices…everything I could do except flossing.
My brilliant plan failed and I kept getting cavities. One day my dentist explained that the cavities were occurring in between my teeth because I wasn’t doing anything to clean those areas out. Being extremely frustrated with the situation, I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and floss.
I knew if I just told myself to floss (in the same way people make New Years Resolutions) it was never gonna happen. So instead I went out and spent some money on these devices:
I left them out on my countertop and told myself that I would create a routine of flossing two times a week. My initial instinct was to shoot for every day but I knew I would abandon that venture quickly, so I set a more reasonable goal. When it came to this routine there was no negotiation. It didn’t matter what I had done that day or what I was doing that night, the flossing was going to happen.
Since then I’ve managed to maintain my system and occasionally increase it when I’m feeling motivated. You natural flossers out there might think this is all very quaint and silly, but for me it was real progress.
The trick to winning the training self argument is exactly the same – no negotiations.
Make it a Routine
There are certain things in our day-to-day lives that are simply routine: going to work, brushing our teeth, packing the kids lunches, etc etc. Training can be the same way. The key is to recognize when you are negotiating with yourself.
There are times when you have legitimate reasons not to practice. Things like serious injury, jury duty, Ebola, and getting caught by Cuban Militaristas are all valid excuses. But beyond that, most of the time we are just trying to convince ourselves we have an excuse.
Learn your own tendencies and recognize when you are trying to negotiate.
There are also active decisions you can make that will help establish martial arts as a resilient habit. The strongest of which is teaching.
Teaching – Full Instructor and Sempai
Teaching is a great way to establish a rhythm in your training. When you’re the teacher, there is no option – If you don’t show up there will be no class and you’ll likely get a raised eyebrow from the dojo head about your absence. Furthermore, you gain a sense of what students need to work on – so you already have a mental commitment for future classes.
In case you’re not at a rank yet where you can take a class by yourself, you have the option of exercising your status as a Sempai. Sempai means elder student to Kohai, or newer students. As a Sempai, it is your duty to set a good example for the Kohai of the dojo; but, should you be motivated, you can also take an interest in their development.
As you get to know younger students better, there may be instances where you can arrange little workouts before or after class to help them out. This can be as short as 15 minutes, but it is still a commitment made by you. This obligation makes your arrival in the dojo not just important to you, but also to the students you are assisting.
External and Internal Goals
Although I’m a big pusher of the internal benefits of martial arts training, external goals can be helpful when motivation starts to wane. Things like rank tests, tournaments, and other achievements can place a tangible deadline or horizon on your training which can help structure your day-to-day workouts.
Ranking and tournaments are a very slippery slope as they can easily become a sole source of motivation; but when kept in perspective, that drive can be the kind of pick-me-up you might need.
Pace Yourself – Consistently
When I started flossing I only did it two times a week because I knew being more gung-ho than that would lead me to long term failure. The same can be true of training. Don’t let yourself get burned out by over-training or commiting yourself too emotionally to an external goal. Pace yourself, set realistic goals, and don’t let yourself off the hook when you begin to negotiate your training for other tasks.