Just Show Up! Why Mood follows Action

“Sometimes you just have to show up.
Mood follows action.” – Rich Roll”

It’s a mid-winter weekday in the early 90’s, around 4:30 am in rural Northern Baltimore County, just about 20 minutes south of the Pennsylvania State line and 30 minutes north of Baltimore City. The weather is typical for winter in the Mid-Atlantic … cold and damp. It’s the kind of cold that chills you to the bone when you step outside the comforts of your heated home. Wind shields need scraping, and the roads gleam with a layer of near freezing water, or possibly black ice. The trees are bare as the leaves have fallen, and there’s a remnant of dirty snow on the side of the road.

The cloudy skies hide any indication of the stars or the moon, so it’s pitch dark. I’ve been awake for 10 minutes getting my gear ready and fixing myself a coffee, tired and groggy from a short night of sleep. I just want to go slide back under my warm covers and sleep for another couple of hours… like a normal person. My mood is sullen and my motivation is low. I’m not looking forward to doing what I am about to do, but I feel compelled to do it anyway as this is my routine and I have goals.

Why am I up so early you may wonder? It’s because I’m an up and coming young competitive and aspiring professional Ironman triathlete and I need to make it to the 5:30 am Master’s swim practice at Johns Hopkins University in downtown Baltimore. I’m training for IRONMAN Hawaii in October as a main goal, but have about eight other triathlons of varying distances throughout the season. I have sponsors too, so there’s a responsibility to do well…. not to mention the pressure I put on myself to be my best and make a name for myself in the sport. Four or Five days a week, training involves swimming for an hour, sometimes followed by a track workout, before work. This is the trek I make and the routine I have week after week during the off-season. It’s a grind, but also a passion.

Once I get to the pool I chit chat with the other swimmers as we stand on deck in our speedos and adjusting our goggles, shivering. Energy in the room is low, as no one seems to want to be there… likely preferring instead to be under their warm sheets, like me. To add insult to injury, the pool water temperature is intentionally kept ‘coldish’ for better workout performance. I dip my toe in the water, wondering why I’m here and torturing myself like this.

The coach enters the pool area, and writes the warm-up on the white board. Swimmers start to dive in. I’m the last to go in my lane, still contemplating why I’m here and impressed by my colleagues on the team who have already swam several laps as part of their warm-up. Many are competitive Masters swimmers, many of whom swam in college, so they get it. Once I do get in the shock of the cold water makes me hyperventilate for a moment and almost hurts my skin as I swim fast at first to increase my body temperature and warm up.

After several laps, my muscles start to loosen up as I stretch out, my heart rate accelerates and the water starts to feel comfortable. After 10 minutes of this we start the main set of the workout, a tough one today of hard 100’s (100 Meters), finishing with a 500M ‘race’ for time. There’s a sense of comaraderie as we push each other to do our best in this brutal workout where suffering is the goal in order to boost performance. The cooldown set is easy though and marks the end of a tough workout session and a tough morning. 3000 meters, almost 2 miles, with much of them hard, in the books! Check that box for the day and make an entry into the training log.

When we’re done, there’s a very distinct shift in mood compared to what it was before the workout. The locker room has a high energy vibe as everyone talks about their effort in the workout. The atmosphere of ‘gloom’ from just an hour ago has totally transformed into one of joy and anticipation for a great day. We joke, laugh, talk about the day ahead and give each other kudos for a job well done as we leave and say ‘see you tomorrow’. What a great way to start the day…. and we’ll repeat the process in 23 hours.

This personal example of my past life is one to illustrate how mood follows action, and how ‘showing up’ is half the battle. Whether it’s doing a workout that you might dread, starting a daunting project at work or having that difficult conversation with someone… you need to recognize that ‘taking action’ is a game changer for accomplishing your goals.

There’s an adage in the fitness and athletic community that if your motivation is low and you don’t feel like training, just commit to starting your workout and do just 5 minutes. In other words, just show up in order to change your motivation and your mood. This short commitment inevitably leads to a full workout effort, and the positive feelings of accomplishment one gets after completion.

If you’re feeling sad or depressed, it’s possible to change your mood by changing your physical state. Try this. Stand up and go for a brisk walk. Or stand up, jump up and down, look into the sky, clap your hand, smile and sing your favorite song out loud. By taking action you can impact your current state of mind in a positive way.

Mood follows action. The next time you feel unmotivated to do something, anything… force yourself to just show up and get started. You’ll be pleased with your results.


Troy Jacobson is an Executive Leadership Coach and Vistage CEO Chair. A former professional triathlete and former ‘Official Coach of IRONMAN’, he’s helped high performers achieve their best results for over 30 years through his coaching. Learn more about his programs for emerging and experienced leaders at www.troyjacobson.com

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