Want to have a better, more productive off-season? Starting thinking about it now.

This is an article about the off-season.

You might ask what I am talking about—since for many of us, this is right in the middle of “on” season. But hear me out.

This is a preparatory warning for those who are close or in the middle of the dreaded burnout. And if you haven’t experienced a burnout, then you will. And if you never have experienced a burnout of any kind, well you’re either lying, narcissistic, or delusional.

Burnout is the natural process of working really hard at a goal. Burnout happens when there is a focus so great and so single-minded that when that goal is reached (or unreached)—the psychological, physical, and emotional breakdown is felt across all parts of our lives.

Many times we are left in the off-season with a feeling of complete exhaustion, which then spills over into not really caring about workouts, food, and sleep. We then declare the holidays a terrible time to create any real tangible change, so we fuss through that doing the absolute worst we can—making sure that we eat every cookie, workout at none of the gyms, and fit into zero of our clothes. Finally, it’s the “New Year” where we declare that we are mess, broken, and in need of “motivation” or a goal so big it hurts our heads to really think about.

While many of us are in the middle of training for our big goals, I feel it is my duty to share my three tips for rolling into the off-season in order to rise up in the New Year.

1. There Is No Wagon

A few years ago, I learned that there was no “wagon” – that I am not riding around in a wagon, I don’t live in a wagon or work in one either. So I cannot fall off of any wagons—real or proverbial.

Having the mindset that I was “supposed” to be a certain way all of the time was really destructive for me. Instead of thinking that I needed to be on a wagon, I just adjusted my thinking to: There is no wagon for me to fall off of; there is only life to live.

Then next, the question for me was: How do I live my best life? On-season and off-season?

2. Eat like It’s Your Job

I have eaten junk food like it’s my job before, and the end result is that I declare myself off the wagon. (But there is no wagon, so here we go.)  Staying on track with healthy eating is a no-brainer, right? We all “know” that it benefits us. We all “know” that we feel better when our body is not trying to recover from a binge or process chemical-ridden food. Things we know versus things we doEating like it’s your job is a silly statement, sure. But how many times do we take our jobs so much more seriously than our health? And that’s where the issue lies. Our health is, at the end of the day, the most important thing we have.

Treating what we put into our bodies like it’s part of our job is important. So go ahead and submit your off-season resume to that job of not going hog wild on the cocktail parties and the buffet. Enjoy your life, yes. Dig yourself into a sabotage-y hold of self-loathing and regret that inevitably comes in the New Year that was full of excess holiday stuffs? No. I have found in order to actually execute this ideal (of rolling into the New Year better than I rolled into December), I have to prepare and think about it—long before the off-season comes.

3. Go to the Gym, For the Love

Sleeping in is great. Not working out and recovering is also great. But when you can’t remember the last time you’ve been to the gym (much like not being able to remember the last time you ate something green), Houston we might have a problem. Not a problem on society’s standards—but a problem with your standards. Why? Well, because you are an athlete and athletes train. And you have accomplished some big goals, and if I could guess, you’d like to live a healthy life full of more racing and training.

Sure the big race may be over, but you? You are not over. Get on it, go to the gym, take the bike on the trainer in the winter, and move your body. Don’t let the off-season become a point where you stop and then do the things you’ll later regret. During the on-season we work hard to grow, and then it’s easy to just stop because we are “done” with the race.

Yes, resting is key. Stopping is not. Recognizing that during the training and hard months you might have an impending burnout is important to realize. Knowing that a crash and burn is possible allows you to prepare, gather your defenses and prepare to combat what’s coming.

Simply being aware during the “on season” that the “off-season” is coming has been a key for me not falling off the wagon that doesn’t exist.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of the best-selling book, Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, and writes at MeredithAtwood.com. Her next book, The Year of No Nonsense, is available December 17, 2019.