By: Amelia Smith
Photos by: Chloe McGill
Life can be absolutely exhausting. It can leave you feeling exasperated, anxious, and emotionally drained. As busy college students, we rarely have time to recharge and realign our minds and bodies in a way that can improve our wellbeing. From social media to television advertisements, we are constantly being bombarded by messages conveying that we should be maintaining our lives in a seamless fashion with work, academics, fitness, and beauty all evenly balanced. Although we may desire to attain this balance, it can be a very daunting process to start. Some people might jump right in, only to find out that a week later their master plan has been thwarted when they realize that it is easier and more comfortable to slide back into old habits, others might hope for inspiration to strike while desperately scrolling through their feed of instagram models and health gurus, and still others might just wait for the New Year to come around when they can find solace in the universal struggle of creating resolutions. The bottom line is, we all fall victim to a common theme: borrowed motivation. “What is borrowed motivation?”, you may be thinking. Here is my take on the subject. Humans feed off of others’ energy. If someone is depressed or stressed out, the person in their general vicinity is going to feel those emotions just as a person will gain a (false) sense of confidence or motivation from someone who is exuding enthusiasm about their workout and health resolutions. However, is that feeling truly yours if you picked it up from someone else? In terms of that post-New Year’s workout hype or the burst of inspiration you thought you picked up from Instagram, sadly, no. So, this begs the question: how can you build your own confidence and motivation so that you don’t hit the one-week mark and start to lose momentum?
Take a week to do a social media detox.
The first step of creating your own motivation is, not surprisingly, removing your ability to compare yourself to others. As sad as it may be, it really isn’t productive to lie in bed for an hour, laboriously analyzing a model’s workout clips and post-cardio smoothies, instead of going to the gym yourself or eating a healthy breakfast before class. Furthermore, social media often convinces viewers that what they are seeing on the screen in front of them is someone else’s complete reality. As humans, we struggle to keep from comparing our lives to those of others, and it is only made worse by the nature of social media being a reflection of each person’s best life. Yes, we can admit that Insta stalking is fun, and sometimes it even gives us the illusion that we are gaining positive role models by keeping up with the fitness queens and kings of Instagram, but that only perpetuates the idea that we can live vicariously through them or just emulate their schedules and diets despite the fact that they are not tailored to our own unique needs. So be brave and delete Instagram or Snapchat for a week (trust me, your streaks will forgive you)! You will gain more time in the day to focus on your needs and feelings, which will make you more in tune with your mind and body.
Practice positive affirmations.
Nearly every single person on the face of the planet struggles with some form of self-doubt. We ask ourselves, “Can I achieve that? Am I really good enough to do that?” The short answer is yes, yes you are. However, my telling you that is unlikely to help you achieve the life-altering realization that this is really true. Instead, you must convince yourself of this fact. You and you alone are the only one who can do this. One practice that you may or may not be aware of is the practice of positive affirmation. This may seem slightly uncomfortable or unfamiliar to you, as many of us go through our lives feeling confined to compliment others or receive compliments from others. Do you ever stop to compliment yourself and not feel the guilt of selfishness? First of all, I can promise you that affirming your self-worth and ability is most definitely NOT selfish. In fact, it’s quite healthy and necessary for achieving true self-motivation in your daily life.
There are many ways you can go about the practice of positive affirmation. I personally like to start and end my day with one or two positive affirmations because I feel that they put me in the right mindset to start my day and to also feel proud of my accomplishments and successes at the end of the day. This is a great way to foster self-motivation because even if you don’t believe what you are telling yourself at first, you will begin to live in a way that reflects the positive affirmations you voice. For example, you can start with a phrase such as this. “I am strong and independent. I can do whatever I put my mind to.” Or, you can be more specific. “I have reached my goal of running for a half hour three days a week, and my achievement is something I am proud of.” You can say these things to yourself in your head or you can say them out loud. Either way is perfectly acceptable, although I personally find that it’s more powerful to physically say the phrases so that you can hear them and internalize them.
Learn to meditate.
Meditation is often misunderstood as an act that one can only do with extreme focus and refined self-discipline. However, meditation is something every person can do on a day-to-day basis no matter the circumstances or location, even if just for two minutes. You can meditate by yourself with no aid or you can use an app to guide a meditation that suits you and your needs. I personally like the app called Calm.
Meditating is immensely grounding and mentally cleansing. I describe meditation as the act of pressing your pause button and maybe even resetting, which is particularly useful if you are struggling to get on track with your physical and mental fitness. Closing your eyes can help you keep your mind on the act of reflecting instead of on your surroundings, although it isn’t necessary. If you feel uncomfortable closing your eyes, find a point in front of you to focus on and sit in front of it, making sure to sit comfortably, but with your spine aligned, stacking your vertebrae like books on top of each other. Take a moment to mentally scan your body for places that may feel tense or sore. Focus on breathing into these places and staying attuned to what your body needs at that moment. When you feel more calm and relaxed, turn your attention to the rhythm of your breathing. Use your breath to diffuse tension in whatever you are mentally processing. Do not fault yourself if you mind wanders. The goal of meditation is not to remove the act of thinking. Meditation helps the mind accept and resolve what it is pondering or concerned about so that it does not have to waste energy on processing these thoughts while you are trying to achieve other things throughout the day. In this way, handing your troubles over to meditation creates room in your schedule to focus on self-care, school work, and exercise.
Create 3 to 5 attainable workout and health goals to incorporate into your daily schedule.
This last step is one we have heard countless times, although maybe we haven’t yet taken action. Creating simple, attainable goals is the key to maintaining self-motivation, as it allows you to succeed every day while you are still building your confidence and stamina. For example, your daily goals could be to go for a 20-minute jog, meditate for two minutes, take a power nap, and drink three bottles of water over the course of the day. This accounts for approximately 37 minutes of your day, which is an amount of time we should all be able to devote to ourselves in the span of 24 hours.
An important aspect of this step is actually writing the goals down; this can be on a sheet of paper, a Post-It note, or in your daily planner. Simply having things to check off each day often helps people stay on track with their goals because their achievements become visible and tangible. Even if the goals you set at the beginning of your process seem small and insignificant, remember that you likely were not doing these things before, which is an achievement in and of itself. Secondly, these small goals will give you the skills to maintain self-motivation when you decide you are ready to increase the their weight and significance. It’s like riding a bike; you won’t understand how to balance your bike if you don’t first experience the sensation of balance while using training wheels. However, we don’t use training wheels forever; we only use them for a short time, so be patient. Before you know it, you will look up and have the strength, confidence, and motivation to achieve any goal you choose to commit your mind and body to.