The message is always the same: Never Give In, Never Surrender. Work through the pain, tough it out, walk it off. Dig deeper, bring it, be all that you can be. But sometimes life intervenes, sometimes events go awry, and you just have to stop. An injury, a new job routine that hogs all your time, a complete implosion of your willpower, a failure to get the results you needed to stay motivated, something comes along and you find yourself unable to get out of bed and do your workout. What do you do then?
The first thing you should focus on is that health and fitness is not an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to be either 100% or zero. My brother broke his ankle playing soccer, and was told by his doctor that he would have to rest it for a bunch of months. No running, no soccer, nothing. He could have taken this as a signal to stop exercising altogether, but instead he transitioned into P90X, and did the upper body workouts until his foot was sufficiently healed so that he could swim. Then he phased into cycling, and way before the doctor predicted, he was able to get back on track, return to his soccer team, and resume his marathon training. If you find yourself unable to continue at the intensity you were at, don’t implode and stop altogether. Dial it down, and do something, anything, to maintain that rhythm and momentum.
Another reason people will stop is because they were totally focused on a set of goals, and come the day of judgment, they realize they’re nowhere close to where they so desperately wanted to be. They haven’t lost twenty lbs in two months, or they haven’t created a body like Brad Pitt’s in three months of working out, or they have plateaued and stopped lifting more, or they aren’t running the laps as fast, or anything. They look at the stark reality of where they are and where they wanted to be, and suddenly feel that it’s hopeless and just want to stop. This is a prime opportunity to reassess the realism of your goals. Dropping too much weight, expecting to put on more than 2lbs of muscle/month, wanting to radically change your looks in too short a time–all of these are destined to frustrate you. Instead of quitting, you can take it as a reality check, reassess and come up with better, more moderate and attainable goals.
Paradoxically, I always find myself the most challenged to continue when I am doing my best. When I finish a cycle of excellent workouts, I’ll often grow complacent, or something will disrupt my adherence to perfect routine like a party weekend, and then suddenly I’m out of the saddle, drifting with a week lost here, then two, and suddenly I’m losing the gains I had built, and everything is spiraling out of control. This can result in a long stretch of downtime which feels simply like quitting. What do you do? Find a way to approach your fitness goals again from a lateral angle, do the parts you find the most fun, and then work your way back up.
What if you run out of time? A new job has you traveling everywhere, or you have a baby, or something else equally drastic? Health and fitness doesn’t require an hour a day. You can workout while you sit at your desk with some tricep dips off your table edge, you can do pushups and situps anywhere, you can install a pull up bar in the your bathroom door. An inability to adhere to a strict program does not have to force you to quit, but rather to find a new way to put as much as you can into the little time you have left. Tony Horton’s 10 Minute Trainer is a perfect example of this.
In the end, for whatever reason, if you find yourself quitting or unable to workout, don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, focus your energies on planning a new way to get back into it. Maybe start something completely new and fun like kite surfing or rock climbing, or switch up your forty minutes on the elliptical for a run outside, or go in for kickboxing classes. Or lower the intensity, take a structured break, aiming for a specific day in which to get back into things, and then pour all your energy into returning to the gym when that day comes around. Making things fun again or finding some small way to prove to yourself that you haven’t quit completely can be key in helping you get your motivation back, and from there, the sky is once again the limit.