Motivation and the Five Minute Rule

January can be a tough month. The days are short, it is cold outside, and there are no fun holidays to keep us celebrating. Participating in activities like the Fernie Streak can be really helpful as they get us outside and moving. People often say to me, “Wouldn’t everyone feel better if they just went for a bike ride or ski?” The answer to this question is yes, yes they would. However, for people who experience depression, anxiety, or who have mobility issues, even a walk around the block can feel like summiting Everest.

This means that sometimes we need a little help to get motivated. Who can relate to the following: the day was tough, you did not exercise as much as you would like or maybe ate a bunch of junk food. Perhaps you avoided friends or provided self-soothing with alcohol or Netflix instead of kind words? You lay in bed at night and think, “Okay tomorrow I am going to get up early, call a friend, eat salad for all three meals, and xc ski 15km in the afternoon.” Sounds familiar? We have all been there and then what happens next? Maybe we do some of it, but not likely all of it and then we continue the cycle of beating ourselves up and hoping for a new plan the next day. When caught in this cycle we set our goals so high that they are not always achievable. If we do not accomplish our goals the ‘mean thought monster’ in our brains convinces us we are lazy or a failure. All of this can promote a lack of motivation, sadness, and a lower sense of self.

So, what we need to do is trick our brains by making small steps. I mean really small. For example, if you are sitting on the couch thinking about doing an activity and it feels overwhelming, instead of thinking about the entire endeavour tell yourself, “I just have to stand up.” Think about it, standing up seems like a much easier feat than the entire process of a walk, ski, or shovelling the driveway. Once you are up you have a win. Next step: I just have to walk to the door, put on my coat. And so on. The key here is that instead of making massive plans for the ‘mean thought monster’ to sit back, laugh, and say, “yeah you go do that and I will be here waiting to beat you up when you fail,” make smaller, more attainable goals. This way when we achieve them, and potentially more, we can feel good about our accomplishments. Feeling good is hands down a greater motivator than self-criticism.

Working towards these small goals, one at a time, sets us up for success. Once you practice these ideas you can also add in the five-minute rule: when your brain is convincing you to avoid exercise or a social engagement and you are unsure if you are truly tired or if this is an act of avoidance tell yourself, “You only have to go for five minutes and you can always return home.” Chances are, once you are up and out of the house you will likely have more motivation and once in motion you stay in motion.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.