Motivation: Why You Don’t Need It.

Motivation: that’s one of those words that seem to crop up over and over in the online fitness world. Your friendly neighbourhood insta-lifter (such as yours truly) loves to be seen as a ‘motivated person’, who in fact has so much relentless and unwavering motivation that there’s some spare, so you can have some too! After all, once his morning cardio is done, any residual motivation is wasted because what else is there to do in life? (Not srs). So @insertgenericfitnessname-brah, keen to motivate others, will find some Socrates quote and spend 5 minutes choosing the most dramatic font on his free photo editing app before producing an over-filtered unimpressive picture of his physique that would have Socrates turning in his grave (if he was buried; my historical knowledge fails me). When said image is ready to go out and change the world it is uploaded and takes its rightful place in the abyss of worthless media floating around for the rest of eternity making fuck all difference to anybody – except its creator. You see, like any supposedly selfless deed, this is not selfless at all. Sure some people will like the picture, and it might even go as far as helping somebody through his/her workout (which I suppose is justification enough), but the primary benefactor is the motivator not the ‘motivated’. Now @insertgenericfitnessname-brah feels good about himself because in his reality – the only one that matters – he’s making a difference. He’s empowered because he has displayed the alpha trait of leadership that we all deeply yearn for. Much like the viral videos of people helping out the homeless, a good thing done for the wrong reasons is still a good thing. If the total net impact on the world of any action is positive, it’s worth doing, so I’m certainly not complaining about every Tom, Dick and Harry taking on role of Mr Motivator.
Aside from the ghost of Socrates being deeply insulted that his eloquent wisdom has ended up next to the hashtag #aesthetics nobody is directly harmed by this act. The only consequence is that the sheer frequency of the ‘fitness motivation’-type post seems to put emphasis on the need for motivation – at least as it is currently understood, or misunderstood rather. We’re all now looking for that inspiration, waiting for the moment that something clicks in our heads and makes it easier to get up and do what we know we should. But that’s not what motivation really is. I think it’s got to the point where the meaning of motivation has become somewhat lost. Google says motivation is defined as ‘a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way’. Nowadays we take being motivated to do something to mean we feel like doing it. If somebody says “I’m really motivated to go and hit the gym” what they really mean is that they’re in the mood for it. If the original definition still held then it would mean the statement “I know that I should do this and I know why I should do it, but I’m feeling really de-motivated” would be nonsensical, but you wouldn’t pull somebody up if you overheard them saying that would you?
Gradually I am getting to my point. In short we have created a culture that places an unwarranted level of importance on the need to be ‘motivated’ do to things. That is, how we define it these days as being fired up and ‘in the mood’ to take on the tasks we know are important to our life’s progression. I’m not saying we shouldn’t look to others for inspiration, because we can certainly draw inspiration from those who set a good example and display characteristics we’d like to possess, and that is invaluable. Real motivation though is internal. No individual, quote or YouTube video will provide you with ‘a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way’ in the long term. Indeed you don’t need to be provided with reasons, because deep down we all know what we need to do and why we need to do it. I know how I can become a better, more successful online PT and how I can rid myself of my chronic boredom and restlessness. The reason I haven’t done it yet is because I, like most of us, am in a constant tussle with resistance in the form of laziness/procrastination, success barriers and uncertainty about whether this is the right path to choose. Being uncertain about the path you’ve chosen though is no reason to attack it with any less conviction; in fact all the more reason to go all out because you’re likely to discover that this isn’t how you want to spend your time and energy sooner than if you had devoted less of yourself to it. So even if we’re not sure if this is the perfect career for us, we still all know unequivocally how we can be better and it while we’re here. In the same sense we know how we can get closer to our fitness goals or how we can improve our social circumstances and relationships with friends, family and partners – we’re just sat waiting for the moment when we feel like doing it, watching our favourite YouTube videos to put us in the mood to go to the gym or do whatever it is we know we should.
Person A feels like going to the gym so he goes. Person B doesn’t feel like going to the gym but goes anyway. Person C doesn’t feel like going so stays home. Who benefits most? The answer is obviously person B, because they not only benefit from the workout as person A did, but also from reinforcing the notion in their heads that what they feel like doing doesn’t have to impact what they actually do. After all, the important thing is taking action, not feeling like taking action. In fact, it’s good to feel unmotivated, because that’s your chance to get ahead. Everybody will practice the piano when they feel like practicing or do that extra bit of work when they’re fired up for it. That is ‘normal behaviour’. It’s completely within the realms of ordinary and acting this way will just about keep you on the ‘average’ playing field with all the other mediocre people. It is only doing things when you experience strong resistance to doing them that you begin to pull away from the pack. That’s when the competition begins to drop off as all the people at the whim of their immediate impulses fall behind.
I don’t believe we need to devote energy to manipulating ourselves into a state of wanting to do things, and I don’t believe that’s even possible a lot of the time. Rather, we should be able to recognise our lack of ‘motivation’ as a good thing; a chance to pull ahead, recognise our tendency to rationalise and forgive our own shit behaviour and make a positive association with feeling unmotivated, because every time we do feel this way and we overcome it, there’s a personal and a very real world victory to be had.

Deciding Whether to Bulk or Cut

 I’ve noticed that a lot of people have difficulty deciding whether to begin with a bulk or a cut when starting out at the gym (for those unfamiliar with these terms, that’s basically choosing between focusing on building muscle or losing fat). Although it is possible to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously to an extent, it’s certainly not the quickest and most efficient way for one to reach their goal physique. Hence, the decision must be made: to bulk or to cut?
Personally (also blatantly obviously), I think it depends on the goals of the individual. Half the reason people find it so difficult to decide is because they’re always being told by others “There’s no point in cutting bro’, you should focus on building a solid base first” or “You should be cutting, you don’t need to be any bigger” etc. The truth is, unless the people dishing out advice know exactly what the recipients’ long term goal is, when they’re hoping to achieve this by, and have a good knowledge of realistic timeframes for progression in terms of building muscle and losing fat, their opinions are invalid. Some might think it’s fine to exist at 15% body fat, whilst others would prefer never to exceed 10% and so it’s hard to get an unbiased opinion.

