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The Motivation Myth

So often I have clients come into my studio telling me they "just need motivation," or they were able to lose weight back when "they were really motivated" - and they are genuinely shocked when I share my personal belief that motivation is a myth.

In fact, it's not just motivation - health-industry keywords like willpower, grit, and inspiration are all (to some level) myths, too. They're the common thematics to the stories we tell ourselves about why we can (or more often, can't) make healthy changes. "I just don't have the willpower I used to have," we might think, or "it was so easy to lose weight for my wedding day, but I just don't have that kind of inspiration anymore."

I'll challenge that kind of thinking with this: if you lost weight in the past, it was never about willpower, inspiration or any of the rest of it. It was about shifting your mindset in such a way that allowed you to actually execute the healthy habits you needed in order to lose weight.

The basic idea is this: it is never some holy-grail epic opening of the heavens that allows us to make lifestyle changes. It’s simply the repetitive act of small habits and better choices, starting with a firm decision to act, that adds up to measurable results.

I often refer my clients to an article I’ve brought up time and again since first being exposed to it in graduate school in 2007, called The Mundanity of Excellence. To summarise, Dr. Daniel Chambliss asserts that:

“Excellence is mundane. Excellence is accomplished through the doing of actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time. The action, in itself, is nothing special; the care and consistency with which it is made is.”

Wow. Just wow. Go ahead, read it again. I’ll be here.

I admit that in my personal life, I am a “doer” almost to a fault; I am a big fan of the “done” rather than the “perfect,” which can result in some less-than-ideal outcomes – but more often results in people getting what they need at the time in which they need it, which is a cornerstone of success in my business.

This is why I will argue that action is actually what produces the feeling we think of as “motivation,” and that taking action consistently is what produces the thing we all want so much: RESULTS.

The early-morning slog to the gym in your dirty old sneakers; the game-time decision to order the salad instead of the burger at lunch; the choice to stop scrolling Instagram at 10pm so you can get a decent night’s sleep – these are the actions, these are the patterns, these are the little things that make big changes to your life.

And so to close, I'll kick it back to Precision (one of my certifying agencies for nutrition coaching) for some takeaway nuggets to help you move from the fantasy world of myths and hopes to the real-life world of actions and habits (all their words, not mine, by the way!):

  • There is no such thing as discipline. Rather, ask yourself: What do you really love? Because you are the result of what you love most. You either love and cherish six-pack abs more than potato chips, or you love potato chips more than washboard abs. It’s as simple as that. Don’t beat yourself up – you’re allowed to love what you love.

  • Make truly self-loving choices that lead to increased strength of body and mind. When people comment on your results and say things like, “Wow you have a lot of discipline”, answer, “No, I just make the best choices for myself.”

  • The best defence is a good offence. Nutrition is something within your control and you should take responsibility for this. Every day you wake up and decide what it’s going to be: a day of struggling or a day of rising to the occasion.

  • Be motivated by the knowledge that you will never regret doing the right thing, even if it hurts to do it. But you will regret doing nothing. Keep a “daily wins” log. Over time, you have “real evidence” that you are progressing… and more importantly, have the capacity to progress further.

  • Understand that sh*t will happen. There will be “down” days. On those days, become a minimalist. Find the smallest thing you can do and do it. If all you ended up doing was your “smallest” thing, then you still can take solace that you did something. If you did more, bonus.

  • Change your focus, change your environment, change your attitude. If you’ve been physique focused, find a performance or health goal. Find something that inspires you and put your attention to that. Introduce something new and fun to your “plan”. Decide what you really want and decide if you’re willing to do what it takes to get there.

  • Motivation is crap. Exercise and eating well is ambivalent. Some days you feel like doing it, so you do; other days you don’t feel like doing it, so you don’t. Eventually you must learn to dissociate feelings from actions. You must go to the gym, or eat your vegetables, even if you’re downright screaming “AW HELL NO!!” Regardless of how you initially feel about it, starting the right action makes it easy to finish it. And once you overrule your “hell no”, it gets easier to do it the next time.

Get after it. Get going. And get LIFTED.

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