Over the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many people who all share similar stories of fat loss failure. I kept notes on the most common mistakes, and problems they face when it came to reaching their goals.
One of the most common self-diagnoses I came across was “I just don’t have the motivation, so I can’t get myself to the gym or to eat better” or [insert another excuse].
And then I began to think about it… is this a problem with motivation, or actually doing the work?
Which Came First? Motivation Or Actually Doing The Damn Thing?
Motivation — ahh yes, the secret sauce to getting things done, and taking care of business. It’s easy to know when you feel motivated. You wake up refreshed, goals in mind, and ready to get to work.
When you’re motivated, you feel unstoppable, like success is a given, and you can’t wait to get on the tasks you feel so deeply motivated about.
This is especially true when you commit to a new fat loss plan.
You read an article, or see some photos of a friend who entered a transformation contest, or you read about a new diet and you just can’t wait to try it because it promises you’ll melt away the fat, and reveal that stunning six-pack sheltered underneath the winter cushioning.
You’re literally ready to go right then and there. ‘Put me on the road to Shredville’ is running through your mind and you want results, like, NOW.
If you’re anything like me and the rest of the folks in the world, being highly motivated on a daily basis rarely happens for extended periods of time.
It’s more like the opposite — most days you wake feeling overwhelmed, under-achieved, far-behind, or a bit of all of the above.
Motivation seems to last for a few days, at best it’s a splash of brilliance in the shower that you’ve forgotten by the time you’re drying off. Once you begin putting in the work, the motivation seems to be elsewhere. And then it disappears.
Because let’s face it: putting in the hard work, showing up at the gym three times per week, and choosing to skip the fast food lunches just ain’t that much fun.
When you’re aiming to lose as much fat as possible, it’s easy to get sucked into all the crutches like consuming your favorite foods while lying around on the couch watching the entire season of your favorite show in one sitting.
This is even easier when the going gets tough.
If you want to lose fat, there’s are a few key principles you must adhere to.
One of the most important is that you must consistently eat fewer calories than you burn. And you do this by changing what you eat for lunch everyday at the office. By making better breakfast choices. By being selective about what you do on the weekend to avoid temptations.
You’re being alert, focused and aware all day long.
Now on top of this, your body is adjusting to the drop in calories, making you feel the uphill battle mentally, and physically, as you push yourself into a new lifestyle.
On top of that, you’re also dealing with the side effects your workouts bring on: greater hunger, exhaustion, and the the effort required to lift the weight again and again.
None of that sounds like too much fun to me. And that’s because it’s not. The process of losing weight, or having a reflection you’re proud of all year round just isn’t exciting. I know this firsthand.
Personally, planning my meals for the week isn’t a highlight. It’s just a necessary evil of accomplishing my goals. At first, it seems to suck. But this boring task is worth it. It gives me an edge over my cravings and it keeps me on track.
To do this, I have to measure and track my macronutrient intake. This can be tedious when you first start doing it. But again, it’s worth it… and it becomes routine after a week or so.
This is all boring stuff. But the boring stuff gets results. And the truth is that most of the time, I’m not really that motivated to do much of this.
But it still gets done, regardless of how I feel.
And here’s why….
Movement Over Meditation:
Why It’s What You Do, Not How You Feel About It, That Matters
When you begin and motivation is high, getting to the gym is easy. You focus on tracking your training, and getting stronger.
You don’t only get the benefit from going to the gym, your meals are easier to manage and measure, too.
But when the motivation wanes, what was easy gets very tough — almost to the point of letting yourself slide, and shrug it off. And it feels like without the proper motivation, it will be impossible to get ANYTHING done.
But if you don’t master the art of controlling your actions through habits, you’ll quickly return to your old ways of doing things and your old body, that you’ve worked so hard to leave behind.
This creates a negative feedback loop.
You start high on motivation, give it your all for a few weeks, and then it gets hard. But instead of pushing through the pain, and monotony, you allow yourself some ‘freedom’ to go off your diet, and skip a training session here and there, all with the belief that you’ll regain your motivation within the week.
And all of the sudden, four weeks have gone by and you haven’t accomplished much. You still look the same. Strength hasn’t improved, and the scale hasn’t budged. And the motivation hasn’t come back.
But the truth is it’s not your lack of motivation to blame for this slip-up. It’s lack of action. Specifically, consistent action, backed by a plan. In other words, good habits.
When you attempt to thrive on motivation alone, you will crumble because motivation is fleeting. There is no structure to fall back on when you ‘don’t feel like it.’ It’s like the devouring of your favorite dessert… No bite will ever taste as good as the first.
And then what? No plan of action means no follow-through. Then you repeat the cycle.
This is the classic case of the bodybuilder getting ready for a competition. He/she knows their show is in 16 weeks, and in order to come in as lean and vascular as possible, it will require gut-busting work on a daily basis.
Some days will be fun, but many of them won’t. They’ll be routine, and mundane. Maybe even painful.
The reason they succeed is because they know their gratification will come once they see the finished product (their physique) on competition day. Stepping on stage with a six pack that resembles six filet mignon’s shrink-wrapped in plastic is where their focus lies.
How they feel on any given day is irrelevant because they know what must be done to accomplish the goal.
How Motivation Develops With Daily Focus
The more you do something, the better you get at it. The better you perform, the better you tend to feel about yourself.
If you’re consistently putting in the work at the gym, you’ll be rewarded, even if being under the bar is uncomfortable at times. When you make the effort to track your food intake, and hit your macros on a consistent basis, GOOD THINGS HAPPEN.
The more consistent you are, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more consistent you want to be.
This is the famous positive feedback loop we all want. This is the experiential process of action coming before motivation. If you waited to be motivated to do something, nothing would get done.
But if you act, in spite of not feeling motivated, results, and motivation to continue are sure to follow.
JC Deen is a fitness coach, and author of Stay Leaner, Longer. He’s been seen in Forbes, and has contributed to The Huffington Post, Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness. Check out his No-BS Approach to Looking Great Naked and/or harass him on Twitter or Facebook.