Unmotivated at the Gym

Motivation lies at the heart of success, whether you are a student or a teacher. Excellence comes from our habits, yet we must be motivated enough to take that first step towards progress and to stay disciplined in our pursuit of perfection thereafter.

The problem is, motivation can be such a finicky thing!

Many will say that you don't need motivation, you simply need discipline and habitual action. "Keep a steadfast mind and you will be good to go for your entire martial arts career", or so we're told.


That...is actually kinda right.
But it's not the whole truth either.

It's true that discipline is extremely important and is a necessary component to our training, especially at the fundamental level (*cough* did somebody say "kihon"?). It's also true, however, that motivation allows a level of performance which can't be replicated if you are simply doing it because it is your habitual action.

Motivation allows your body to better accept what it must do, involving more of your being into a deeper level of your actions.

Motivation allows your mind to hold strong for a half-second longer, lasting when an apathetic mind would give up.

Motivation allows you to break your limitations like dry wooden boards and reach new levels with your daily training, accomplishing that which we set out to do as martial artists studying in pursuit of excellence.

See why this is important?
But believe it or not, all sources of motivation are not equal.

Whereas some sources of motivation lead to a healthy training career, others will suck the life from you and drain you mentally over time.

Read on to see what the problem sources are and how to conquer them, then get out there and start training hard!

​Problem #1: Awards/Outcomes

Did your parents ever bribe you to behave well? On the other end of the spectrum, did they punish you harshly if you behaved badly?

While that can encourage a certain type of preferred behaviour temporarily, there are caveats to it. Awards can become repetitious and punishments can be avoided by sneaking around (at least, nine-year-old me could hope).

In other words, extrinsic motivation—motivation that stems from acclaim, awards, or promised outcomes—only lasts so long.

There is a difference between doing it for applause and doing it for a cause however.

Athletes who train because of their love for the game carry a vastly different type of motivation than those who simply clamor for the next certificate or award. Motivation which is sourced from a love for the process is coined as intrinsic.

Imagine somebody who goes to work only for the paycheck and somebody who believes the work he is doing is part of his life mission; who do you believe is more likely to press the snooze button each morning?

Yep.

If you said it is Average Joe who is slumming his 9-5 for a few dollars each day, you're probably right. Passionate Paul might have the same job, however his perspective on the work he does helps reduce the mental fatigue and lack of motivation that his counterpart is prone to suffer.

Mind you, there is a whole spectrum of motivation classifications, ranging from the externally sourced to the internally originating ones.

Recognize what type of motivation you are fueling for yourself and/or your students.

If you have students under you who are being groomed to act like a black belt solely for the sake of wearing one someday, they will eventually reach an impasse where they must decide whether to look for another award (perhaps another rank advancement) or quit now that they have met their end goal. Then they will reach that impasse again, and again, and again. Ad infinitum.

Bear in mind, even the biggest trophy can fall apart and break. Reputations eventually fade into the annals of time.

Instead, remind them why they love what they are doing. If you can't remember the reason, a deeper problem might be at hand and a band-aid solution to cover it up isn't going to help at all. Everybody has various reasons for starting an activity and it isn't unusual for that to change over time. What mustn't get lost, however, is the reasons why you have kept doing it thus far.

Strive for intrinsic motivation and indulge in the experience you are taking part in. Enjoy the actions you take, not just the acclaim you earn.

Problem #2: Ambiguity

It's hard to accomplish what you don't even understand. Beyond that, it is hard to take the first step on a path you can't even find. A lack of clarity kills motivation before it can even begin.

Take a moment and fully understand the results you are looking for. Once you can properly envision and verbalize what a faster or more technically proficient version of you would look like, you can better reverse engineer the route to get there. Bear in mind that the path you walk is paved incrementally.

In other words: seek progress, not immediate perfection.

If you believe the ultimate result you desire is one which you can accomplish in only a couple hours worth of work, you either set a low-hanging fruit as your goal or are delusional. We often overestimate what we can do in a short amount of time and underestimate that which can be done over a long period.

This is especially true for martial art teachers guiding students.

The clearer a picture you can paint what you desire from your students, the easier it is for them to work towards it and stay motivated in progressing forward.

Clarity clears a path for you to walk on, now get to steppin'!

​Problem #3: Loathing

In everything that we do, we are crafting a narrative in our head.

Mind you, I'm not saying that we are slowly developing a separate personality in our brain (unless, maybe, you are starting to hear the ghost of Bruce Lee in your head).

When you get up and train on the days you feel like horse crap, you are unconsciously telling yourself you are disciplined. You do the hard things even when it hasn't been an easy day.

On the flipside, when you negotiate with yourself and craft excuses, you are unconsciously whispering to yourself that it is OK to cheat yourself and disregard your own health at times.

I don't know about you, but I would rather live as the type of person I would love; somebody honest even to themselves and disciplined regardless of consequences.

Here's the extension to that: even if you stay on track with your training, you may be crafting a narrative that is filled with self-doubt, loathe, and every other negative attribute that'll give you indigestion just thinking about it.

Meditate on why you want to work harder. There is a dramatic difference between going to the gym because you love your body and want to preserve good health versus going to workout because you despise how you are physically and wish to be somebody different, bigger, and stronger, and faster.

Base your motivation on self-love rather than self-loathe. Trust me, you'll feel better.

If you steer clear of these three problems and instead source healthy motivation in your life, you're going to feel unstoppable during training.

Why?

Because you are unstoppable. Now get out there and prove it!

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