Most articles on the subject of fitness motivation are filled with motivational workout quotes about how “the only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen” or urging you to “do something today that your future self will thank you for.”
Maybe these help you and maybe they don’t. If they do help, they probably don’t help for very long.
Fitness motivation is something of a fickle friend, and can’t be trusted to show up when you need it most.
Some days the sun is out and you feel invincible. On other days the opposite is true, and you feel worse than Captain America without his shield. It’s rare to feel motivated all the time.
Instead of temporarily pumping yourself up with “impossible is nothing” motivational workout quotes from Instagram, here’s what I suggest you do instead.
1. Draw Your Power from the Dark Dimension
A while back, I was having one of those “get out of your comfort zone” moments.
And, given that I am deathly afraid of heights, decided it would be a good idea to abseil down the side of what is (apparently) “the tallest permanent abseil tower in the world.”
Anyway, the day of the abseil comes, and I’m surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing.
No nerves. No fear. No anxiety.
Even when I was at the bottom of the tower putting my harness and helmet on, I felt fine.
But when I stepped out of the elevator at the top of the tower, I was hit with this horrible cold, heavy feeling in my legs. My stomach felt like it had dropped to my knees. Outside, I maintained the traditional British stiff upper lip, but on the inside I was panicking.
While the instructor attached me to the rope and delivered all the safety blurb, I nodded my head and pretended to be fine.
Then the moment came for me to step off the edge. I couldn’t do it.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I told the instructor. For about two minutes, I just stood there, shaking my head and insisting that I couldn’t do it.
Problem is, there were a bunch of people waiting for me at the bottom. I was embarrassed at the thought of having to tell them all that I’d bottled out. Angry at myself for deciding to abseil down a 400-foot tower in the first place. Frustrated at the instructor for not coming up with some “magic words” that would get me moving,
Then, all that embarrassment, frustration and anger boiled over. I took hold of the rope, leant back and began to make my way down the side of the tower.
At which point the instructor told me to stop and smile (which I really didn’t want to do) while he took the picture you can see below:
So, why am I telling you this?
With all the “fitspirational” quotes floating around these days, it’s easy to think there’s something seriously amiss if you’re not waking up every day brimming with uplifting positiveness. But there isn’t.
Embarrassment. Anger. Frustration.
All of those feelings can be harnessed to get (and keep) you moving along the path to physical greatness.
So, don’t worry if you’re not always thinking warm, positive, happy thoughts about getting in shape. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with drawing your power from the dark dimension.
Sometimes, the so-called “negative” emotions can be just as useful as the “positive” ones.
2. Strengthen Your Discipline Muscle
I have ups and downs, and times when I don’t feel like doing what I know I need to. However, I still get the job done most of the time. That’s because I have something that’s far more important than fitness motivation:
When you have discipline, the fact that you don’t feel motivated to do something doesn’t stop you from actually doing it.
Here’s what boxing coach Ross Enamait has to say on the subject:
“As great as it feels to be motivated, it is important to understand that motivation alone will only take you so far. Whether extrinsic or intrinsic, motivation can come and go in a flash. Discipline however is rooted in consistency.
“It quietly, yet continuously, chugs along in the background. It becomes part of who you are and what you do. Don’t give motivation more credit than it deserves. You don’t need to be motivated to succeed. What you need is the self-discipline to put in the work whether you want to or not.”
A lot of people see discipline as a fixed and unchangeable personality trait. You either have it or you don’t.
In fact, discipline is like a muscle. If you don’t currently have it, you can build it.
It can be trained. Improved. Made stronger.
Over time, even small acts of self-control will make your discipline “muscle” stronger and better prepared for the next challenge.
3. Focus on the Things Under Your Direct Control
Some people start out on a program of diet and exercise, only to quit because they didn’t see the results they were hoping for.
No two people will respond in exactly the same way to an identical program of diet and exercise, and the speed at which your body changes is hard to predict in advance.
Which means the potential for disappointment is always going to be there. If you’re expecting to make progress at a certain rate, and you end up progressing at half that rate, chances are you’re not going to be too happy about it.
What I suggest you do is take some advice from legendary basketball coach John Wooden. Wooden didn’t focus on winning championships. Instead, he focused on the preparation and performance of his team.
“I never dreamed about winning a national championship,” says Wooden. “It happened before I even thought it was possible. What I was dreaming about each year, if you want to call it that, was trying to produce the best basketball team we could be.
“My thoughts were directed toward preparation, our journey, not the results of the effort (such as winning national championships). That would simply have shifted my attention to the wrong area, hoping for something out of my control. Hoping doesn’t make it happen.”
You have to accept that the result of your efforts in the gym aren’t under your direct control. You can control the food you eat, the training you do, the amount of sleep you get, and so on. But you can’t control the results that come from those efforts.
