Your health—is there anything more important? Your health and the way you look both feed into one another and influence the way you feel about yourself. That’s what I really care about—your confidence and self-esteem. The deeper emotions! And not dying early in life is beneficial too. It’s about having your quality of life totally unaffected by poor health. I see people in their forties and fifties that are so immobile, they can’t reach down to tie their shoes, and it takes them 60 seconds to stand up from a lying position on the floor. That’s not awesome, and it doesn’t rectify itself without a concerted effort.
The people I meet want to lose weight, be healthier and have more vitality. It’s about nutrition and exercise. Consistency. Routine. Habit.
One of the most pleasing aspects of my work is working with people who do not consider themselves to be a “gym person” or an “exercise person”, and helping them establish a consistent, enjoyable routine and actually fall in love with exercise.
Perhaps, in this case, the issue is not that the person was never motivated. Perhaps they weren’t sure what to do or where to start. Maybe they were intimidated by going to a big gym. Maybe they lacked confidence in themselves, or perhaps they tried an exercise routine at some point in the past and either didn’t stick with it, didn’t seem to get the results they were looking for, or found it boring.
One quandary I often find myself in is the fact that much of my work is spent with people who are absolutely lovely, successful, determined, down to earth, and disciplined in many areas of their life, but when it comes to exercise and nutrition, they know what to do and don’t always do it.
So, can you go from being not motivated to motivated?
You certainly can!
In my research, for this chapter, I spoke to some clients and people I’ve known for a long time. I spoke to people who have lost 40 kilograms. And then regained it. And lost it again. And then kept it off. I spoke to people who have exercised consistently since childhood. And to people who took up exercise in their fifties and have been doing incredibly well with it for 10 years since then.
The people who are difficult to get feedback from are those who exercise for a few months, then have a few years off. Some key words kept popping up with the people who were doing well with their exercise, nutrition, and managing their weight. The main two words were “routine” and “habit”. For this reason, I’ve zeroed in on the notion of developing a consistent routine as crucial in maintaining motivation.
There’s a book called Atomic Habits written by James Clear. The book looks at common themes and habits among successful people. Clear says that when you identify those, you should do the same things yourself in order to establish the same methods for success in your own life. Anthony Robbins also has a concept called “modelling”. He says you just need to find someone who succeeded in doing what you are trying to do, and do what they did.
Commonalities among people who achieve long-term success with their exercise include:
- Putting their exercise sessions in their weekly schedule first, not last. The rest of their life fits in around their exercise.
- They exercise daily. There’s a lot of research showing evidence that it’s easier to do something daily than it is to do it three times per week.
- They exercise whether they feel like it or not. It is not always about performing your best–it’s about turning up, doing it, and keeping the routine going.
- People that exercise frequently tend to make healthier food choices. When people don’t exercise, they place less emphasis on quality nutrition.
- Just about every person I know who has a striking physique and great energy levels does not eat before 11 am each day.
How do these points help you stay motivated? The answer—they lead to incredible results, and that’s motivating. And they offer great guidelines for establishing a lifelong exercise routine or habit.
More on creating exercise routine: you need to make a routine. Look at your week. Look at the timetable of the gym you go to. Stick all your exercise into your week … and put it in your calendar FIRST! Lots of people plan their week and put exercise in later. It doesn’t happen. Once the exercise is locked into your weekly schedule, just do it whether you feel like it or not. It’s not about performing well when you exercise. It’s about simply doing it.
Sometimes people say, “Oh, I didn’t do as well as normal today”. Who cares? You did it! That’s amazing! There’s a popular saying: “Ninety percent of success is turning up”. Just turn up. Even if you go through the motions. I have lost count of the number of times someone has come to training feeling crap and left feeling amazing. And it’s not just the physical feeling that makes you feel good. It’s the self-pride, which you are completely entitled to, that makes you feel happy with yourself.
About half of my work is done with people who love exercise, and it is so important to them that they can’t NOT do it. It takes them more discipline to have a day off exercise than it does to come and train. The other half of my work is done with people who know they should exercise; however, it doesn’t come naturally to them, and they benefit from some support and encouragement. I love working with both categories of people. I think it is valuable to be aware of which group you fall into, so you can surround yourself with the right people, tools, and resources for success.
One massive topic of my work is CHANGE. Change is hard, and people often seek support, coaching, and accountability when the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain involved with making changes. With this said, it isn’t surprising that mostly when I first meet a new client, their level of willingness to make changes and try something different is noticeably impressive.
In a health coaching relationship change does not happen overnight. Often, I have to build a relationship, foster trust, and instil a sense of self-belief in people before more positive habits become ingrained. I understand that leading an active lifestyle and making healthy food choices comes naturally to some people and not so naturally to others, and people have to be met where they are. That combined with the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work is something I love about my work. As a young personal trainer 20 years ago, I learnt very quickly that reprimanding people or making them feel bad about eating bad foods does not work nearly as well as supporting and encouraging people. In saying that, a coach needs to be motivated too, and I won’t spend my days with energy vampires, and if a significant amount of time passes where a certain level of results isn’t achieved, it could be time to move on.
Mystery of Motivation
Motivation can be tricky and sometimes the very people who we’d think have the greatest motivation in the world, still don’t change. Matt is a successful 48-year-old real estate agent with young children. At 150 kilograms, he sat opposite his doctor who looked him in the eye and said to him, “You will die soon if you remain like this”. That was eight years ago, and Matt is now heavier. A life of physical abundance and mobility looks extremely unlikely.
Catherine and her son have an extremely rare blood type, and her son required a kidney donor or his life would soon be in danger. After exhausting all options, it appeared that Catherine was the only compatible donor, but she was told she could only donate a kidney if she lost 30 kilograms. Two years later Catherine had not lost one kilogram, and her son still needs a kidney. She could not develop healthy eating habits. What’s going on here? It is not a lack of education. Plus, both Matt and Catherine could not have more compelling reasons to get healthy. This brings us back to the point that motivation is very tricky. It’s not cut and dry for all people. Let’s look at too positive, inspiring examples of people who were able to seize on powerful ways to get motivated and stay that way: Paul and Troy.
Paul’s Motivation to Change: An Epiphany
I trained a guy called Paul who is an amazing man. He’s 52 years old, runs a successful international company, has a great social life, and is a devoted father. For three years he said his goal was weight loss, but he never lost a kilo, despite going to the gym six times per week.
Paul is emotionally intelligent enough to have a deep conversation about the fact his behaviour with food didn’t reflect his goals, and upon reflection, he came to the realisation that his goal is not actually weight loss, but increasing his fitness and exercising regularly, and enjoying the mental benefits he experiences from exercising daily.
He said he was not willing to give up two glasses of wine each night, or dining out, or toast with his eggs each morning. Paul went on to run a marathon, and he travels the world skiing.
Still, on Paul, he struggled to exercise consistently for three decades between the ages of 20 and 50. He said that one day he woke up and had an epiphany. He realised that for 30 years he treated exercise like it was optional. He would wake up and ask himself, “Will I exercise today?”
At the age of 50, he said he stopped treating exercise like it was optional and made it part of each day. I met Paul in 2011, and he has exercised six times per week since then and continues to do so.
I like to use the example of an athlete. Athletes are never “on” for 52 weeks per year. They have an on-season, an off-season, and a pre-season. The off-season is where they might relax and refresh, the pre-season is where the focus restarts, and the on-season is a purpose-driven period focused on results.
We can think of ourselves the same way. Sometimes we are in the zone and sometimes we relax and loosen up. The idea is to be in a good routine, more often than we aren’t. Sometimes we just go through the motions and that’s alright. I always say it’s better to exercise and eat crap, than to not exercise and eat crap.
Troy’s Motivation to Change: Results
Troy never had a problem with exercise motivation. Back when we first met, he went from 136 kilograms to 110 kilograms. But things happen and life gets in the way, and by 2016 he was back to around 135 kilograms again.
A few things happened in his life including a couple of health scares, and the passing of a dear friend due to brain cancer. As we approach mid-life, we get a sense of our own mortality and either consciously or subconsciously start to shift our values.
In 2018, I suggested to Troy that he try intermittent fasting, which involves eating all food between midday and 8 pm. He looked at me like I was an alien. Anyway, he gave it a go and slowly started having his first meal at 9 am, then 10 am, then 11 am. Now he flies through the morning on a couple of black coffees with a dash of milk (he calls it an ink stain, which sort of makes sense to me but sort of doesn’t), and his energy and mental acuity is better than ever.
On top of that, he weighs 105 kilograms, which is the lightest he’s been since year nine in school. If you ever saw Troy, you would know that with his height and frame, he looks incredible right where he is now.
Sometimes his first meal is a Danish and a coffee with milk, but he has grasped the concept of being in a calorie deficit, burning fat, and a bunch of other things that make weight loss and living in peak health effortlessly and efficiently. Motivation can come and go. I have lost count of the number of people I have met who have lost 10 kilograms and regained the 10 kilograms, or lost 20 kilograms and then found it again … multiple times! When you achieve your goal, you need to think of that point as THE BEGINNING and that is often when people need the most help–not when they can back off and go into maintenance mode (maintenance mode is a myth, by the way).
Most people call it the end when they arrive at their goal weight, and at the end, they stop. People with great bodies don’t get to where they want to be and then relax. They have eating well and exercising every day in the same category as brushing their teeth, showering, and breathing. It’s done daily with no thought to not doing it. Like Paul in the story above, it’s not optional, and they don’t want it to be.