Keeping on keeping on: finding motivation during winter
What? Fall already? Keep on keeping on. This summer has been weird…virtually no thunder and lightning, no tall grasses, no explosion of wildflowers and definitely no magical array of fungus to discover. We got basically only one normal monsoon storm here at my house, with less than 2” precipitation since spring. My brain is still expecting that summer will eventually come and that fall won’t happen until after a few more storms, but here it is, it seems. Hiking on my favorite trails the other day, I saw an oak that was already giving it up and turning colors. Aspens are beginning to turn in the high country and grasses and remaining flowers are drying and fading. I feel strangely unprepared for winter and somewhat restless after the unresolved waiting for summer to blossom. How do we reboot our brains and motivate ourselves to move on to the next season? Motivation is a tricky word and one that gets a lot of blame for lack of action, but is motivation an internal or external thing and how does one utilize motivation to instigate action? How are motivation and action linked? Lack of motivation can definitely lead to lack of action and lack of action can lead to lack of motivation. If I don’t feel like doing something, I might not, and if I don’t do something I won’t feel motivated to do it the next time. What is the third factor that can break this cycle? I think that the third factor is discipline. A few nights ago a group of friends planned a full-moon night ride both to celebrate the full moon and to send off one of our favorite people as he headed off to take a new step in life. After a long day at school with active teens and then the afternoon at the shop, my motivation was nearly zero. Friday nights are for pizza, inaction, and TV; we can ride tomorrow. But…we made ourselves hurry home and got dressed. The sun was beginning to set as we began to pedal and there was a nice breeze. Somehow after the first few pedal strokes, the day melted away and I was so glad that we just did it. The sun exited the day and a gorgeous full moon came up past the trees. There was a cool breeze draining off the slopes and elk bugling in the distance. Headlights, both my own and those of other riders, lit up the night-time road surface and it felt like we were flying though a light tunnel in the dark. Peddling was easy and smooth, and we ended up riding 35 miles that night. Glorious and unforgettable and definitely exponentially better than pizza and TV! Discipline created action, and action turned into motivation. We just passed the Autumn equinox and as we head through fall and towards winter, our bodies tempt us to build up fat and slow down in anticipation of a winter torpor period. Waning daylight hours trigger our bodies to prepare for a period of minimal food availability and lighter workload. Our body also ramps up inflammatory immune system responses in anticipation of potential harm in winter conditions, which is why autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes and arthritis tend to flare up over winter. Shorter sunlit days and less time outdoors can cause vitamin D deficiency which in turn causes muscle weakness and pain sensitivity. Shorter daylight hours as well as vitamin D deficiency can cause mood swings and depression, which is why October is mental health awareness month. The hormone melatonin increases as winter approaches, causing us to feel drowsy, lose motivation and feel the need to sleep for longer periods. In short, nature is prompting us to store food, hunker down, be prepared to fight off any diseases we might encounter and wait out the winter period. This all sounds self-defeating and discouraging but if we want to arrive fit and ready to go on the other side of spring, we need to fight these changes nature is imposing on us and find the discipline to keep on moving. Discipline motivates action, and action motivates…motivation. Modern man has no use for a winter torpor as food is readily available year-round and most of us have ways of keeping our homes warm and comfortable all winter, so how can we fight our body’s natural responses to the upcoming winter? One of the best ways to fight off the winter downturn is to be aware of the messages our bodies are sending us and choose which ones to listen to and which to ignore. Do you really need that fistful of cookies to survive the winter, or will there be food readily available at the next meal? Do you really need to go to bed at 8 pm, or is it the increased melatonin tricking you? Is there something you can do to stay active instead? Should you stay inside and watch the wind blow or is there a way to dress appropriately to stay warm if you go out? Should you refrain from that ride or hike you had planned with friends because your joints and muscles hurt or should you stay active and keep them moving? Do you listen to that discouraging voice in your head that is keeping your mood low, or do you realize that its just the lack of vitamin D speaking to you and increase your outdoor time, use full spectrum lighting and take a supplement. Stay active outdoors. Get as much sunlit time outside as possible and keep your oxygen levels high with exercise. Cool fall temperatures are ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, running, biking and when the snow falls, skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding. If you have limited time outdoors because of a work schedule, use full spectrum light bulbs and an indoor trainer or exercise machine regularly. Make use of whatever daylit hours you can and do required indoor activities after the sun goes down. Encourage kids to be outdoors as much as possible after school and leave homework and video games for after dark, but encourage the use of full spectrum lighting rather than allowing kids to play video games or be on phones in a darkened room. Watch food intake and balance it with calorie expenditure during the day. Make sure to stay hydrated as cool, dry air can dehydrate you as easily as sweating on a warm summer day. With forethought and active rebellion against what nature is tempting us to do, we too can arrive in spring, fresh, fit and renewed from winter. So back to the link between motivation and action. My motivation is wanting to stay as active as possible for as long as possible as I age, but that motivation won’t produce results without action, and action won’t happen without discipline. Here’s my simple suggestion for keeping yourself “motivated” all winter: Make a plan and stick to it. I use the STRAVA app, but however you can make yourself be accountable works. I make myself (discipline) do at least one STRAVA-worthy activity a day, whether hiking with the dogs, biking outside, using an indoor trainer, snowshoeing, chopping wood. Whatever. Make rules for yourself that the activity has to be at least a certain length of time or a certain distance. No cheating and using the distance between the fridge and the couch as a “walk”. I like a semi-public platform like STRAVA because it keeps you accountable. You’d be embarrassed to post that you walked 10 feet to get a cookie so you’ll make sure that your activity is something legitimate. Now do it (action). It’s that easy. Do it every day, increase your expectations for yourself and watch the miles/minutes pile up (motivation). I’ve been doing this for 3 years now and it has become an ingrained part of who I am. They say you have to do something about 2 months (66 days to be exact) before it becomes a habit so give it a try and see where it takes you. This year, one mile at a time, one day at a time, I have ridden nearly 5000 miles, and climbed over 250,000 feet of elevation mostly off hours in the evening indoors after a work day. That’s about 400 hours of activity not watching TV… it adds up! If you really don’t want to do something but know you will be better off if you do, start with small steps. You know you’ll love riding your bike so make a plan to go…today…at a certain time. Get dressed, now that you are dressed, it’d be silly not to go. Get your bike out and lube the chain/pump up the tires. Now that the bike is out, you really do need to take it outside. Get on the bike and make a first pedal…there it is! Now you want to go out and explore, you have the motivation to be active. I think that we feel that motivation should come from within, but when you think about it, we don’t ever talk about it this way. We speak and think of motivation as something that should magically come to us in order to get us to do whatever it is. Really, it is discipline that is internal and motivation is the result. Without discipline, all the motivation in the world won’t produce resulting action. Stop waiting for motivation to come to you, go out and find it, grab on and go for a ride. Happy fall. Get out there and enjoy the leaves before the first snow falls. Here’s hoping for a spectacular winter!