Why run?

With minimal equipment or training, just about anyone can get out there on the pavement or on a trail or treadmill and put one foot in front of the other. Running can improve your cardiovascular health. It can shape your legs. It can help you lose weight. And whether you’re competitive or not, it leaves you with a sense of accomplishment.

But there are days when none of those reasons inspires you to lace up your shoes and go. It’s especially hard when you’ve already missed two training runs so far this week. The same is true for strength training, making your lunch every day, joining a book club or doing anything else you know is supposed to be good for you and that you enjoy … only not so much, lately. We asked Robert Cappuccio, director of coaching at 24 Hour Fitness, to weigh in.

Q: I’m just not motivated to run (or swim or work out), even though I have a goal and I’ve been making progress toward it. What do I do?

Robert Cappuccio: It turns out that focus can be very useful for completing a task, but it’s not always effective as an overall strategy in pursuit of a larger goal.

When you focus on a picture, your eyes perceive what’s immediately in front of you, but you miss what’s on the periphery — the bigger picture. The same phenomenon can happen when you focus on a goal. You make plans without seeing what’s on the periphery: things that might help you, as well as things that might distract you, and even the real reason you’re pursuing your goal (for example, losing 10 pounds not for the sake of simply weighing less but because you want to feel energetic and confident).

If you’re focused on the weight loss itself, you make plans accordingly. You decide you’re going to exercise that weight off. A week into it, when you have to skip the gym to take the kids to day camp in the morning or you have to work late to finish a report and dinner is a bag of pretzels, you feel guilty — and you focus on what you should have done in the past (gone to the gym, brought a healthy snack).

It’s also difficult to maintain intense focus on a goal. Over a period of time, the behavior you’re focused on — say, running on the treadmill to lose weight — becomes a habit and actually requires less focus. You’re not paying as much attention to your running or looking ahead to other options along your path to your goal. But considering other options is especially important when you reach a plateau.

An alternative mode is awareness of your goal and what’s on the periphery: other exercise options and lifestyle choices that can support your goal like changes to your diet, a mindfulness practice to recognize habits that don’t serve you, getting more rest so your metabolism can return to balance. Awareness may help you understand the feeling that you want in life — and that you want others to see.

What’s more, awareness can lead you to a different process: attention, appraisal and action. Your rapid heartbeat and the pit in your stomach draw your attention to your feelings of guilt for missing workouts, anger that you’ve undermined your progress, possibly resentment about the kids’ schedule — even a sense of failure to stick with your goal.

The next step is crucial: Take a step back to appraise what to do with those emotions. Appraisal puts a space between stimulus (stress and guilt) and habitual response (a glass of wine or some chips and dip). The wine and chips will change your biochemistry. But by pausing, you give yourself the time and space to consider other options.

Now you’re ready to take action. You might decide to have a lighter dinner since you didn’t make it to the gym this morning. Or you might read a book to unwind. You might even decide that although you’re tired, you’re going to resolve your feelings and boost your biochemistry at the gym and head home feeling great. According to your choice, you focus on the preparation of your meal, or getting comfortable with your book, or your effort and breathing on the treadmill. And with these types of tasks, focus can help you get the most from each step you take toward your goal.

About the Coach

Robert Cappuccio synthesizes insights from business development, sales, retention, human movement science, neuroscience, kinesiology, communication skills and behavior change to help trainers, managers and industry leaders effect profound change in their businesses. He co-founded PT Academy Global and developed strategies to assist thousands of personal trainers, managers and industry leaders, and he served as director of professional development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine.