Earlier this year I was asked to write an article about “How to stay motivated” and for some reason I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The person who suggested I write the article was having trouble staying motivated in terms of exercise and nutrition in relation to their health and weight loss goals, which tends to happen to people from time to time. I wasn’t sure where or how to start writing about this…some people are always motivated, and some never are. Many others fall somewhere in between. Initially I rolled my eyes and thought “Wow, how can I make this not boring?” The normal things came to mind like setting goals and seeking accountability, then I thought “You’re either motivated or you’re not. If you are that’s great and you don’t need to read this. If you aren’t you probably never will be so either do something about it, or give up, forget about it, come to terms with the fact you will never be fit and healthy or look your best, stop beating yourself up about it, and get on with life and focus on things that make you happy. You’re probably good at other things”.
Is that too blunt? Who knows? I’m not perfect and I’ve made just about every mistake a human can make and I don’t judge others. Not too much anyway. I don’t care if you’re unfit or overweight and I admire the people who choose to improve themselves in this area. What’s hard to handle is people who say they want to get better and engage in behaviour that isn’t in line with their goals. Do they have no idea about healthy eating? Does exercise not come naturally to them? Do they have no self-discipline? All of the above? Is the fact that you’re not where you want to be not motivation enough?
I wondered what tone I should take? Friendly and supportive? Firm and blunt? Display some knowledge and experience? Do I offer a cuddle or a kick up the backside? Dangle the carrot or bring out the stick? Do I talk about concepts such as seeking accountability, or setting SMART goals (which are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Time-based)? Or should I talk about stories, examples and experiences to make it more relatable? Ultimately I’ve decided to just be myself and roll with whatever comes out.
Warning and disclaimer: some of this might be a bit up the guts. Please know that I care. There comes a time in your life when I just want to be myself and stop editing what I think and say. The people that choose to work with me like my style. If you don’t that’s ok too. Most people say that want honesty, but when they receive the honesty they don’t like it, but in this article we are talking about your health! Is there anything more important? We are talking about the way you look. And not just that – it’s the way that how you look makes you feel about yourself. That’s what I really care about. Your confidence and self-esteem. The deeper emotions! And not dying early is beneficial too. And not having your quality of life affected by poor health. I see people in their 40’s and 50’s 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.
One of the most pleasing aspects of my work is helping people who do not consider themselves to be a “gym person” or an “exercise person”, and helping them to establish a consistent, enjoyable routine and actually fall in live with exercise. So can you go from being not motivated to motivated? You certainly can! However 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 with themselves, or perhaps they tried an exercise routine at some point in the past and either didn’t stick with it or 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, however when it comes to exercise and nutrition they know what to do it and don’t always do it. I rarely pass on information to people that is new. It’s sometimes a little embarrassing and condescending saying to an adult “Ok, we just need to exercise 4 times per week and reduce the amount of ice cream, chocolate and alcohol you’re consuming”….and the part I usually leave out is “for the next 40 years”.
In my research for this article I spoke to some clients and people I’ve known for a long time. I spoke to people who have lost 40kg. And regained it. And lost it again. And then kept it off. I spoke to people who have exercised consistently since childhood. I spoke to people who took up exercise in their 50’s 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 are doing well with their exercise, nutrition, and managing their weight, and the main two words were routine and habit.
There’s a book called Atomic Habits written by a guy called James Clear. He likes to look at common themes and habits among successful people. He says that when you identify those, do that! 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 your exercise sessions in your weekly schedule first, not last. The rest of your life will fit in around your exercise
- They exercise daily. There’s a lot of research showing evidence that it is 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. Personally I love exercise and it is one of the most important parts of my life but at least 50% of the time I don’t feel like doing it, or I can think of other things I should be doing
- People that exercise frequently tend to make healthier food choices. When people don’t exercise they place less emphasis on quality nutrition (COVID was a great example of this)
- Just about every person I know who has a striking physique does not eat before 11am each day
- How do these points help you stay motivated? Well they lead to incredible results, and that’s pretty motivating.
At this point I am reminded of the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is when you have a goal and you are pursuing an outcome, and whatever happens you are pushing forward, dragging that goal over hot coals to achieve your aim. This sounds noble however it can be hard work, and it’s no wonder you need a motivation top-up frequently along the way. Inspiration is different. Inspiration is when the goal drags you. I always feel that half 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, however it doesn’t always 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.
I like to look for common themes in life. So let’s start with fit people and people who are in great shape. What do they do? They exercise somewhere between 4 and 10 times per week. They don’t eat heaps of crap. They prioritise exercise. That’s probably most of it. I know a lot of slim people. They don’t eat much. 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. When 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 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 saying that says “90% of success is turning up”. Just turn up. Even if you go through the motions. I have lost count of the amount 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. Personally, exercise is one of the most important things in my life and I reckon that at least 50% of the time I don’t feel like doing it. “I wish I didn’t do that training session” said nobody, ever.
