A version of this article appeared some years back in Martial Arts magazine, and though it has to do with martial arts training, quite a lot of it is applicable to motivating yourself to do anything. Hope you enjoy — Jennifer
It happens to everyone sooner or later. You lose intensity and quit making progress. Your training program bores you and you start skipping work out sessions. What can you do to put the spark back in your training?
Determine your training goals. It’s easy to lose focus with vague goals, such as “I want to stay in shape.” In order to jump start your program, create new goals. In my years of teaching and training in the martial arts, I have seen this happen over and over again. A serious student achieves the rank of black belt – and quits training. These people have focused only on the achievement of rank. Once that was done, they lost interest.
When this happened to me, I made a list of all the kicks I had difficulty doing. In Tae Kwon Do, the flashy jump and spinning kicks aren’t all that useful in self-defense scenarios. I had neglected them for this reason. But I committed to learning how to do them perfectly, even when I wasn’t entirely certain I could. This helped focus my attention for many months, gave me confidence that I could learn other difficult techniques, and reminded other students that even short, older women can master impressive kicks.
Remember when you first started training? What did you want to achieve? Some of those goals might be unrealistic, but others might be within your grasp. Identify those goals and arrange your training so that you can strive to meet them.
Sometimes training gets stagnant. We’ve mastered the fundamentals and feel stuck in a rut of merely repeating what we’ve done for the last months or years. Change this “stuck in a rut” feeling by preparing for competition. Many people don’t pursue competition because they feel they don’t have the time, money or skill. However, tournaments and competitions are held all over the country; some will certainly be within driving distance. Participating in a competition doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you enter area tournaments. And most tournaments are organized so that people of similar skill levels and age groups compete against one another. Whether you win or lose, you take something away from a competition experience. You will see other martial artists in action, not just those you train with, and you will be inspired to improve your own performance.
When I talk to martial artists about the reasons they stay involved in the martial arts, even as they grow older, suffer injuries or illnesses, and meet the demands of growing families or careers, they invariably use the word “camaraderie” to describe why they continue training. It’s hard to get camaraderie if you’re training by yourself in your basement. It’s easy to lose focus if you have nothing in common with the people you train next to. Try recruiting friends and family members to work out with you. I have dragged myself to class when I didn’t feel like going just because I knew I had friends who were counting on me to be there. Some younger friends have mastered difficult techniques that I have dismissed without trying; seeing them work on their techniques makes me want to do so, too. When friends push me during sparring, I am encouraged to do some extra training on the heavy bag to sharpen my skills. Nothing like having a buddy tease me about falling down trying a kick to make me determined to master it.
Teach Your Art
You can open up an entirely new way of looking at your training if you pass your skills along to others. Volunteer to teach a class once a week, or to lead part of a class. Even if you can’t teach formally, don’t miss opportunities to pass along your skills to others informally. As you teach, you find that you have to understand why you perform a technique a certain way, and that you have to explain the reasons to someone with less experience. You may become eager to learn more about your art and to devote more time to improving your own skills in order to be a good role model for others.
Along the same lines, consider demonstrating your art to outsiders. Often, school groups and others invite martial artists to perform. I have done demonstrations for the Boy Scouts, for a group of sororities, for a young women’s political organization, and for the grand opening of a mall, just to name a few. Other martial artists have performed during half time of basketball games, and at summer camps. Some demonstration teams are invited to perform all over the country. You don’t need to go that far, however. One of the simplest methods is to hold an open house (if you are affiliated with a school) and put on a demonstration then. Otherwise, simply put the word out that you=re available to demonstrate self-defense techniques (or whatever you’d like to call it) and develop a short ten or fifteen minute program that demonstrates the basics of your art.
Learn a New Style
Traditional martial arts instructors often discourage their students from exploring other styles. There are sound reasons for this – if you flit from one style to the next, you’ll never master anything. At the same time, martial artists such as Bruce Lee have advocated learning what you can from various arts and incorporating them into your arsenal. You can do this without abandoning your traditional art simply by attending seminars and training camps. These fuel your training by introducing you to new ideas.
Select a training camp or seminar that offers something your style does not. My traditional style of Tae Kwon Do does very little grappling, so I have taken seminars in jujutsu to flesh out my skills. Consider seminars in weapons if you practice an empty hand style. Take a combat hapkido course if your style emphasizes formal sparring rather than street fighting techniques. The new ideas will help you hone your skills and will increase your enthusiasm for training. You can also cross-train by adding weight lifting, aerobics, or another sport to your program. Often you’ll see immediate improvements in your martial arts performance.
Your art is more than just a good way to get a workout. What is its history? Who are the important figures? What do they have to say about it? You can pump up your interest in your training by reading books or watching videos about your style – and others. Immerse yourself. Incorporate research into your traveling. One year, instead of taking a traditional vacation, I went to South Korea to learn more about my art. I was inspired to work harder in order to show my respect for my art. I realized I was part of a vast group of people, a history that stretched back hundreds of years, and the fact that I had had a bad day today seemed relatively insignificant.
By setting goals, challenging yourself, and learning new ideas, you’ll increase your determination and improve your focus. Your training program will cease to bore you, and you’ll find you can hardly wait to get started working out.