Motivation is B.S.

I saw the comment today as I scrolled through a Facebook group.

I’m looking for motivation to get going. 

I cringed.

I could not stop the thought: Well you’re going to be waiting… perhaps forever.

For a litany of reasons, motivation is a non-starter for lasting fitness and health goals. It’s the reason scrolling through a ton of #fitspo on Instagram usually ends with an increase in self-hatred. It’s the reason actual fit people aren’t creating boards of the abs of other fit people on Pinterest. It’s why crash diets crash. It’s why gym memberships go unused after a couple of weeks. It’s why fitness marketing feeds off of flighty consumers looking for a quick fix with good ad copy to assure them it’s not you, just buy our product, knowing full well it won’t work; and at that time they can target you for the next thing with a no we really mean it this time, and the codependent cycle spins into perpetuity.

Because it all misses the point.

This is a time of year when people are looking for a new start. And whether or not you think New Year’s resolutions are silly, there’s a special energy to starting a new calendar trip around the sun. People would be dumb not to harness that!

But cosmic energy will only get you so far. And motivation? Even less so. After years in the fitness space as both a participant and a coach, it’s time to squash the myth that motivation is worth a damn, and give you some proven alternatives to lean on instead.

1. It’s disempowering

We envision waiting for motivation like passively waiting for a bolt of lightning to jump-start our inevitable transformation. If only we wait long enough, it’s bound to come. 

This is a fitting analogy, because depending on your personality type, it’s perhaps more likely that you’d actually be hit by lightning IRL than experience a sudden wave of motivation, unprompted, out of the universe.

If it seems like a ridiculous proposition to just sit and wait for change to come to you, that’s because it is.

The worst part is that it’s a completely disempowered approach, and it teaches you to be a victim of your circumstances.

  • I can’t because of my insane job. 
  • I can’t because I’ve got kids/ a husband/ a ranch full of rescue puppies.
  • I can’t because __________. [Insert endless supply of excuses.]

If all of our obstacles are (seemingly) external forces, then the answer to our problems is going to be internal. No one gives you power or permission to change. You fucking take it. You don’t wait for an opportunity, you make it out of nothing. No one is coming to rescue you with a well-aimed lightning bolt. You must switch from a passive state to an active one. Momentum comes exclusively from action. The best part about changing is that you can do. that. right. now.

You need to know if every single person listed out their very real commitments and put them before their own health, there wouldn’t be a single person in a gym on the face of this planet. We’re all busy. We all have excuses that are completely, totally legit. And yet there are parents, business owners, and other totally normal people filling the 5:00 AM CrossFit class at my affiliate.

The moment you choose to say “You know what, eff all these damn excuses,” is the moment you will begin to respect yourself. It’s the moment you’ll choose yourself over other things, people, commitments. It’s the moment you’ll start to actually keep promises to yourself, and begin to trust yourself as a person who keeps promises. Your self-value will grow. You will walk taller, actually appreciate your body’s capabilities, and create a positive ripple effect for those around you.

That, my friends, is real power.

2. It’s fleeting

For fun, let’s hypothesize that you catch a sudden case of motivation.

You run to the gym to sign up. You toss all of your Oreos in the trash! You tell all your friends you’re signing up for your favorite Instagram fitness model’s routine!

But…. you go to the $9.99 per month gym. Or Groupon a cardio class in a part of town that’s way out of the way. Because deep down inside, you know this motivation thing only has a little bit of life in it. You know it will fail, you just aren’t sure when. And you sure as hell aren’t going to make an actual, earnest investment or long commitment based on that kind of flightiness.

Motivation is fast-burning fuel. It’s volatile and unreliable. It’s not a case of if, but when it runs out, and you need to know what will keep you going at that point. (Spoilers: Those are in the next points.)

3. Our biggest catalyst is pain

Oh, yikes, you might think. Before you write this point off as super dark, stick with me.

When folks successfully make a big life change, it’s because their personal pain point has reached a threshold.

  • A person decides they don’t want to shop for new clothes as the scale goes up…. again.
  • A man loses his mom to a preventable disease, and wants to break the cycle.
  • A parent decides the pain of not keeping up with their growing toddler is greater than taking a HIIT class three times a week.
  • An older athlete decides the thought of not being around to watch his or her new grandchild grow up is more painful than hiring a personal trainer.
  • A bored gym-goer decides the boredom of going to a regular gym and doing their own thing is more painful than the cost of seeking programming to shake things up.

In short, the pain of staying the same has become greater than the pain of embracing change. 

Without this step, it’s unlikely we’ll commit to real change.

That pain is not something we should empty from our mental trash bin as soon as possible. Reflecting on painful experiences can be valuable as you move towards your goals!

3B. Yep, that includes financial pain

A sub-point here: You need to feel pain on your resources, too. Whether you’re loaded or nearly broke, this step has to hurt just enough that you’ll actually commit to it!

Think of how you’d treat a $500 beater car, vs. the luxury dream car you’ve always wanted. You’d be real serious about your Rolls, I promise.

You need the best coach you can afford. You need the best food you can afford.  The best used kettlebell off of Craigslist that you can afford.

