The hit to motivation might be due to repeated or prolonged sicknesses that derail our training. Or perhaps our jobs take up too much time and energy, so that the last thing we feel like doing is training. Or maybe you're hit with an injury, or you're hitting some speed bumps in your personal life. Maybe the types of races that are on the calendar just don't appeal to you for various reasons. How do we handle all of this?
First, don't let the wheels come off. While it might seem that all is lost, don't believe it for a second. It is easy to fall off the edge and into the abyss of depression about your waning motivation, your inability to train/race, or what have you. We are used to pushing ourselves hard and training day in/day out. So, when this freedom is taken away from us (injury or sickness) or we become ambivalent to the process (lack of motivation to train or race), it's hard not to let it get us down. The best thing you can do here is focus on what you CAN do and WANT to do rather than what you can't do or don't want to do.
Let's say you're a cyclist, but an injury is keeping you from biking. You have a choice to make—and believe me, you always have a choice. You can either:
1. Do nothing since you cannot do your primary sport. This is what starts you down the slippery slope of losing motivation, getting depressed, gaining weight, etc., or
2. You can find a way to maintain your fitness or at least minimize the loss of fitness so that when you are back on the bike, you are ready to get back at it. This approach can leave you excited to finally get back on the bike.
The second option minimally disrupts your day-to- day routine, so you won't feel like you're floating in space. Instead of cycling, you can try swimming, water running, StairMaster, elliptical trainer, or rowing machine . . . anything that does not aggravate the injury further. Doing something, even at a very baseline, recovery level of effort, is better than doing nothing. Any of the above examples are great ways to keep the heart pumping and your fitness growing. And, since you would be exercising in a way you are unaccustomed to, when you get back to cycling you might find your fitness is actually better than before. The short rest from cycling and the use of your body in a completely different way can help to rejuvenate you and build you up in new ways, effectively making you stronger all-around.
This is just one simple example. Another example can be when you're just "not feelin' it" for working out. Getting up at 0-dark-30 another day makes you want to puke, or instead of hitting the gym after work you just want to go home and enjoy your family. All of this is natural! We need to keep in mind that "fun" and "enjoyment" are two different things. Working out long or hard is not fun. Yet, we derive enjoyment from the challenges otherwise we wouldn't be doing what we're doing, right? If the enjoyment isn't there, your body is telling you that you need a break -- for whatever reason. That break could last a day or a week or longer. But, better to honor what your body is trying to tell you than to fight it.
As athletes, we are creatures of habit. We are used to juggling many responsibilities and being in certain places at certain times. Our training, work, and family require this so that we can properly attend to each facet of our lives appropriately. When one of these facets falls out of whack, it can send our entire lives into tailspins.... if we allow that to happen. But we don't have to! We CAN stay in control.
And that's the crux of it all.
As I stated earlier, we always have a choice to make. If you end up gaining 10-20 pounds while you are nursing an injury, you have to ask yourself whether it is because the injury completely took you out (like getting hit by a car while biking) or if you simply decided to wallow in the misery that can accompany a niggling injury (such as an Achilles tendon strain or patellar tendonitis). In the former case, there is nothing you can do about your inactivity. Yes, you can fight to rehab ASAP, but the road to recovery is long. So, your motivation should be to get back in the saddle more quickly than any doctor tells you is possible. In the latter example, your blinders and lack of flexibility are what is keeping you from looking at alternatives to stay fit.
Each of us hits both expected and unexpected roadblocks along the road of fitness improvement. This is what makes us human. We're not automatons. It is how we handle these roadblocks—emotionally, mentally, physically—that will help shape the athletes we are and the athletes we are becoming.
And, as we get older, staying motivated becomes even more challenging. On one side, we like the challenge of beating Father Time. On the other side, it's an exhausting battle.
If you find yourself lacking motivation, whatever the reason, take a step back and take off your "I'm an athlete" hat. Set it aside. Look at what's causing the friction and address it. Be objective and be honest with yourself. And most importantly, avoid judging yourself. Avoid connecting a sense of self-worth to how hard or how often or how much you train and race. If your body and/or mind are telling you to take a break, take a break. It's perfectly fine. If you're struggling with just one workout because you're having a bad day or you slept like crap the night before, skip the workout. What's the worst that can happen? You will have more energy for the next day's workout(s). Man, that would suck, wouldn't it?
I'll close by saying this. Rome wasn't built in a day; and neither was your fitness. Some downtime will not torpedo your fitness. And, if you find a protracted break is needed for whatever reason, you will gain your fitness back more quickly than you think.