Your Friend Fear

Ask people what their motivation is for exercising and eating right, and you’ll get a lot of different answers: wanting to be healthy, live longer, be stronger, fit into a bathing suit, make an ex jealous, etc. 

Motivation is a personal ingredient to fitness. And whatever works for you is great. But when it comes to motivation, one motivator rises far above the rest: Fear.

I’m not talking about fear of abstract possibilities, as in if you are unhealthy and overweight you may eventually suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, and an early death. These are certainly motivating factors to consider. But that’s a fear of something that sometime, somedaymay happen if I continue to live a certain way. That’s the kind of abstract fear that looms in an uncertain future, one that is easy to ignore and put off.

The kind of fear that is the best motivator is a very real fear, a looming clear and present danger. Something with a hard date, that is approaching, is unavoidable, and will make you suffer unless you prepare.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve been lucky enough to stay relatively healthy. But, like most people, I’ve struggled with finding the motivation to exercise regularly and, even more, to eat right. Sure, I had my reasons — wanting to bench press a certain weight, wanting to ‘be healthier.’ But nothing ever forced my hand. And, slowly, I found myself drifting more and more out of shape.

Then, last year, friends talked me into signing up for the Tough Mudder race. As someone who hated running, and had never run more than 3 miles in his life, I was facing a 10-mile course with 28 obstacles, and 7,000 feet of elevation gain. I was scared to death. Thoughts of how painful the fatigue would feel and if I could even do it hung over my head like an anvil. But it accomplished what nothing else had ever done before: It scared me into training regularly. And training hard.

After successfully running it last year, when I went to sign up again this year I felt I needed an extra challenge to really put that fear into me once more. So I signed up to run it twice. It’s a decision I may regret. But it has successfully scared me into training hard again. So far, I’ve lost roughly 8 percent of my body weight since I began training for the first Tough Mudder. And, as I get dangerously close to 40, I can confidently say I am in better shape today than I was at 20. 

Anyone looking for motivation to get fit should seek out fear by committing themselves to a difficult challenge with a hard date. And it doesn’t have to be a Tough Mudder. Scores of short (and fun) mud runs are popping up each year in every corner of the country. If muddy obstacle courses aren’t your thing, try a local 5K race. My wife — a hardcore non-runner — recently signed herself up for a 5K to motivate her to commit to the Couch-to-5K program. The idea scares her, but it has motivated her to train regularly, and she’s starting to see real results.

If running a race isn’t your thing, you can still come up with your own challenge. Climb a mountain, bike a certain route, etc. There’s no limit to what you can come up with. But it should meet three criteria:

-It needs to be strenuous and take you out of your comfort zone.

-It needs to have a hard deadline.

-It needs to have real consequences if you fail.

The consequences part is important. Anyone can set a deadline or sign up for a race. But what is going to hold you to it? For a lot of races, the sizeable entry fee is an investment most people aren’t willing to waste. So they feel they have to do it. If you do your own challenge, you may want to consider paying a certain ‘entry fee’ to somebody you trust. Money you only get back if you accomplish the challenge and only on your given date.