Motivation under Stress
Motivation under stress influences your ability to stay fit and healthy. Stress can either ruin or bolster your efforts. Stressful life events affect logical reasoning, which makes unhealthy lifestyle choices more likely. Even challenging workouts count as stress because they’re physically demanding and tough to get through. Regardless of your health and fitness goals, you’re going to run into stress at some point. If you want to be successful, you need to keep your motivation under stress. And, you can do it with stress inoculation training. It’s straightforward and easy to apply in 2 Stages: personal stress education and skill development & application.
History of Stress Inoculation Training
Stress inoculation training is a type of stress management developed by psychologist Dr. Donald Meichenbaum. It has wide applications in therapy settings but is useful in any predictable stressful situation. Even tactical occupations like the military and law enforcement use its principles. That’s because they call for physical demands of training combined with needs for perseverance and resilience. In general, it’s common in various stress management and mental toughness trainings. You can read more about its use in tactical occupations here.
By definition, inoculation is exposing someone to a pathogen in order to stimulate the production of antibodies. Remember the old Smallpox story? In 1796, a physician discovered that patients infected with Cowpox didn’t contract the deadlier Smallpox disease. So, the less dangerous virus protected against the more impactful and deadly one.
This can translate to your ability to handle and manage stress. Stress inoculation training is simply the process of identifying what your stressors are and how you currently handle them. Then, you practice different skills that will help you through the tough times. This is building your “psychological antibodies”. When you know what’s going to provoke you, you can simulate those situations with your new skills. Not only does this improve your coping skills but the practice gives you more confidence.
Stress Inoculation Training for Health & Fitness
Dr. Meichenbaum uses 3 Stages in stress inoculation training. First comes education about the stressor. Then, the second Stage is about getting the right skills in place to deal with it. Finally, the third Stage is about applying those new skills. For your health and fitness goals, we’re going to combine the second two. Let’s get going.
Stage 1 in Motivation under Stress: Personal stress education
In the first Stage, the focus is identifying your predictable stressors and how you respond to them. Not all stress can be predictable, especially life changing events. But the way healthy eating and fitness impacts you can be predictable.
Here’s a list of common stressors you might expect to pop up:
- Inconvenience of meal preparation
- Feelings of hunger or cravings
- Feeling sore from workouts
- Eating out with friends
- Not knowing what to order out
- Having to get your family on board with healthy meals
- Finding time to make it to the gym
- Knowing what types of workouts to do
- Feeling out of place at a new workout facility or studio
- Paying for personal training or memberships
- Inconvenience of packing workout clothes
- Less time to have fun
Individually each example might seem small, but they add up and reduce your motivation under stress. Take just one example, or think of one of your own, that tends to be the most aggravating. Learn everything you can about the situation.
Below are some questions to ask:
- How many people will be around?
- Have you been there before?
- What’s easiest about the situation?
- Will there be people you know?
- Exactly how much time is it going to take?
- What do you get out of it?
- How much is it going to cost?
- What exercises make you the sorest?
- What day is the hardest for you?
These are just examples- and there’s more. Make sure you dig deep and learn everything you can about your stressful scenario. The more you know, the more you can develop skills, and the better you can practice success.
Stage 2 in Motivation under Stress: Skills development & application
In the next Stage, you’re arming yourself with ways to overcome your personal stressors. Here, your goal is to increase thought control so when stress shows up, you think more rationally and make better decisions. In particular, cognitive restructuring is a great skill to develop in this Stage. It involves taking self-defeating thoughts and reframing them. It’s awesome for motivation and you can learn more in this article.
Here, you create four different types of coping statements: preparing for the stress, confronting the stress, succeeding at critical moments, and rewarding yourself at the end.
Here are some quick examples in the case of facing an extra challenging workout:
- Preparing: Today is going to be tough because I haven’t been to the gym in a while but all I need to do is get through it.
- Preparing: I can help myself out by drinking extra water and eating healthy for fuel. So, this should make the workout more bearable.
- Confronting: My trainer canceled but I’m going to take myself through a similar workout that I know would be just as intense.
- Confronting: No matter what, I’m going to push myself to the limits of knowing I feel like I accomplished something.
- Succeeding: Even though I’m out of breath and want to stop, I’m going to get through this interval.
- Succeeding: I’m not going to skip the last 10 minutes because I already came this far and I know I can finish.
- Rewarding: I did awesome today, I’m going to text my trainer and let her know.
- Rewarding: This wasn’t that bad and I’m proud of going through with it anyways.
In Stage 2, you don’t work on your coping thoughts in the heat of the moment. Instead, you anticipate things that could happen and walk yourself through it. Then, you practice the thoughts. The goal is to make them more automatic so you don’t have to worry about it. And, the more you mentally go through the motions and thought processes, the more you’ll keep motivation under stress.
In conclusion, the simplicity of stress inoculation may seem like a skippable process. But, you lower your chances of staying mentally tough under even the slightest amount of stress. Start with just one or two predictable stressors and work through them. Even if the situation doesn’t pop up immediately, you already have the mental blueprint to handle it.
Let us know the stressors you think you can use stress inoculation in the comments below!