The Myth of Motivation

Since the world began to change a few months ago, the average person has found it increasingly difficult to stay healthy. You start going to bed a bit later, drinking a little earlier, and grazing on whatever you can get your hands on all day long. Combine those issues with a fleeting motivation for exercise, and the future of your waistline does not look so good.

During times like these, we dwell on our current lack of motivation. Home-based exercise has always been a challenge for most people. Similar to the common issues found in working from home, when you are in a familiar, comfortable, unstructured environment, things just don’t get done. You don’t have anyone to hold you accountable, and you are missing the critical transition that moves you from one frame of mind to another. For example: when you leave your house, arrive at the gym, put on your fancy gym clothes and meet your coach, you prime yourself for exercise. When you’re at home, there are many competing primers to sit, eat, watch T.V., or do some busywork.

The keyword here is ‘primed.’ People believe that motivation is a trait. Some people are motivated, some people are not. We view a lack of motivation as a character flaw. The truth is that (much like willpower) motivation is an unreliable source of productivity. It is weak, sparse, and finite by nature. Especially when it comes to routine acts that can be monotonous at the moment and have a long lag between action and outcome (like flossing your teeth), motivation is not the correct fuel source. What you need is discipline, and this is where ‘primers’ come in.

People also wrongly believe that discipline is a character trait. You are disciplined, or you aren’t. That belief is incorrect. Discipline is simply a combination of knowing yourself and organizing your life in a way that decreases your chances of messing things up. For instance, it may be your intention to wake up at 6 AM each morning and exercise before the kids wake up. That’s a nice thought, but what usually happens at 6 AM? You wake up, you look at the clock, you think of the ten reasons why staying in bed is better than exercise, and you go back to sleep. Or perhaps you wake up and tell yourself that you’ll just work out after lunch (which you never follow through with). Or maybe you get out of bed and meander around the house for 45 minutes, drinking coffee and staring at your smartphone. Then when the kids get up, it’s too late to exercise. These examples are not issues of motivation. These are issues of a lack of calling yourself out and being prepared.

If I want to work out during a time when I historically find endless excuses not to, my goal is to make those excuses nearly impossible to access. If I were to set the alarm on my phone, I wouldn’t just ‘set the alarm’. I’d add a note to it (a feature available on any smartphone) that said something like ‘hey, don’t even think about going back to sleep. It’s now or never’. I’d put my workout clothes on the floor, likely beside my bathroom door so I’d have to step over them in the morning, literally. Then I would make sure to prepare my water, music, and everything else I needed. That way, I can just go downstairs and get to work. That is all discipline is composed of. Know yourself, anticipate the future, and set primers to keep you from being yourself.

If you drink too early in the day, set a strict limit on your start time and even put a note on the wine fridge if necessary. If you snack on chips and crackers excessively into the evening, get that shit out of your house- or at the very least- appoint a snack bowl of a specific size that you mentally commit to as your single evening serving. If you spend too much time on your smartphone, download an app that gives you a single session or total daily reminders when you’ve hit your screen limit. These interventions sound silly to people, but they work.

Being a disciplined individual is not a complicated process requiring David Goggins or Jocko Willink on your speed dial. Discipline is knowing yourself + implementing silly primers that keep you from being who you usually are when you fail. Think about where you fall short and get creative with your commitments. Implement strategies that will hold you to the promises you make for yourself and see just how ‘motivated’ you can become.

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