Most of the time when I meet a new client they are ready to make a change. In an initial consultation we cover goals which are usually things like weight loss, increasing strength and fitness, and being consistent with exercise. That’s all fair enough, but the true goal runs much deeper. If you were to ask someone why they had these goals they might say something like “So I can look good at the beach. Or so I can fit into my old clothes”. If we were to probe a little further (in an emotionally intelligent way) the deeper reason always comes back to an emotion. So I can feel more confident. So I can be happier. So I can take pride in my appearance. Losing 10kg and being able to do 30 push ups is one thing, however it’s the way that improved health, wellness, and a better body shape makes you feel emotionally that realty excites me!
Another interesting thing I find (mostly when I first meet people) is their level of willingness to make changes and try something different. 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. According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is to carry on doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Just last week I sat down with a 107kg Vegan woman who eats 4 Weet Bix and a banana every day at 6am because she is worried about her metabolism slowing down. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, however in my head was the phrase “What the actual fuck?. When I asked if she is hungry at 6am before getting stuck into 4 days’ worth of carbohydrates she said no. The she asked whether I feel she is in a calories surplus. I said there’s a pretty good chance. She said that she was told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it’s true that John Kellogg said that in 1891 so he could sell more Corn Flakes. It’s just not true. Well, it actually is the most important meal of the day to skip. Or if you really must have breakfast, have it for lunch.
I also recently met a 94kg woman and we came to the topic or morning fasting. She asked me skeptically if I believe in that “fasting stuff”. She said that it’s not natural to not eat. I said it might not be for everyone and you don’t have to do it every day, but I also don’t believe that being 25kg overweight is good for you. For what it’s worth, it actually is natural to not eat for prolonged periods. We’ve had our current genetic make up for about 400,000 years however food habits and food itself has changed unrecognisably in the last 100 years. I’m pretty sure that 200,000 years ago we didn’t wake up and eat Sultana Bran, and then back it up with morning tea, afternoon tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and something after dinner. When in doubt think evolution. We are designed to store energy. We are designed to go for periods without food. However I digress…
Can there be an easier topic in the world to understand than weight loss? Jump on the scales. Then watch what you eat. Then jump on the scales again a few days later. If you haven’t lost weight you’re eating too much. Most people overestimate how many calories they burn and underestimate how many they consume. When you did an exercise session and your Fitbit told you that you burned 480 calories, you probably didn’t. And before you explain that you have a hormonal issue, you probably don’t. It can get a little more complex with gut health, stress, and the complete rubbish available in supermarkets, but at the most basic level you really do just need to eat less and move more. A lot less, and a lot more.
What’s the best exercise to do? Who gives a shit? Do what you like. Walk the dog, run up and down Sandhills, swim at the pool, do Pilates, lift weights or play tennis. There’s a common saying that weight loss is 70% about nutrition. It’s more like 95%. When you get your nutrition right you can do what you like for exercise.
There’s another interested book called “12 Rules For Life” by Jordan Peterson. One of the rules encourages you to “Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping”. I meet lots of people who treat their kids and even their pets better than they treat themselves. Imagine how much better you would take care of yourself if you treated yourself like someone you were responsible for helping? This is why support and accountability can help so much. People will often let themselves down however you have too much integrity to let someone else down.
Nutrition is the biggest minefield I encounter. Eating healthy, nutritious food is critical to health, energy, and weight loss, and I find it fascinating, occasionally frustrating (or more likely bemusing), and intensely personal for each individual. I’m conscious of not making light of a topic that not only results in people being overweight, but with the negative emotions that come with it such as a reduction in self-esteem and feelings of failure.
One thing I like to identify in myself and others when looking for reasons to explain behaviour is our personal core values. These may be loosely defined as the things that are most important to you in your life. Let’s look at some of the major values we might have in our lives: family, finances, health, career, relationships, travel, social life, and a host of other topics that might light you up. What does it mean if someone is super successful at their work, or if they are an amazing mother, or if they volunteer to help less fortunate people 3 times per week, yet they can’t establish and maintain a routine with exercise and nutrition? Does it mean they are a failure, or lazy, or a bad person? Certainly not! Does it mean that health and fitness isn’t important to them? Maybe it does. I know that when I tell myself I should do something and six months later I haven’t done it I can usually stop and analyse the situation and realise that it’s actually not that important to me. We all find time for the things that are important to us. If we say we want to lose weight but we eat chocolate most nights does that mean that eating chocolate is more important than being slim? In the moment of eating the chocolate that’s exactly what it means, and sometimes it can be a weight off our shoulders if you accept that you will never lose weight, and you will keep eating the chocolate, and you need to make peace with that and stop beating yourself up. What I am trying to say is that peak health might not be number one on your list of values, and it might never be. Often it falls behind family, work, and socialising. If exercise, great health, and vitality is not one of your highest values can you link it to one of your highest values? For example if your highest value is being a mother, do you think having great strength, high fitness levels, and loads of energy will make you a better parent? Will it make you a great role model for your kids? If you love your career do you think a clearer mind and increased stamina will help you in your work? If you love travel do you think being fit and strong will help you climb Macchu Picchu in Peru or enable you to do a cycling holiday through France?
