It doesn't matter if you want to get the body of an Olympian, to fit into your high school clothes or just want to keep up with the youngsters around the house: the key to achieving your fitness goals is your workout motivation. Your fitness is nothing more than a reflection of your mind. In the words of the illustrious Arnold Schwarzenegger:
“The mind is a dynamo, a source of vital energy. That energy can be negative and work against you, or you can harness it to give yourself unbelievable workouts and build a physique that lives up to your wildest expectations.” The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding at 229
It's not enough to simply have a one-line saying in your mind like “no pain, no gain”. These quick and easy buzzwords just wont convince you to exercise with any consistency or give you the results you deserve. You need to unlock that inner drive to provide you with the unstoppable power to motivate you to workout to a level you've never imagined possible.
Drawing on the secrets of world-champion bodybuilders, business gurus and zen masters, this article will give you a proven and effective strategy to get yourself motivated to workout and meet your fitness goals.
Workout Motivation Technique 1: Have an Exact Goal
The most important part of achieving your workout goals, is defining them. Legendary business and self-help guru Stephen R. Covey refers to this as “beginning with the end in mind”. You must create a clear understanding, an unshakable picture in your own mind, of exactly what you wish to become or what you wish to do.
You can't simply have a vague idea that you would perhaps like to lose some weight, or gain a bit of muscle. These goals are too easy to ignore, and will not motivate you to hit the gym, trails or your bike. Our friend Arnold's also gives this same advice to new bodybuilders:
“It's not enough to just want to 'get big'...You have to have a picture in your mind of the kind of physique you need to build in order to achieve your goals.” Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding at 203.
Vague, unspecific ideas are too easy to ignore. Make your goal as specific and concrete as possible.Do you want to be able to play with your children as long as they would like? Do you want the body of a mixed-martial artist or NFL wide receiver? Do you want to have even fitness models look at you with a twinge of envy?
If you know precisely what you want, you're not exercising. Your motivation is no longer to just lift weights, run, bike or swim. Instead, your workout motivation is replaced by the much more powerful feeling of achieving a dream.
Workout Motivation Technique 2: Plan, Plan, Plan
One of the biggest reasons people are unmotivated to workout is they don't have a plan. Motivation is strongly linked to a feeling of accomplishment and success. Avoid at all costs the feeling you're spinning your wheels! By planning out your workouts in detail, as part of a unified strategy, you can increase your exercise motivation with the absolute knowledge that if you stick with your plan, you absolutely will achieve your goal.
The key to workout motivation is periodization. This is a strategy that goes back at leat 50 years to a Hungarian-Canadian scientist named Hans Selye, and is based on the concept of macro, meso and micro goals.
Simply put, you first set your long term or macrogoal: where do you want to be in a year, six or three months? Make it specific: do you want to have six-pack abs and ten more pounds of muscle? Do you want to have dropped three pants sizes?
Next, set a mesogoal: what are the achievements you will have to reach in a shorter period of time, perhaps at the end of each month, to get there. Will you need to have stuck to a specific diet for the whole month? Do you need to increase your weightlifting by a certain percentage on each lift? Will you need to run or walk a certain amount of distance by the end of each month? Make sure that these mesogoals, when added up, will lead you to your macrogoals.
Finally, only then set your microgoals: your daily or weekly workouts. Make sure you do the research and figure out exactly what you need to do, day-by-day and week-by-week, to get to your meso goals.
Once you have a strong plan, you will be highly motivated to work out: you can know, with absolute certainty that this will work. All you have to do is show up and stay on track, and that wonderful goal you have set for yourself will happen. You can ignore the noise, the doubts and the odd missed workout and get your workout motivation form recognizing that if you stick with your plan, you are certain to achieve your goals.
Workout Motivation Technique 3: Visualization
Once you have an idea of what you want to become, you need to start to make that a reality in your mind. By visualizing yourself as having reached your goal, you can unlock a powerful workout motivation that stretches back to the dawn of zen and other philosophies.
Imagine yourself – not some other person or a third person viewpoint, but a very clear picture seen through your own eyes – after achieving your fitness goals. Explore and revel in your mind how good it feels to have succeeded. Picture your results in as much detail as possible. Think about the smell of the ocean, and how beautiful the sun feels on your arms as you walk along the beach, in the body of your dreams. See the smiles and hear the laughs of your children as you run and pick them up in the park, in an endless game of play. Feel the cold drink in your hand and the appreciative looks of strangers as you stand on the local patio, on a night on the town with your impressed friends.
By consistently visualizing your goal, you accomplish three key things for your workout motivation.
First: you convince yourself this is possible. You will destroy the self-doubt that manifests as a lack of workout motivation.
Second: you incorporate your goal into your life. Your end-results become not an option, but a part of your identity. You will be replacing a “maybe”, or “would be nice” approach to workout motivation with a “must”, “need” and “I will” mindset, and keep yourself geared-up to exercise long after any initial burst of excitement has gone.
Third: you replace workout motivation with goal motivation. Before each and every workout, you will not have to convince yourself to do the actual activity. Instead, you can work to feel how good achieving your goal will be and use that as a powerful, deeper motivation to get out there and excel at your workout.
Remember: visualization is not fantasy. This exercise is only a powerful workout motivator when combined with a clear goal and a powerful plan. By enacting the first two steps, you can unlock the power of visualization to motivate yourself to exercise like never before.
Workout Motivation Technique 4: Metrics
Once you have a goal, a plan and a vision, you have unlocked a powerful source of workout motivation. Still, life can be tough, and can throw you off track in a variety of ways. Even worse, you can lie to yourself about your workouts and fitness training. And self-deception is the ultimate destroyer of workout motivation.
To stay honest and motivated to workout, you must use one of the most famous motivational concepts of all time: metrics. In short, you need to measure everything you do as part of your fitness, and keep a written record of all of your measurements.
The idea that what you measure is what you get done goes back further than management guru Tom Peters, in fact, some attribute the idea to the great Victorian-era British scientist Lord Kelvin, and some even to the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes.
To increase your workout motivation, you need to keep as detailed a record as possible of what you've done and how you did it. Ask yourself: how did I feel after the first five, ten and twenty minutes of the run? Exactly how many push-ups did I do, and should I do more or less next time? Did I feel more or less comfortable in my swimming than last time, and was I faster or slower?
By keeping a record, you can see your improvements. You can also keep yourself honest, and realize that if you met a goal in the last workout, you can almost certainly beat or exceed that level in your next workout. You also have a written proof that you are achieving your short- and long-term goals, and can harness this as a powerful motivational tool to help drive your workouts to new heights.
Workout Motivation Summary: You Have What it Takes
The success or failure of your workouts is nothing more than a reflection of your motivation. The power of having a clear goal and a detailed plan will allow you to unlock the ancient art of visualization as an honest and powerful workout motivation tool. You can then use the legendary technique of metrics to keep your desire to exercise at a high level, and achieve your goals.
Everything you need to succeed is within you right now. Set your goal, make your plan, visualize your success and track your results. If you follow these key steps, you will be motivated to workout with all of the power that the modern and ancient world can provide.
Once you do have a strong goal, plan and visual, feel free to check out my other article on motivational workout quotes from famous masters of sports, arts and science.