Focus on doing the right things, every day, and let the results take care of themselves.
4. Embrace The Suck
Getting (and staying) in shape is not easy. It will often involve doing things that you find hard, boring, or uncomfortable. Many of those things will need to be done on a regular basis, whether you like it or not.
Embracing the suck means accepting that fact.
It means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. You acknowledge that what you’re doing is hard, but you do it anyway.
So be prepared for things to get difficult. Plan for them. When they do, just get your head down, put one foot in front of the other, and keep on moving.
5. Create Your Own Tactics
Most days, I go to the gym in the morning. Other than a small pre-training snack, I don’t have anything substantial to eat until noon.
This routine is one that’s developed over many years, based on what works for me, and what feels good. If I tried to follow a diet and training program that required me to eat a large breakfast as soon as I got up, and train in the evening, it would be met with some resistance.
And, unless the results were spectacular, I would probably end up going back to my old habits.
Building muscle and losing fat requires some knowledge about diet and exercise. But you also need to know yourself. That is, you need to know which of your habits you’re willing to ditch, and which ones you won’t give up no matter what.
Changing habits and routines isn’t always easy. But, as long as any changes that you want to make are within your nature, they’re still doable.
That’s why it’s important to know the difference between principles and tactics.
Most diets, for example, are based on tactics. That is, they tell you which foods to eat, which foods to avoid, when to eat, and so on. Following these diets will often involve changing habits that you may not be willing to change.
They can work in the short-term – maybe for a few weeks, or even a few months. But fighting against your own nature is hard work, and usually doesn’t end well.
Understanding the key principles behind fat loss and muscle gain gives you the flexibility and freedom to apply those principles in a way that works for you. There’s far less need for fitness motivation when you create your own tactics, ones that fit you and your lifestyle.
6. Be Skeptical of Novelty
It’s not unusual to get a spike in fitness motivation whenever you come across something that seems new and exciting, be it a diet, training method or nutritional supplement.
Most people have a strong preference for novelty, and fresh experiences of any kind tend to trigger the release of “feel good” chemicals in the brain.
However, the constant hunt for novelty can easily backfire, sending you down a rabbit hole of hacks, tips and tricks, many of which are pointless, ineffective or just absurd.
I regularly get emails from people who want my opinion on some “new and amazing” exercise routine or diet they’ve come across. But when I take a look, it’s nothing new at all. Just a twist on an old idea.
Many of the online arguments about how to train and what to eat have already been hashed out numerous times in the past.
For example, while I was digging through the Muscle Evo research vault the other day, I came across an article that I’d torn out of a magazine to keep.
Here’s a snippet:
The prevailing attitude in the gym is that you have to lift heavy weights to significantly increase muscle mass.
This philosophy is based in part on the assumption that lifting heavy weights is required to recruit or activate as many muscle fibers as possible, thereby stimulating growth in most, if not all, of the available muscle fibers.
While it might be true that such lifting is the best way to stimulate gains in raw strength, it is not necessarily the case for stimulating maximal gains in muscle size.
For the most part, strength trained athletes may have slightly smaller muscles than the average bodybuilder, yet their strength-to-bodyweight ratio is usually much greater than that of a bodybuilder. How is this possible when all you have probably heard in the gym is that you have to lift big to get big?
In recent years, a number of studies have been published to show that light weights and higher reps do a surprisingly good job at building muscle.
However, the article I found wasn’t published in the last few years. Not even in the last decade.
In fact, it was published in Muscle & Fitness magazine, all the way back in 1992.
That’s over 25 years ago.
Modern research often gives us a greater insight into “why” something works. But in many cases, the fact that something does indeed “work” is fairly well established.
What worked 25 years ago still works today. And it’ll still be working 25 years from now.
There’s really nothing new under the sun, as the old saying goes, just the history you don’t know yet. And even if there were, the fact that something is new in no way guarantees that it’ll work any better than what you’re doing now.
In fact, I’d take “old and proven” over “new and untested” any day of the week. From Rolf Dobelli, author of The Art of Thinking Clearly:
“You’re sitting in a chair, an invention from ancient Egypt. You wear pants, developed about 5,000 years ago and adapted by Germanic tribes around 750 B.C. The idea behind your leather shoes comes from the last ice age. Your bookshelves are made of wood, one of the oldest building materials in the world. At dinnertime, you use a fork, a well-known ‘killer app’ from Roman times, to shovel chunks of dead animals and plants into your mouth.”
For the fitness industry to remain an industry, it needs to keep churning out “new” stuff.
Magazines need something new to publish every month. Supplement companies need new supplements to sell. Equipment manufacturers need new products for people to buy.
The challenge for you is to decide if “new and different” equals better. In many cases, it does not.
SEE ALSO: THE MUSCLE BUILDING CHEAT SHEET
If you're fed up spending hours in the gym with nothing to show for it, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.