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, and for 3 years he said his goal was weight loss and never lost a kilo despite going to the gym 6 times per week. Paul is emotionally intelligent enough to have a deep conversation about the fact his behaviour with food didn’t 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 3 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 6 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 would be to 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.
I’ve trained a client called Troy since 2003. In that time he has never had a problem with exercise motivation. Back when we first met he went from 125kg to 111kg, and things happen and life gets in the way and by 2016 he was 136kg. A few things happened in his life including a couple of health scares and the passing of a dear friend due to brain cancer, and as we approach mid-life we get a sense of our own mortality and either consciously or sub-consciously start to shift our values. In 2018 I suggested to Troy that he try intermittent fasting, which involves eating all food between midday and 8pm. He looked at me like I was an alien. Anyway, he gave it a go and slowly started having his first meal at 9am, then 10am, then 11am. 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 tops of that he’s 105kg which is the lightest he’s been since Year 9, and 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 flat white 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 effortless and efficient.
On that note, whatever strategy you implement must meet 6 criteria or it won’t last. These are:
- Conducive to weight loss (or whatever your goal is)
I could elaborate however this article is already 8 times longer than. Suffice to say that if one of the above criteria isn’t met you’re going to hit a snag somewhere.
I received a message from a member of the studio the other day. It said “Motivate me Scott”. I wasn’t sure what to say. Is the fact that you aren’t where you want to be not motivation enough?
In the quest for motivation and inspiration don’t just think about your appearance. Think about your health. Think about your family. Most people know that without health we don’t have much. Take a look at these modern-day statistics:
- 1 in 2 men, and 1 in 3 women will get cancer
- 60% of people are overweight or obese
- Heart disease is the biggest killer in society
- In addition to that 45% of marriages end in divorce and 84% of people don’t like their jobs.
What is going on here! We can be so much better than this. I have high standards for myself and high standards for the people I work with. I really think it is possible to live a life where we are in peak health, and we love the life we lead. This stuff is not normal! The problem with heart disease is that there are no symptoms as my 64-year old Uncle Neil discovered when three months before getting ready to enjoy his retirement plans he went home one evening and had dinner followed by a heart attack. Neil lived alone and was discovered days later on his kitchen floor.
We can also benefit from giving up on perfectionism. One of my theories is to get your training to be a ten out of ten and get your nutrition to be a7 out of 10. The good thing about the training is that a perfect score is whatever works for you. If you can exercise 3 times per week that’s your ten out of ten and stick to it. If you can get your nutrition right 70% of the time you will still achieve some terrific results. I see lots of food diaries with pizza, chocolate, red wine, and cheese and crackers and people are still losing weight because they are in an overall weekly calorie deficit. I’m not perfect. I think I’ve had a piece of banana bread 4 days out of 7 for the last 4 months and chocolate after dinner most nights. But surely the question must be “Are you happy with where you’re at?” If the answer is no then tighten things up. If the answer is yes then congratulations, keep doing what you’re doing, enjoy the process, and remain in the great place you’re in.
Motivation can come and go. I have lost count of the amount of people I have met who have lost 10kg and regained the 10kg, or lost 20kg 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 and 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.
Motivation can be tricky and sometimes people don’t need a personal trainer, they need a psychologist. Matt is a successful 48-year old real estate agent with young children and at 150kg sat opposite his doctor who looked him in the eye and said “You will die soon if you remain like this’. That was 8 years ago and Matt is now heavier, and a life pf 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 option but she was told she could only donate a kidney if she lost 30kg. 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, and could she have a more compelling reason?
The people I meet want to lose weight, be healthier, and have more vitality. It’s about nutrition and exercise. Consistency. Routine. Habit. Or maybe just realise that it’s not all that important to you. Stop treating it like an option.
It took me 4 months to write this article. I would like to write one blog post per week. Or at least one per month. Writing, sharing knowledge, helping people, and expressing myself is important to me, but there was no repercussion involved with not writing the article. I was only letting myself down, and possibly other people who might gain an insight or two from this article. Plus I was annoyed at myself pretty much every day for not having made faster progress. Maybe some accountability would have helped 😊