For me, motivation is the key to everything in life; you want something, you go get it.
Motivation can overcome incredible obstacles and barriers, and you will never come across someone who has achieved their goals, however big or small, who doesn’t have it.
Something that was drummed into me from a young age was that nobody owes you anything, and you don’t have a divine right to be happy, or have the life or the job you want; you have to earn it; to do that you have got to make it happen.
Having motivation and self-initiative are a part of your responsibility to yourself. When you reflect back on your decisions and how you spent your time, did you make the most of it? If you didn’t and you’re not happy with the result, then you only have yourself to blame.
Desire and willingness to do something come very easy if that something is eating ice cream and staying in bed all day but the real challenge is how to find the motivation to do things you don’t want to do.
For many, exercise and training is that something.
How do you find the motivation to get up and go, three or four days a week? How do I have the desire to have been doing it week after week for years?
I realise that for all the posts I make about training and the templates to follow etc, it is all irrelevant and unhelpful if you can’t find the motivation to get to the gym or outside in the first place.
I’m going to share with you some of my thoughts on what I think motivation is and how you can find it.
1. Motivation is learned, it is not an intrinsic quality
Have you ever seen a story on the news about a person who despite terrible adversity has overcome it to ‘make it’ by starting a successful business or got themselves into shape after a lifetime of being overweight?
Did you marvel at it and think, “that is a really special person, that must have taken so much effort and desire”?
Of course those people are special as they really have worked hard to achieve. But they are no different to anyone else in terms of motivation; when they had a set back they would be disappointed, if they failed they would be dejected, they would have, and still have days where they probably felt they couldn’t be bothered.
The difference is they learned to keep their desire going, and looked long-term
Personally, I don’t believe I was born with any particular ‘motivation’ gene. I was lucky that the importance of self-initiative was spelled out to me when I was growing up but I don’t believe it really made an impact on me until I started thinking and reading about its importance in life.
Something that made a powerful impression on me was studying the ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, a lecture delivered by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin.
Essentially he speaks of two types of liberty: positive and negative.
Negative liberty is what the individual can and can’t do as a result of the rule of law or opportunity open to them. For example you’re not free to drive a car while drunk because the law forbids it. This has nothing to do with your motivations, rather the authorities standing in your way.
Positive liberty however is whether the individual is ‘free’ in their mindset to take the opportunities open to them. Can you forego instant satisfaction now (like eating a chocolate bar) and go on a run that you know will be better for you in the long run?
If you can, you have mastered your ‘base’ self and are truly ‘free’.
Being positively free is everything to do with the mindset, the motivation, of the individual and nothing to do with actual obstacles.
This is something I think about when I feel like I can’t be bothered or I would rather stay in bed. Everyone likes to think they are free to do what they want, but are you truly free, in a positive sense?
Mastering yourself is a big part of finding motivation to continue to do something, even if you don’t feel like it at this current moment.
Don’t think about what you would rather do now, think about that feeling later on knowing that you have overcome your weaker self, and will be better for it in the long run.
2. Set up a catalyst to get you out the door
Ok, enough philosophy, what can you physically do to help?
One thing that helps me is to create a habit you will do before every time you exercise..
Often the most difficult part is getting out the door; once you’re actually at the gym or starting the run it is not that hard to continue.
If you see the whole process as a chain of events what you need is a catalyst that sets off the chain; once you set it off it is like a line of gunpowder, it is going to continue to its end.
This can be extremely simple, and for me it is literally just eating a banana before I leave the house.
I do it every time before I go to the gym, so now for me mentally once I am eating that banana, it is happening. The chain has been set in motion. There is no doubt in my mind and I know that once I’ve finished the next part of the sequence is to leave for the gym. Then I am there, and there is no problem.
The good thing about a banana, or most fruits for that matter, is that once you ‘open’ it you have to eat the whole thing, then and there, or it is less appealing later. It is a good mental cue for your workout; once you start the sequence of going, you will see it through to the end.
It might sound too simple, but try it. If you don’t like bananas you can try other fruits or a different thing like drinking a while glass of water.
3. Set small, realistic targets
This is where having realistic expectations is important.
Forgive me for being repetitive, but as I keep saying, fitness goals take time and consistency to achieve.
When you build a building, you literally have to place each brick upon each other; small actions over time which can lead to large and impressive results.
When you build a building, you plan the steps carefully and ensure each step is complete before you continue. The window frames are there before you put in the glass, the foundations are laid before you start erecting the walls etc.
The program is a list of small, connected tasks. You can’t rush it. A poorly planned and rushed building will collapse.
If you listen to the fad diets and false advertising you are led to believe amazing things are possible in 8 weeks. When they don’t materialise for you, you might feel dejected and stop exercising, or you might be tempted to try the next ‘quick and easy’ scheme.
Your motivation takes a hit.
If however you realise that losing 1 lbs per week or improving you bench press by 2.5 kgs per month is actually realistic and good progress you can better set your expectations and will be more motivated to carry on, with the long-term goal in your mind.
After all, 1 lb a week sounds like nothing but if you kept it up for 3 months you would have lost 12 lbs.
Having achievable, small goals will help you keep your long-term ‘positively free’ outlook, and therefore your desire and motivation to carry on will be stronger.
For an excellent discussion on exercise and motivation, also see this TED Talk, Why some people find exercise harder than others, by Emily Balcetis.
Motivation is nurtured
Motivation is inside all of us, because evidently there are all things we like to do; we are enthusiastic to do them as a result.
It might seem difficult to summon up motivation to do things less appealing, and you might believe that some people are more self-disciplined or more ‘naturally’ motivated.
I don’t entirely agree. Although some people are naturally driven, I think that through knowledge and an acceptance of your responsibilities to yourself motivation is something that can be developed and nurtured by anyone.
Good planning, real expectations and little mental cues can help during the times you are most unwilling.
Above all, remember that bad days or lazy days happen to everyone, it is how you respond that counts.
That day you are tired, lethargic and unmotivated can turn into your best session, if you decide you are going to make the most of it, overcome your ‘lazy’ self and exercise some positive liberty!