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A little bit of background which might help in appraising the situation. If you want to avoid the fluff, the actual concrete question in bold at the bottom.

Up until the start of April this year I've done a linear progression using more or less the Starting Strength model, with some of the typical shenanigans that Mark Rippetoe would not approve of. No powercleans (I can't for the life of me get into the rack position, not that interested in explosive power), added rows. Prior to that I had already done 1.5 years of strength training with very mediocre results, mostly due to a fear of regaining fat and not eating through plateaus. This time I ate like I meant it and the 6 month progress was better than everything before then. I wouldn't say it was a waste experience-wise, though.

Now the time has come to lose some of that excess fat, so since the start of April I've introduced a caloric deficit. I'm lowering the calories from week to week rather than directly plummeting to some bottom value, since this is easier to maintain for the planned 12-or-so weeks and seems to avoid the typical weight loss stalls. Regardless of whether I'm right, it seems to work and losing weight is currently easy.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks my motivation to do my workouts has taken a nosedive. I find myself making mental excuses, such as "I'll go to sleep early and get more time for it tomorrow" or go to check some Stack Overflow questions on my laptop and stick around until it seems too late to still go to the gym. I've maintained a rather consistent gym discipline for two years, apart from the occasional bad week, and usually enjoyed my workouts despite self-doubt and grinding through some exercises. So I'm not sure why things have taken this turn.

Some reasons I can think of:

  • I've had a clear goal for half a year (get stronger no matter what) and now that this goal shifts (lose weight, maintain strength) I'm a bit directionless.
  • I'm anxious about a workout going "badly" compared to previous ones because some loss of strength is inevitable with a caloric deficit.
  • I've grown tired of doing the same workouts and exercises (squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press, rows, chin-ups) all the time.
  • The idea of squatting 3 times a week and every time having to give it my best down to the last rep has burned me out (me and the squat aren't on the best terms).

If after a prolonged and successful period of working out there's a sudden lack of desire to continue, what is likely the most important factor? What change would turn things around?

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    You don't need an answer from us. You've listed some very plausible reasons on your own. Any answer on our part would be a guess. The best thing you can do at this point is take a 5 to 7 day break. – rrirower Apr 25 '17 at 19:11
  • @rrirower I've taken a break as it is due to neglecting my training the past few weeks, it only makes me feel guilty and lose it as a "habit". Sure enough, I'll need to look into each of these reasons, but who knows, someone might have more experience with this and pinpoint it to a specific main reason most of the time. But it is a question that probably won't have the same answer for everyone. – G_H Apr 25 '17 at 20:43
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I think all your reasons are valid reasons to lose motivation, and you have to tackle each one independently.

But you have to remember one of the fundamental rules of success in anything, including your gym ventures:

Motivation is going to the gym because you look forward to it, and enjoy it. The downside to relying on motivation, is that it is a fleeting emotion, and one that is hard to invoke on command. Most often, you find motivation in periods before the work, and find it disappearing as soon as the time comes to put in the work.

Discipline is going to the gym even though you don't look forward to it, or enjoy it. This is predicated on the idea that you are able to do hard work for delayed gratification. I.e. you won't be feeling good there and then, but you're hard set on reaping the rewards later on.

The bottom line is, if you have periods of low motivation, you need to rely on discipline to get your ass back in the gym, lest you end up not going at all.

But discipline is hard to come by. Discipline means acting against your own wishes for the right now, in order to get paid later. And in the end, since we all experience lack of motivation, it's discipline that separates us from those who never go to the gym at all.

The same goes for anything where you need to put in work.

If you take anything at all away from this post, let it be this: Delayed gratification! If you learn to appreciate working for delayed gratification rather than instant gratification, you'll be fine.

  • The distinction between motivation and discipline is a very good one, and I've heard it before and agreed. I like to think of the latter as a combination of habit and momentum, with a bit of a willingness to punish yourself at times. I was hesitating whether I'd use the word "motivation" in the question, as it's never really been a very strong factor for me. Somehow that "automatic pilot" got broken and what was a habit has stopped being one. Maybe if I can get in a week with no missed workouts things will pick up again. I'll report back later. – G_H Apr 25 '17 at 20:47

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