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Why Your Motivation Is Sabotaging You

When it comes to training, there are really just 2 rules you need to follow:

  1. Is your behavior consistent with your goal(s)?

  2. Is your behavior consistent?

If you do both, you succeed. So if your goal is to get stronger, and you are doing exercises that progressively challenge your body with higher levels of resistance, then you will get stronger. If you do this with consistency, you will get stronger.

Knowing this, I had some immediate concerns about this question someone asked:

“How do you psych yourself up for a session? I suffer from performance anxiety.”

An interesting question. What this question really says is, “How do I get motivated to workout?”

The answer is, you don’t.

The media has lied to you about what training is about. No doubt we’re familiar with the media’s obsession with “burn” and intensity. You’re likely familiar with the content of motivational videos: half naked men and women grinding out heart racing amounts of exercise, sweating profusely. Or you’ve seen the images of powerful people striking poses under perfect lighting and a Photoshop filter, and believe that’s how you’re supposed to train to become fit.

And then you either A) figure you need that mindset to train or you B) become so unmotivated to work out that you feel you need to “psych up” to prepare. Both paths lead to failure.

For anyone training towards a goal,  this worship of high motivation is dangerous. It is dangerous because it is an unsustainable source of energy, and it always ends with a month or two of exercise, then giving up, losing all of your “results”… if you had any.

So don’t psych yourself up. When it’s time to workout, then you do it. Nothing stops you from putting one foot in front of the other. You simply repeat it until you’re in front of your pull-up bar. You can’t wait for the stars to align or for a caffeine-infused adrenaline rush in your brain to begin. It’s just poor behavior.

I tell new trainees the same thing I tell my anxious and depressed friends (aka, those who rely on motivation to act):

Behavior comes before thoughts and emotions. If you try to psych yourself up to do things, every time, you’ll be exhausted and never form a habit around it. You will ultimately fail to reach your goal.

The biggest mistake a trainee can make is assuming you need willpower to “push through” the fitness lifestyle. Utter nonsense. The same way you can make simultaneously eating Cheetos and surfing Reddit a habit, you can also make training and eating good a habit. There’s always a little willpower required to change behavior in the beginning, of course, because you’re making a substantial change in your life. You push through that friction, you reap the rewards.

What makes things stick is behavior. Behavior is how your brain best remembers non-executive (aka, body, sensory, and emotional) tasks. Behavior is what keeps you on task. Your motivation is capricious and erratic. Trusting it is a lot like trusting your highly manic-depressive co-worker to do his work. Sure, sometimes he does a great job. Other times, he gleefully scatters the papers around the office and takes a piss in the corner. Don’t trust Bret- I mean your co-worker.

The point is your motivation is hard to manipulate and is inconsistent. Inconsistency violates Rule 2 harder than all those celebrities during the “Celebgate scandal“. If you want consistency, you build an Exercise Habit with practice and discipline, even if you don’t want to do it. Very soon, you’ll start to recognize your body no longer needs coaxing to get off the couch. You’ll be looking forward to your training.

You’ll never need motivation for your training ever again.  You master your behavior, you’ll master your body.

Just remember next time you’re about to skip a workout because you “don’t feel it”: Behavior before thoughts and emotions.

Roam Strong.

Move Stronger, and Live Longer

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About the author

Aaron Dear

Aaron Dear is a fitness advocate, bodyweight athlete, and product manager from Berkeley, California.

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