How to Stay Motivated to Be Healthy When Life Gets Tough

Once that rug goes, we switch to survival mode, which means that making through the day without collapsing into a puddle of tears, or even just keeping it together enough to function so that the overwhelming load of responsibilities in our lives are taken care of, becomes a priority.
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Life often has a funny way of showing us who's boss.

Illness sets in. A painful break-up happens. Someone betrays our trust. A loved one dies. We lose our job. An accident shakes us up or takes something from us. Stress and anxiety show up unexpectedly at the front door. The list goes on, and when this trauma happens, it almost always feels as if someone's pulled what felt like solid, non-slip rug, from under our feet.

Once that rug goes, we switch to survival mode, which means that making through the day without collapsing into a puddle of tears, or even just keeping it together enough to function so that the overwhelming load of responsibilities in our lives are taken care of, becomes a priority.

What quickly falls off the agenda? Whether we should have that pepperoni pizza or quinoa and pumpkin salad for lunch, or if we can squeeze a 6 p.m. workout on the way home.

Most other times, things aren't quite as dramatic, but the outcome's pretty much the same: Life gets in the way and somehow, we get knocked off track with our healthy habits. We end up eating whatever, whenever, and we don't do anything to get back on track until something happens that forces us to confront our reality.

So what do we have to do to get AND keep that motivation going? Here's what's worked for me over the years:

I recognize that my motivation will come and go
I used to think that motivation was this bright, powerful flame of desire to do what's good for me that would always be with me no matter what I did because well, if it's important enough, you should want to do it all the time... right?

Not really.

Now with more experience under my belt, I've come to recognize that this desire tends to ebb and flow over time. There will be highs and there will be slumps where I'll feel like jumping off the moving train because it feels like too much work to stay on it.

What matters more is that I get back on that train after I've jumped off it, that I get back up every time I fall down. Nothing emphasizes this point more than the Japanese proverb "fall seven times, get up eight."

I re-connect with my "why"
When I'm struggling with moving forward or start to slide backwards with my healthy eating habits or workouts, what gets me going again is to re-connect with my purpose, my big "why."

For example, if my late-night cravings for pasta resurface (a habit that helped me pack on an extra 22 pounds and led my self-esteem to take a nosedive in the past) and I find myself giving in to them more and more frequently, I go back to the process of digging deep for the reasons that got me to stop this destructive behavior in the first place.

Digging deep and re-focusing my attention on why I'm doing what I set out to do get my feet moving even though they feel like lead, and keep me going even when I don't feel like it, because it's not just something I have to do -- it's who I want to BE.

I focus on "doing"
This one's not the easiest thing to do, especially when your heart's not in it, but I find that once I get going, my heart follows, I always end up feeling glad that I did.

The big lesson here? The worst thing you can do when you're feeling unmotivated but know what you should be doing is to spend your time over-thinking and over-analyzing things.

The best thing for you to do in situations like this is to just get up and start taking action. Chances are high that just the simple act of "doing" will help you re-gain the motivation and momentum you're looking for.

I give myself a break
When I feel like I'm not able to function beyond 50 percent or that putting one foot in front of the other feels near impossible, I give myself permission to take a step back and take a break from certain things, like my intense workouts or putting pressure on myself to eat clean all the time.

I just let go of all the tough expectations that I tend to put on myself. Giving up on myself is never an option, but taking time out when I need it, is.

These "mental health" breaks can range from a few days to a week or a couple of months, and to me, they're crucial for dealing with life's ups and downs, as well as giving my body and mind the space it needs to re-group, recover and re-gain the strength I need to feel "OK" again, and function well above the 50 percent mark.

I establish a self-care ritual
When taking care of yourself feels hard, it helps to have some structure in place to guide you through each and every day so you don't end up falling apart.

This is why I have a dedicated self-care ritual that I follow when things get rough and I'm running low on the willpower I need to keep moving forward. My ritual is a list that I check off throughout the day so that I don't have to think about it.

For a peek into what makes up my ritual and to create your own, get your copy of my free, Daily Self-Care Ritual Workbook, which I hope it will help bring you the relief and comfort you need if life feels painful at the moment.

If you've got your own rituals and tools that keep you healthy and motivated when your days get painful and overwhelming, what are they? Share them in the comments section below! It might just help someone else get through a rough patch.

Remember, you're not in this alone and this pain will pass.

Photo credit: Brooke Cagle

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