While I do not condone going into debt for nearly any reason, know that your pocketbook is going to scream. LET IT.

When you vote with your limited resources (time, finances, energy), you are leaving a trail of evidence pointing to your actual priorities.

If you want to do a little reflection in this realm, you need to look at your monthly spending. If your cocktails, dining out, Ubers, etc. add up to more than you are investing in your own health, then you don’t have any business complaining about your lack of results.

Aside: Do not ask hit up businesses for discounts– that means you don’t really value the process offered, and you probably don’t trust it, either.

This is a personal thing for me, too: When I started as an athlete at CrossFit9, I was squeaking by on a journalist’s salary. Maybe squeaking is too generous…. I was running out of paycheck way before running out of month. A close friend sponsored my first couple of months, and then I had a choice to make. I could continue to be broke and still manage to spend a few bucks here and there on drinks and dining out, or I could make changes and prioritize something I’d come to value more than shallow social outings. It wasn’t even a choice– I knew I’d do just about anything to continue to work on my physical and mental health.

Something weird happened. I didn’t just create enough surplus to afford CrossFit. Suddenly it was clear how much money I’d been spending on things I didn’t really care about. I had money left over to eat a little better. My actual, honest-to-goodness friends met me to walk my dog along the waterfront in lieu of cocktails.

I never once thought to ask for discounts, or hunt for a gym that was cheaper with a tradeoff for less expertise. I made the investment. I valued it. I trusted the process. I reaped the benefits.

4. Internalize to Win

As I mentioned above, we often find “motivation” from external sources like:

  • Instagram posts
  • A spouse who doesn’t want to have sex anymore
  • A friend who is losing a lot of weight and now you feel lazy in comparison
  • The swipe-swipe-swipe culture of online dating
  • Our doctor telling us to get off our ass or maybe die early

External sources are things outside of our control, and they are super lousy motivators. We want to emulate them, we’re jealous of them, we’re trying to get something we don’t currently have, we fear the consequences. It comes from a place of lack. So even if you achieve your desired outcome, you probably won’t be happy with it, you might resent it, and could even sabotage it,.

You need to find a “why” that is internally driven. A desired outcome that makes you happy.

  • I’m going on the trip of a lifetime to Bali, and I want to feel confident enough in a bikini that I actually allow photos of myself so I can remember being on the beach years from now.
  • I know working out will help me control my stress so that I can enjoy my time with my kids when I get home from the office, even if my boss was a jerk.
  • I live on the fifth floor and I want the independence that comes with being able to easily carry my groceries when the elevator is broken for the umpteenth time this month.

If someone else is happy as a byproduct, that’s cool, too! But your wants, feelings, and needs are the only vote that matters here. You have to show up for yourself.

For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why my motivation would run out every time I was aiming to look like a string bean Shape Magazine fitness model. It turned out, I was REALLY motivated by crushing new strength PRs, and I didn’t really care enough about how I looked. (Perhaps ironically, I look my best when I’m strong, but that’s just a nice second order effect.)

Your internal “why” will always beat externally-driven motivation.

5. Embrace Discipline

“You have to decide that you are going to be in control, that you are going to do what YOU want to do. Weakness doesn’t get a vote. Laziness doesn’t get a vote. Sadness doesn’t get a vote. Frustration doesn’t get a vote. NEGATIVITY doesn’t get a vote. ”

– Jocko Willink, Discipline Equals Freedom

Ah, discipline. You knew this was coming.

Discipline is what makes people head to the gym or eat vegetables even when they don’t want to. When motivation has long since run out.

Discipline is what keeps winners winning.

Discipline is what motivation wants to be when it grows up. It’s what you use to be a parent to yourself when you don’t have other tools available.

Discipline drives the small, daily actions that make lasting long term results. They’re the fuel of small, healthy habits.

The best part is this: You do not need insane skills to become disciplined. You can start small and attainably, and work up over time.

Get up and do a 10 minute bodyweight workout before you shower for work. Don’t take the route to the office that goes through the Dunkin Donuts drive-through. Have healthy meals delivered to you so you can’t screw up. Set phone reminders to tell you to go to bed early.

None of these are groundbreaking solutions, but small things do add up to a disciplined approach over time.

Here’s the most important takeaway: Know that you can do this. Right now, exactly as you are. Even if you’re covered in Cheeto dust and your treadmill has cobwebs on it.

All it takes is tweaking your mind game.

We can all agree that change is difficult enough as it is. Why risk your goals on a fairytale   like motivation instead of a solid strategy that is actually in your control?

You need the superpower of a strong, personal “why”, and small steps towards a disciplined approach. Make that happen, and you’ll find the steam to plow through personal goals for years to come.

Leave motivation where it belongs: In the compost pile.

4 thoughts on “Motivation is B.S.

  1. I learned that very quickly! Motivation is so fleeting! Its unpredictable and we would fair better if we left motivation where it belongs: in the compost pile (as you say) because honestly that is where it belongs. Yes, I do agree that motivation is external. You are trying to find a reason why you should do this or that but you will be waiting forever. Unless that motivation is intrinsic, it will be hard to win! Also, I learned that success lies in habits! So sweet post!

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