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Motivation as a Fitness Misnomer

There is an overwhelming amount of advice, guidance, and marketing plans on how to get, and stay, “fit.” For many, the idea of achieving a toned and sculpted body with minimal effort in the least amount of time is the goal to aspire to. And while physical appearance is important, fitness is more about total well-being than aesthetics. And that often requires a habit and lifestyle transformation which can seem daunting and unachievable. 

To counteract that hurdle, many professionals in the fitness industry talk a lot about motivation as a way to stick with a wellness routine of healthy eating and consistent exercise. But this can be the wrong concept to set your sights on. Motivation is an emotion, and just like any other emotion, it can be fleeting and ever-changing – subject to change based on numerous variables. Instead, to achieve long-lasting fitness, we must look beyond motivation and seek out habit-based behavior change.

The motivation myth

How often have you said to yourself, “I don’t feel like it,” when thinking about working out or preparing a healthy meal? In these instances, getting that takeout burger or lounging on the couch seem like much better alternatives. But if we rely only on the moments when we “feel like it,” to achieve our wellness goals, it’s likely we won’t make the choices that get us there very often. Of course, motivation plays an important role in the process of getting started or setting goals, but it has limited usefulness in the long-term. Factors as simple as weather changes, lack of sleep, or personal and professional distractions, can easily derail motivation. This is problematic because we’re tying an emotional catalyst (motivation) to our goal instead of changing our habits, which can breed procrastination. 

When we expect to have a constant flow of motivation to take action, we forfeit our power to progress because we are now relying on emotion instead of conscious discipline. If this happens, we set ourselves up for frustration or discouragement. In short, we can’t allow our constantly changing emotional state to dictate our behaviors toward goals or rely on surges of fleeting motivation. The pursuit of wellness is lifelong and it’s unrealistic to assume you will always be motivated. Instead, real progress comes from doing what you set out to do long after the inspiration to do it has disappeared.

Moving beyond motivation

The days or moments when we don’t “feel motivated” are when we need to practice intelligent discipline – the ability to link our efforts and motivators to an outcome for sustainability and recognize that we can improve our intelligent discipline like any skill we practice. By aligning our habits toward a particular goal, we create an action potential that delivers results, not motivation. Additionally, the disciplined follow-through on behaviors to achieve a milestone or goal reinforces that habit which can reduce the consequences of motivation loss.  

It can be easy to slide into the idea of discipline as something that requires brow-beating and constant vigilance, but intelligent discipline must be rooted in positive reinforcement and uplifting self-talk. Personal punishment or self-flagellation is destructive and not intelligent discipline! The key is to design a defined set of preventive strategies, supportive actions, and a system for correction or reward. It’s intelligent discipline that bridges the gap between low levels or fluctuations of motivation toward your goals.

It’s the journey, not the destination

Pursuing our wellness habits is a lifelong journey, and like most journeys, has its ups and downs, starts and stops, progress and setbacks. That’s why it’s so important to hone the skills and put into place the strategies to manage and work through those downs, stops, and setbacks. Motivation is a great first step to kick starting a fitness journey, but relying on it alone is simply not enough. Developing habit-changing behaviors, and sticking with them through intelligent discipline, will see you through the long run of meeting your wellness goals. Focus on the warmth of your muscles after a good workout rather than the image of those toned abs on Instagram. Remember, it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important. Enjoy the ride.

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