5 Mental Tricks to Keep You Motivated Through Winter

A runner warms his hands during an early morning run in the winter

Building and maintaining fitness through the dark, cold months sets yourself up for optimal training and racing come spring and summer. But how do you stay motivated to run in the winter when the snow and temperatures continue to fall? As most coaches will tell you, it is largely an exercise in mind over matter.

You can remain motivated on even the coldest and darkest days by leveraging these five mental tips and techniques. Keep these in mind next time your motivation to run is waning.

Establish a routine. Finding a predictable winter running routine is key to staying motivated this time of year. By making training a built-in part of your weekly schedule, you eliminate something social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister calls “decision fatigue.” This idea posits that we only have so much energy each day to lend to self-control.

At a certain point, willpower collapses along with motivation. When training is built into your weekly calendar, you don’t needlessly waste energy trying to decide whether to run or not.

Reframe running as play. In his bestselling book, “Running & Being,” physician and famed running philosopher, Dr. George Sheehan, argues that viewing running as a strenuous form of “play” is essential to developing intrinsic motivation to train. He asserts that approaching running with an almost childlike affinity helps to unify body and spirit.

While it might be a challenge to find great joy in running on a cold and cloudy day, a simple shift in attitude can make all the difference. Instead of something you have to do, work on thinking of running as something you get to do. On days when running feels more like a slog, consider recruiting a running buddy who makes you laugh or trying a new route you’ve been excited about.

Evaluate your inner narrative. We are often so busy that we lose touch with what is going on in our own heads. Especially this time of year, negative thoughts abound: “I hate running in the cold,” “I’m so out of shape,” “I’ll never reach my goals this season. I might as well stay inside.”

The first step to flipping that script is to identify the type of self-talk that is going through your head. If you find that your inner narrative is negative or self-critical, it can be helpful to become more purposeful about the mental chatter you entertain.

Positive self-talk has been shown to boost both motivation and performance, but it isn’t always easy to establish. This simply requires you to be more mindful about checking in with the thoughts in your head. Ask yourself, “Is this a productive way to be thinking?” Identifying unhelpful and damaging lines of thought can help you redirect to more positive and productive thinking that will help you enjoy running and keep you motivated to train.

Mix things up. Variety in training is an important part of battling physical plateaus and mental lethargy. Research indicates that not only do people tend to enjoy exercise more when their training is varied, they also see performance improvements.

If you’re in a rut, try implementing different workouts. Runners often let speed work fall by the wayside during the winter months—so hop on a treadmill for some intervals or find an indoor track where you can do some speed drills. Or if you’re really looking for a change of scenery, try swimming laps in the pool or booking a couple of hours at a rock climbing gym. Working different muscles and energy systems is good for your fitness and keeps training from stagnating.

Phone a friend. Research suggests that healthy habits are contagious. Surround yourself with likeminded people—a spouse who is supportive of your training or meeting up with a running group each week—and you set yourself up for continued motivation through the winter months. What’s more, having a running buddy or team that is expecting you at a workout can go a long way in keeping you accountable. Not to mention, running with a group is usually a whole lot more fun.


By Mackenzie L. Havey. Mackenzie Havey (née Lobby) writes about endurance sports, mind/body health and wellness, and adventure travel. Her work has appeared in Runner’s World, SELF, Triathlete, TheAtlantic.com, ESPN.com, the Star Tribune and elsewhere. In addition to completing 14 marathons and an Ironman triathlon, she is a USA Track & Field-certified coach, an instructor in the Physical Activity Program in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, and has done training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

A man runs during an early winter morning
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