Motivation vs. Dedication

I started working with a personal trainer about five weeks ago. I’m following a program someone else designed for me for the first time ever. Being a trainer myself, I wasn’t sure it was “okay” to hire one. It felt a little embarrassing admitting that I needed the help of a colleague. My trainer explained that trainers make up the bulk of his clientele, and we all have blind spots as far as our weaknesses, and I agreed. So, putting my fragile, needy ego aside, and realizing it was a splendid thing to do, I dove right in.

The first week went gangbusters. I completed every session within the week’s time frame and I even went jogging on my “active recovery days.” I was so motivated to be a badass, get stronger than ever and garner the praise of my trainer, family, friends and strangers on the street. I was on fire.

Then week two arrived and I was like, Are we still doing this? Isn’t it over? I got a blister. I got spent, couldn’t complete a circuit and felt like a failure. The wind beneath my wings turned to sleet, and it weighed me down. My motivation proved to be a fickle muse, who totally abandoned me. She was all, See ya! (Really inconsiderate! Only thinking of herself.)

But I still had five more weeks, bought and paid for.

Soon I noticed that before each workout, I would start battling with myself. I rationalized all the reasons not to get the workout done. I’d read aloud the day’s session and practically get into a shouting match with it. “I’m way too old for this shit. Who does he think I am, a 20-year-old college student?” I’d complain to him in vague, roundabout ways, hoping he’d get my gist and back off a little with the copious and devilish circuits. Every time, he’d come back with the most rational, logical reasons to stick with the workout as written, and I’d fume with impotent indignation.

As if that weren’t enough, I’d think about how I wasting my money, didn’t need this sadistic program, and didn’t even want to compete anyway—part of the program is designed to help me beat my previous scores at the biannual Tactical Strength Challenge.

Then I talked myself into it. I’d say to my panicking self, “Just do the warm-up. Do it as a science experiment. There’s a reason you chose this path. You don’t have to love it. Hell, you don’t have to even like it. But you have to give it your best shot. You’ll have that awesome sense of accomplishment when it’s over. You’ll beat yourself senseless if you don’t do it. You’re learning so much. You’re getting so strong.” On and on

And so I’d begin. Little by little, I’d chip away at the day’s prescribed session, until I was panting and sweating and generally dancing around in the mirror, lip-syncing to Kanye West.

For all of us, training under someone else’s tutelage means performing exercises that we might not do on our own, because they are difficult, exhaust us, or otherwise demonstrate in very humbling ways, how far we still have to go to get where we want to be. It can be infuriating. It’s possible that our egos get way more beat up than our muscles ever do.

When motivation flew the coop, leaving fear in its wake, all I had left was dedication. I was able to look at the long game, to get over myself regarding my inexhaustible internal excuse machine, and just buckle down and get the day’s work done. Maybe in the end, if I were being completely honest, I might even admit that I liked it. A little.

If you can relate to any of this, know that you are not alone. Motivation alone cannot be relied upon to see you through the years—yes, YEARS—it takes to transform your body in ways you might not be able to imagine.

Typically, motivation arrives on New Year’s Day, shiny and bright and full of promise. And there are other times we find ourselves jazzed to work out—after watching a Crossfit YouTube video, after seeing a fitness or fashion model in a magazine, after running into a friend who’s just lost a ton of weight, or maybe after seeing a hot piece of deliciousness jog past on a sunny afternoon. All of these motivation flames can get us to start, but they will fizzle out, usually within a few months, leaving us in the position of realizing that cutting calories and training hard can be a very shitty, uncomfortable state to exist in. After that, it’s a demoralizing little backslide to where we started, with nothing to show for our initial efforts. There. I just made myself cry.

My advice: admit it. Admit that it’s hard, that sometimes it sucks. Say it out loud. You done? Good. You’re in a better place now.

Remind yourself that it’s freaking worth it—being lean and strong—for life. Being able to do more push-ups than ever before, or bang out your first unassisted pull-up, or deadlift double your bodyweight if you’re into that sort of thing, or run three miles because suddenly you’re fit enough to do it with a little spring in your step. For me, it means all those things, plus getting through a gruesome kettlebell complex, which as my trainer says, can amount to a religious experience. Praise be!

And note—I still fight his program every step of the way, inside and outside my head, but in the end I do the work, because I love the results—and the endorphin rush, the sense of accomplishment, the muscle definition. Also—the practiced skill and self-control to say “no” to dessert most nights. The decreased depression and anxiety. The increased confidence and resilience. And the camaraderie I’ve built with fitness-minded friends and clients. And the… And the… The list goes on.

I hope this quasi-confession helps you realize that you don’t need motivation to stick with your health and fitness plan. Don’t look at just today’s workout, or how you think you should look three weeks in. Look at you in a year. In five years. What do you want to see? Now go train hard and write your own list of reasons to dedicate yourself to a healthy, badass lifestyle. Got it? Good!