I’ve noticed a trend in my mood, movement, and motivation – it definitely goes through ups and downs.

It’s been frustrating, but after finally taking some time to actually look at this trend and identify the pattern, I’m starting to understand it a bit more.

The biggest realization has been that when I feel a lull in my mood or if something happens during the day that annoys me or rubs me the wrong way – cancelled plans at the last minute, a near-miss car accident, not performing as well in the gym or with jiu-jitsu as I had hoped – it marks the start of a downward spiral. Overall these spirals have improved tremendously over the past few years. Years ago they would have led me to depression, extreme irritability, and above all else, a LOT of negative, hurtful self-talk. Nowadays, the spiral is not as tumultuous. However, there’s still a bit of that spin.

As frustrating as the ebbing of motivation and focus is, I’ve come to take it as a sign – a sign that I am not meant to be doing whatever it is that I’m doing at that moment.

This doesn’t mean giving up on a task completely, as I do believe in pushing through even when things feel like they’re a bit of a struggle. It also doesn’t mean shifting your focus completely at the first sign of distraction. It’s about finding a balance between being stubborn and letting go (isn’t it always?!).

For example, last week I woke up after what was a pretty good night’s sleep but just did not feel like going to the gym. I had my clothes laid out; I had a workout planned for the day; I had the time. Basically, I had no real excuse not to go except for just feeling lazy. Grumbling to myself, I got ready and made it to the gym. I thought that once I got there I would feel energized and enthusiastic. That wasn’t the case.

I looked at my planned workout – all resistance training – and thought to myself, I do not want to be here and I do not want to pick up those weights. However, I had made it this far so I thought – I might as well do something. So I got on the treadmill. I really, really don’t like walking on the treadmill. However, at that point in time, I just needed something mindless to do and walking was just it. I put in my earphones and started walking. It was slow at first but then slowly, as I started to warm up and get more and more into my playlist, I started to speed up. Next thing you know, half an hour has gone by and I’ve worked up a good sweat.

this was the day I did NOT want to be at the gym

At this point, I thought to myself – since I’m here, I’ll at least do one of the resistance exercises. I got that done and then moved on to the next and then the next until I had basically completed my entire workout (but in reverse as I usually do my cardio at the end of my routine).

That was it, I was done. I’ll admit, I didn’t feel that buzz that I normally do after my workouts, but that’s ok. Sometimes there is no buzz; the important thing was that I got in my movement and that I pushed through even though I didn’t want to be there.

Another example: I was trying to make my way through a chapter in one of my textbooks. It was definitely interesting, but suddenly I found myself reading the same line over and over again. Knowing that I really had to get this chapter done that day I knew I couldn’t just stop. However, there was something about that section that wasn’t capturing my attention … so I skipped ahead to the next section and managed to just breeze through it. Once I was done, I went back to where I had left off and completed that section as well.

Something else I’ve noticed is that my energy really dips between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Since I have a very early start to my day (4:30 a.m.), I guess it makes sense. I use to try and push myself to get work done during that time, but now I’ve realized it was a waste of energy.

I came up with three alternatives:
1) Schedule a workout with a trainer (to push me through that energy lull).
2) Find a task that requires no much mental focus to do (e.g. household chores, organization, catching up on emails).
3) Take a nap (if possible).

It really came down to balancing my energy and redistributing my work so that I could be more effective. I’m most energetic in the mornings, so I try to do my studying, writing, and anything else that requires concentration and energy then. Knowing that I’ll be taking a bit of a break later in the day helps me stay focused.

The main takeaways:
– If you feel like you can’t/don’t want to do something, try. Try again. Try one more time. Then, if it’s really not going your way, shift gears and do something else.
– Figure out when you’re most/least energetic and plan your tasks accordingly.
– When you hit a slump, take a short break – do something different, and then come back to the task.