Motivation to work out, or the lack thereof, is one of the most common reasons for not exercising. It’s right up there with “I don’t have time.” Of course “I don’t have time” is a whole other post so we won’t go in to that here. Motivation to workout is what we are going to cover. Now before we get too deep into this, I want to warn you. To quote Luke Skywalker from the Last Jedi, “This is not going to go the way you think.”
Here’s why I say that. You might be expecting a list of ways that you can motivate your self. But motivation to workout is not what you need, at least not yet. Motivation to workout is not even the first place you should start. So take a look at this picture:
Of the four things listed here, motivation to work out is really the last one you should worry about. Having said that, let’s break this down.
Your “Why” or compelling reason: This is the foundation for whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. It’s the bedrock that any action you take will be built on. This is why you do what you do and is the least transient, meaning least likely to change. Now having said that, yes over the course of your life this will in fact change. But, barring a life altering event, it’s not likely to shift much in the next six months to a year. Here is an example. I will be 43 next month. At this point in my life, with two children, a beautiful wife, a dog and a business, looking “buff”, or having a pair of tickets to the “gun show” isn’t in the top spot for why I train. It certainly doesn’t hurt. But it’s not what drives me. Being healthy for my family is what does it. I have a daughter that will turn one year old the same day I turn 43. I have another one that will turn 9 the following month. That means that I need to be able to hurl a teenage boy the length of my front yard well into my fifties and sixties. My “why”, my compelling reason, Lord I pray, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Your environment: Once you have tuned into to what drives you, your “why”, you need to turn your attention to shaping your environment so that it supports your goal. Trying to cut back on carbs? Stay out of the Italian restaurant down the street. Looking to quit drinking? Stay away from parties that will favor adult beverages. Looking to be more consistent in your workouts? Lay your clothes out the night before. Put a docking station and an ipod with your favorite music right next to your kettlebells. Keep your workout space clear of clutter. The book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath calls this shaping the path. The goal here is to remove as many obstacles as possible. You will also want to put in place as many pieces as possible to make the outcome you want automatic. It’s kind of like making the right decision your default move.
Your environment might be the most actionable part of this whole thing. You have the ability to shape this in a way that you don’t with the others. When you have had a rough day at work and all you want to do is drown yourself in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, you won’t. Why? Because you have shaped your environment in such a way that you don’t have that as an option. When you want to skip your workout, you can’t. Why? Because your environment is filled with people at your gym/exercise class that will want to know why you didn’t make it. The food in your house, your proximity to your gym, the complexity of your workouts, the people you’re surrounded with, it all matters. In short, your environment matters.
Self discipline: This is one of those things that we observe in others and think “I wish I was disciplined like that person.” We say things like “I wish I had his dedication.” “I wish I had her commitment.” Here’s the thing about self-discipline, it’s like speed or strength. Yes there are some people on this planet that are seemingly born to be that way. The good news is that, like speed or strength, we can improve it.
There are marked differences neurologically in folks that exhibit self-discipline regularly versus those that don’t. AND, there are marked differences acutely in folks that have had to exert self-discipline. Specifically, there are blood sugar differences. For more on that, read “The Science of Self-Discipline” by Peter Hollins. But think about this for a minute. There is a reason that your discipline will fail you after a hard day at the office. You had to exhibit self-discipline by not choking your hard-headed co-worker to death. At this point, your discipline is tired. You need it to be stronger. So by taking on small tasks outside of your comfort zone, you can strengthen your self-discipline. The key is to take bite-sized “reps” of things that stretch you a bit. Just keep in mind that you will have to adjust the “weight” on those things eventually, just as you would in the weight room. If you’re an introvert, go to a Chamber of Commerce mixer where it’s expected that you will meet and greet people. If you’re not a morning person, try to get up 15 minutes earlier and focus on some prayer or meditation. Again, bite-sized reps and slowly increase the difficulty.
Motivation: And last, and while important, it really is the least, we get to motivation to workout, or accomplish whatever your goal is. If you can’t tell, this list goes from the most concrete to the most transient. Motivation to workout is the icing on the cake. It’s built off of your “Why”. But like the Disney version of “love”, it’s a feeling, an emotion. You feel motivated. But you must choose to act. Compare this to love. In the early stages of a relationship, you see your “true love” and you get the butterflies in your stomach, or possibly other areas (Just sayin). You pursue your “true love” and eventually end up in a relationship. After a couple of years, maybe more, maybe less, those butterflies are gone. In order to keep the relationship going, you must choose to act with love. So, while motivation (Disney love) may get you started, it’s the other three that keep you going.
Now, I don’t say this to say that motivation is not important. It is. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be part of the hierarchy. But it’s just the tip of the spear. Without the underlying parts, motivation will fail you. So to sum all of this up, if you count on motivation to workout, you will never workout consistently. And if you want results, you must be consistent. So you must support motivation with self-discipline, an environment conducive to the goal, and a compelling “why”. Hope this was helpful.