Before making a decision, you really have to accept two obvious but important things. The first is that if you’re going to bulk, you’re not going to get any leaner. The second is the reverse. If you’re going to cut, you won’t be building any more muscle. With that in mind, you should ask yourself two questions. Am I comfortable with gaining a little more fat? Am I comfortable with feeling a little smaller? The answer may well be no to both of those, in which case you just have to choose the lesser of two evils. Obviously, some people don’t have such a dilemma. It makes sense for extreme ectomorphs to begin with a bulk and extreme endormorphs to begin with a cut. It’s just the average Joe skinny-fat guy/girl who sometimes struggles.
My opinion (and it is just that) is that pretty much anybody carrying a bit of extra “flab” (even if it’s not obscene amounts) should begin with a cut. I say this for a few reasons. The first is that losing body fat is typically an easier and quicker process than building muscle in terms of lb for lb loss vs gain. I believe that progress is the single most powerful motivating factor for a lot of people, and so the quicker they can achieve this and notice it within themselves, the less likely they are to get disheartened and quit. Another advantage is that when one does finally begin a bulk, muscle gains will be a lot more evident if said person is relatively lean. Gauging progress in terms of muscular hypertrophy can be difficult for people with body fat percentages into the teens and above, and would require body fat measurements to be taken along side body weight to distinguish between muscle gain and fat gain. On the other hand, somebody who is lean can much more easily identify muscle gains, particularly if they have a good grasp of how to manage their caloric intake to minimize excess fat gain while bulking. On top of this, the simple fact is that a lot of people want to get in shape to be more attractive to the opposite sex… and guess what guys, girls like abs, even if the rest of you isn’t particularly muscular. Just look at Justin Bieber.

Why Physical Improvement Should Be The First Step Towards Overall Self-improvement

 I’d be pretty confident in saying that along with quitting smoking, getting in shape is one of the most common new year’s resolutions people make. I think part of the reason it’s such a common one is that very few people actually follow through with it, which means they end up making the same resolution every year. And when you think about it, it’s kind of understandable. Going to the gym is never a priority. Things like seeing friends and family or making money always have and always will take precedence. Having a beach body for the two week holiday they take once a year isn’t really up there in terms of importance for most people. After all, how many people are really going to see their body anyway? At least that’s probably how people rationalise it to themselves. In truth, I think people would be more likely to reach their fitness goals if they were to realise that in doing so they would gain so much more than just a six pack and/or some half-decent biceps.

I often see transformation pictures on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook of people who have gone from fat to fit or skinny to jacked. They’re almost always accompanied by the inspirational tale of that person’s struggle and many say things like “it’s the best thing I’ve ever done” or “I’m a completely different person now”and they don’t just mean physically. If you actually take the time to read them, they often talk of how their physical achievements have helped them progress as a person. In fact, it seems very few people lose 100lbs of fat without becoming a better person in the process.

In my opinion, this is why going to the gym or making some kind of physical goal should be pretty much first on the list for anybody who wants to make a drastic change, improve as a person overall and raise their aspirations for what they want to acheive in life. It may not be the easiest thing to do in terms of overall effort, but it certainly is the simplest model of effort in vs reward out, and thus teaches basic but valuable lessons that can then be applied to other areas of life. Getting fitter, losing weight or building muscle takes very little thinking beyond some basic research (at least until you reach an advanced level) and absolutely no skill or talent. It is literally as simple as hard work and seeing your own hard work pay dividends in the form of physical progress is such a rewarding experience it makes you want to replicate it in everything you do. But you don’t just learn about work ethic. Improving yourself physically is also a massive confidence booster. Even before any physical improvement occurs, many people are self-conscious in the gym and don’t like training around other people. Learning to overcome this and actually embrace situations in which you feel uncomfortable will stand you in good stead for life in general. So many people live closed, sheltered lives and fail to reach their potential because they avoid things they’re scared of every single day. Imagine if people actively sought out situations they felt uncomfortable in, so they could learn to be confident as a person rather than simply having situational confidence.

Aside from that you learn to motivate yourself to make right decisions. Sometimes taking a day off the gym is the right decision, but you will also feel like doing it a lot when it’s not. If you can identify the right decision consistently and come to terms with the fact that it doesn’t always coincide with what you feel like doing, the resulting pay off will be massive. If we all just did what we felt like doing all the time and didn’t make an effort to balance work with rest and play, pretty soon we’d be broke and unhealthy with very few noteable achievements. In being consistent with a gym programme or sticking to a diet, you can learn to overrule your emotions or inclinations continue with bad habits or satisfy short-term urges and actually do what’s most beneficial to you in the long run. We all feel like sitting eating chocolate and escaping into a film, watching people do exciting things and drawing some kind of positive feeling from that so we don’t have to do it ourselves, but in the end it will only be short-lived. Going against those immediate urges to do what’s easiest or most convenient is the key to getting shit done on a greater scale and achieving something you’re proud of.
So there’s work ethic, confidence, making positive choices and I’m sure there’s a plethora of other reasons why physical improvement gives rise to improvement in other areas, but I didn’t begin writing this intending on listing every single one. In fact, they probably differ from person to person, but the point is embarking on a quest for physical improvement has advantages far beyond the immediate fitness and aesthetic benefits, and that’s why everybody should do it.