I’ve been lifting weights for over half my life, but it’s also a hobby that’s made me next to no money while costing thousands in man-hours. So while it would look all hardcore for me to put on my tightest T-shirt and sneer, “I do this shit because it’s hard!” the truth is that there are many times my own motivational fire needs a little stoking.
So how does a hard-training guy or girl like you stay motivated to hit the gym day after day, year after year? Look up your favorite fitness celebrities, and their posts may offer questionable and interesting advice that work for the short term, at best.
Truthfully, for motivational techniques to work, they must be both intrinsic (from within) and sustainable. You need concrete, no-nonsense ways to set you on the path toward a lifetime of hard, focused training.
So while having the gym staff call you Mr. Olympia may fire you right up for the upcoming leg workout, it probably loses its edge once the novelty wears off and they resume saying, “Hey, your membership is three months past due.”
1) BE GOAL-DRIVEN
“I want a big bench press” is a lousy goal.
“I want to bench press 315 pounds” is better, but “I want to bench press 315 pounds in 16 weeks” is best of all.
See, for a goal to be effective, it must be specific, and more important, have a deadline.
I regret not setting more goals early in my training career. Of course, I always had “aspirations”—a look I wanted to achieve, strength levels I wanted to reach—but they were too “loosey goosey,” and were seldom accompanied by a hard deadline. For example, “Get a big bench press” was in the back of my mind throughout high school. But because it was just a vague marker instead of a decisive goal, it took me forever to develop even a mediocre bench press.
Goals are important, but at the same time it’s crucial not to become goal-obsessed. You simply will not reach every goal you set for yourself. I don’t care how much of a machine you are; at some point, you’ll fall short. The trick is to not get too down on yourself when it happens.
Remember that every failure also presents an opportunity to learn. Dust yourself off, reassess, and start anew.
2) REVIEW YOUR GOALS WEEKLY, EVEN DAILY
Think of how many goals are made in a drunken haze every December 31. Now think how many of these goals are abandoned by mid-January.
I get it, life is busy. It’s easy to be distracted by the sheer force of immediate survival—work, family, paying the cable bill, domestic duty—so that our less pressing—yet-more impactful—goals get swept aside.
Time management guru Stephen Covey based a whole system around this, noting how we tend to focus on unimportant and urgent things (like email) while important yet non-urgent tasks (like goal-setting) fall by the wayside. The result is a life spent putting out fires without accomplishing anything meaningful.
Break the cycle: Make reviewing your goals a priority. Some experts say setting aside time once each week is sufficient. I say if you want something badly—such as a new strength achievement—you should review your goals daily.
Just spend five minutes every morning reminding yourself how important your goal is to you, and how you’ll eventually reach it, no matter what trivial challenges life might throw your way.
3) DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHANGE GYMS
Some gyms just suck.
Not just in available equipment; what most gyms lack is a winning atmosphere. I’d bet my last dollar that you’d set personal record after personal record if you actually found a place in which you felt comfortable, and where everyone seemed to “have your back.”
The latest, fanciest gym equipment don’t mean squat if your gym makes you feel like just “another member.” Quit paying them. Instead, go find a community that places your goals above your membership fee, where you feel “just right.” Call me old-school, but I like places that are full of chalk, bent barbells, and a noticeable lack of air freshener.
The kind of place where the third toilet from the end always has a “Do Not Use EVER” sign attached to it. These gyms are often full of strong, serious people who are also generous. That’s my kind of place. What’s yours?
4) MAKE IT BIGGER THAN YOU
On the surface, working out is shallow.
A fitness lifestyle seems all about you and your goals, not to mention the requisite social media updates and pre- and post-workout selfies. These all eventually ring a little hollow, especially if you start to see it as “four hours a week of time that I could be spending with my kids.”
Remove yourself from the equation and reframe your mindset. Change “I’m lifting for myself” to “I’m lifting to better provide for my family and live long enough to see my kids get married.” What a powerful difference this makes.
It still boils down to you busting your ass and making a commitment. For some, this subtle switch of perspective is all it takes.
5) GROW A SET
At a certain point, you need to find your own motivation. Certain mind games and articles like this one can help reset your focus and maybe offer a little perspective, but at the end of the day you have gotta want it.
If following a sensible diet and working out most days of the week is too much of a chore, then do something else. Do anything! Collect stamps. Carve ducks out of balsa wood. Become a beekeeper (bees are in decline, you know) or just spend more time whining on the Internet.
Here’s the deal: Like it or not, being able to improve the health, function, and aesthetics of your physique is one of life’s great privileges, and it’s something that many people only dream of doing.
There’s your motivation. Now don’t waste it.