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The Motivation Superstition

By Josh Hillis | Uncategorised

Mar 07

The fundamental lie (superstition) of working out and eating well is that motivation comes before action.

Lets take a look at the reality:

  • Jessica doesn’t want to work out today. Feels like skipping it. Goes and works out anyway. 15 minutes into the workout, she starts to feel “motivated”
  • Sarah is has been planning and cooking healthy meals now for 10 weeks, and seen results, but is just so totally over doing it. Does not want to cook this week. Goes to the store to buy the food she’d planned anyway, by the time she gets home, she feels “motivated”
  • Joe has been doing the same workout program for four months (it’s a six month program). He’s bored, wants to do something else. Goes to the gym, does his program anyway. By the end of month five, he’s “motivated” to finish all six months.
  • Melissa is so frustrated with getting slow and steady results using food habits. Wants to jump on a new magical macro plan she read about. She keeps doing her smart, reasonable program for another year, and hits all of her goals. At some point, a few months after hitting all of her goals, she finally starts to feel “motivated”

What do you notice about all of those examples?

Yes, motivation came after action.

Sometimes, motivation comes immediately after taking the action. Sometimes motivation comes a month after taking the action consistently. Sometimes it takes a year.

The Only Game Worth Playing

So, we start to see that if our plan is to look for motivation to take the action, we’re pretty much screwed right from go.

I’m not saying that never happens. Once in a great while you can get lucky like that, and get motivated before doing something. Which is terrible, because that starts the motivation superstition: “I felt so motivated yesterday and went and ate all of my meals slowly! It was awesome!”

And then you start to think that that’s how it’s supposed to work.

In reality, motivation is fleeting. Motivation is like the weather. Some days are sunny, some days are cloudy. If you only went to work on sunny days you’d get fired. You’ve got to go to work even when it’s cloudy.

So we start to see that there’s only one game worth playing: Taking action when we aren’t “motivated” and when we aren’t “feeling it”

Action Without Motivation

Now we’re talking! It turns out there are some great ways to keep taking the actions that matter to you, even when you aren’t “motivated”.

  1. Other people — Whether it’s a coach, a workout buddy, a group of friends you prep food with, a habits coaching group, a workout group, any time you involve other people, you’re more likely to follow through on your actions.
  2. Be good at/getting better at it — No big surprise we’re more likely to do things we’re good at, even when we don’t want to. The trick with new food or workout habits is that they’re new, so we aren’t awesome at them yet. We need to constantly look for evidence that we’re learning about what we’re doing and getting better at doing it. Learning and getting better are what being good at something looks like in first steps and in action.
  3. Connect it with your values — If the doing of it is connected to your values and who you envision your best version of yourself would be, that’s a strong pull to express yourself in action. Even when you aren’t “motivated” you still want to act in line with your values.
  4. Outside triggers — Put things on your schedule, or in your phone. Set alarms. Do them before _____ or after ______ (something you already do automatically).

The War of Fitness

There’s a great book called “The War of Art”, that has a basic premise that waiting for inspiration and motivation are stalling techniques. That the real work of creating art happens after people have done so much work on their art that they’ve actually started to hate it.

I really, really want people to enjoy their workouts, and enjoy eating well. But I know it doesn’t show up like that every time. Sometimes you aren’t feeling it, and you do it because of someone else waiting for you, or because it fits your values, or because it’s on the schedule.

And if you do that often enough, you just might even feel “motivated” sometimes also.

The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

To Recap:

Your most reliable access to motivation is taking action.

The game you should be most interested in is finding ways to consistently take action when you aren’t motivated: Involving other people, noticing learning, noticing progress, doing it just because it aligns with your values, and having triggers in your life and doing it at a certain time.

About the Author

Josh Hillis is the Chief People Officer for One by One Nutrition, Author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday, and Nutrition Habits Coaching Expert for Strength Matters Magazine