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Motivation: Where It All Begins

There are a lot of things that motivate people, but only a few result in success in the long term.  Finding the positive ways to motivate yourself to be successful for the long term is the most important piece of making a change for life.

One of the most frustrating things for a good trainer or coach to encounter is a client or athlete who is only interested in praise and attention.  There is often an underlying negative dialogue going on with those individuals so when there isn’t a constant stream of praise and attention, self-loathing and doubt rise to the surface.  For the individual who only feels validated by the likes and comments they get in person or on social media, there is often a dark side of feeling invisible or even ugly and unaccomplished.  Individuals who love the praise and encouragement to eat and move better are often not motivated to do anything when the voice encouraging them is silent.

Setting and accomplishing goals is how you get to the next level.

This may sound a bit harsh, but as a personal trainer and coach, I find a lot of people want to put me in this role of cheerleader and ignore their responsibility to learn and follow directions.  They are simply there for my attention and approval and they don’t really have any intention of committing fully to my direction, especially when things get hard.  And then they wonder why they aren’t successful.  

My experience over the years tells me that the reason for this is that many of these people simply don’t believe that they can change, nor do they want to. They simply want someone to tell them that its okay that they are at least trying, even if its not their best effort.  However, I know what people are capable of and its easy to see when they are falling extremely short of their potential.   

Seeking positive attention for one’s actions is an example of extrinsic motivation.  That means that your reasons for doing things are completely external and reliant on other people’s perceptions and expectations of you.  Extrinsic motivation does work for the short term, but ultimately does not drive long term success.  You will see a lot of these individuals curating their “successes” on social media, but simply pull back the curtain and you’ll see that there is very little substance behind the show.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is what actually drives long term success.  Intrinsic motivation comes from internal factors which can be as simple as enjoying the activity or the results of a practice.  For example, enjoying a sport, enjoying the aesthetic effects of exercise and a healthy diet, accomplishing specific performance goals, or simply being able to accomplish more physically on a day to day basis.  
You can use external motivators to begin making lifestyle changes, but as you initiate these, you need to begin to also identify the internal motivators that are beginning to develop.  For example:
 “I feel better.”  “I have more energy.”  “I’m better at basketball.”  “I can wear the clothes I want to wear.”  “I can accomplish more around the house.”  “I achieved my goal of deadlifting 400 lbs, on to 500!”  “I enjoy spending time with my friends because I can participate in more activities.” “I finally completed a half marathon.”

The best way to do this is to keep a journal.  Write down your external motivators and start to identify specific internal motivators that can eventually take over as your primary drive.  Maybe you joined a gym with some friends to encourage each other to show up.  But eventually, you will begin to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when you finish a workout or your pants start fitting better.  Make these internal motivators as specific as possible and incorporate them into your goal setting and planning.

Keeping a training journal is one of the most powerful tools you can use in self-motivation.  I treat all of my athletes as students of their own bodies.  My expectation is that they are there to learn not only what I teach, but how their bodies respond as well as their own learning styles.  Ie, what cues work for me?  How much recovery do I need?  What do I need to eat before a training session?  I require that they keep track of their training data the same way we do it in the lab, ie, keep a detailed workout journal.  If you don’t take notes, how are you supposed to know what you’ve done?  And time and time again, I have witnessed that those who track their data can not only see what they’ve done, but can accurately reflect on what worked, what didn’t work, and most importantly, track the successes they’ve had over time.  Those who choose to ignore this advice inevitably fail. 

Having specific goals is a very powerful motivator in making changes whether they are physical or mental.  I encourage and assist my clients in setting realistic goals as well as a plan to realize them.  Later on, I will go into much more detail on how we go through this process.  
My most successful clients and athletes are the ones who simply show up, learn, do the work, and achieve their goals.  They set short term and long term goals, they trusted the process, they trusted me, and most importantly, they were patient in realizing their results. 

What we will take a look at next is how to make an honest assessment of your current physical state.  And based on that, we can start to identify strengths and weaknesses and create some goals and timelines to get started on.  

  • Extrinsic motivation gets you started, but you need to identify your internal motivators for long term success.
  • Keep a training journal to write down your goals, track your workouts, identify your motivation, describe your learning style, and to identify your successes.
  • Success requires that you trust the process and seek knowledge, not attention.

Care about people’s approval, and you will always be their prisoner.

– Lao Tzu


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