Our National Motivation Epidemic

In my line of work, I hear a common theme from a lot of prospects.

“I just don’t feel motivated to exercise.”

This lack of motivation is clearly spreading and leads me to believe we need to declare some sort of state of emergency (I don’t really know how states of emergency work).

I know what you’re thinking… “You haven’t posted for over two weeks and you want to lecture us about motivation?”

(Perhaps I shouldn’t point that out in case this is the first time you’re reading this blog… so I’ll move on.)

Every January, hordes (full disclosure – I had to spell check that to make sure it didn’t appear I was talking about the TV show, Hoarders) of people rush to 24 Hour Fitness and Gold’s Gym in a national display of guilt over the holidays.  “This is the year,” everyone will say defiantly.  We are a nation overflowing with motivation.

Then what happens?

Three weeks later, health club attendance returns to normal, people stop working out, and we try to pretend it never happened.  And if you ask most people, they’ll tell you that they just lost their motivation.  Well, there’s a reason for that.  Know what it is?

(Warning: condescending italics coming)

Motivation is fleeting – stop relying on it to get stuff done.

You know how every spring people go into fits of spring cleaning?  They get a burst of motivation and ride it to a clean house that will end up looking like a disaster area in a month.  It doesn’t matter what you are motivated about; a few weeks from now, I guarantee you will no longer still feel so moved.  It’s great for getting things started, but it’s terrible for getting them finished.

When it comes to fitness, it’s so important to realize this, because ultimately we’re talking about something that is, depending on your age, a decades-long endeavor.  And I guarantee you, even the most motivated among us aren’t going to be motivated to go to the gym three days a week for 30 years.

The key is to realize this, and stop relying on motivation to do things for you.  I don’t know anything about sailing, but that’s not going to stop me from making the following analogy (I’m a firm believer that almost total ignorance about a given subject shouldn’t stop one from talking as though they know about said subject).  If you go out on a sailboat, the wind is going to help you move in the right direction, but only when it’s blowing.  Motivation is going to help you move more quickly to your goals, but only when it’s blowing… I didn’t know what verb to associate with motivation, so I just repeated “when it’s blowing” and I’ll let your mind finish the analogy for me.

You have to have something else to rely on when it comes to something as long-term as fitness.  You have to have a plan… a system.  I don’t like bodybuilding, but bodybuilders sure are good about sticking to their workouts.  And I’ll tell you this – they don’t always want to do them.  But they’ll do the workouts anyway.  Not because they’re motivated to do so (they’re not… at least not always), but because they’re sticking to their plan.

Make your workout times an appointment in your calendar, develop an accountability plan, have something (or several somethings) in place that are going to keep you on track when your motivation wanes.  Whatever you do, don’t blame being unmotivated for not staying active.  One final analogy (because I rock at these)…

If you’re riding a bike down a hill, you can go pretty far and pretty fast without peddling.  But sooner or later, the hill is going to end and you’re going to have to pedal the dang bike.  Motivation, just like hills, ends when it ends – be prepared to do some peddling.

P.S. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about peddling drugs.
P.P.S. I realize I didn’t have to clear that up, but I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry.

‘Til next time!



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11 responses to “Our National Motivation Epidemic

  1. Amparo

    Well put – that post is ironically motivating. 🙂

  2. Geekmomba

    True words, well spoken.

  3. Amber Fischer

    Could you come be a guest speaker to my 7th grade students? I think this applies to them and school work as well!! : )

  4. Nancy

    Thanks for reinforcing much of what I know, but somehow either forget or ignore! Nicely said Mark.

  5. LauraLynne

    I’m a “planner” when it comes to exercise. If I waited for motivation, I’d be sunk. So I make a plan – set a goal – usually that involves signing up for a race (triathlons are my thing) – and then train for my goal. I’m rarely “motivated” to do it. I usually HATE the first 5 minutes (ok – honestly, it’s more like 10 or 15) of anything I do. But I stick to my plan. And reach my goal. And then wash/rinse/repeat. It’s just what works for me.

    • Haha, I think just about everyone who’s ever stuck to an exercise program can relate to occasionally hating the first few minutes of their workout. Breaking inertia is the hardest thing for most people, and they almost always throw up the road block that they’re unmotivated. But like you said, the people who stick with it aren’t motivated, either – they just have a plan and stick to it!

  6. This post made me think of the book “Switch” by Dan Heath & Chip Heath. They talk about how self-control and willpower are exhaustible resources and how when we do that we are “exhausting the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses and to persist in the face of frustration and failure”. So I think your idea of putting simple structure in place helps with this.

    The Heath brothers also talk about appealing to people’s emotions to help them make the type of change that usually relies on willpower. They had the following suggestions:
    — Find the feeling: knowing is not enough, make people feel something
    — Shrink the change: make it feel like you are already on your way to change
    — Grow your people: cultivate a sense of identity and instill a growth mindset

    I don’t know for sure, but I think this plugging this into your example of fitness it might look something like this:
    — Get clear on what you want to feel and how you think you would feel if you were more active.
    — Start small. I think you captured this well in your recent blog post “How often should YOU be working out?” https://difyfitness.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/how-often-should-you-be-working-out/
    — Develop an identity for yourself that is about being fit.

    You’d probably like this book. It has a good mix of psychology and pop culture in it.

    Anyway, just thought I would share what your post inspired. I’ll be working on cultivating my identity of Elise as a fit person.

    • Thanks for all the info, Elise. I’ll definitely be looking into that book, and I really liked the notion of “shrink the change.” That’s a great way to articulate what people need to do, especially when it comes to fitness. Most people have an idea in their brains about what the perfect fitness program looks like, and odds are it’s miles away from what they’re doing or will be capable of doing, but simply changing the idea of what that “perfect” program is to more closely match what they’re already doing makes it more attainable. People are usually closer than they think to doing what they should be doing.

  7. Pingback: Another look at motivation | Dify Fitness

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