You’re already motivated. You may not feel that way but I promise that this is a fact. It is the only real reason you’re reading this.
You want to feel stronger, more physically capable, and generally just at home in your own body. You don’t need to be convinced or sold. This is fundamental human stuff.
Likewise, you don’t want pain or a lack of confidence to stop you from getting the most out of life. No marketing campaign or lobbying required.
The only real question is what’s standing in your way right now. Something is. But that something isn’t motivation.
“If motivation isn’t the issue, what is?”
Demotivation is what messes with you. This is not just semantics either. To clarify why, I’m going to use the word demotivation interchangeably with friction. Your goals and desires point you in the direction you want to travel. Friction is what makes it harder to get there.
When you’re in zero gravity environment, you don’t need much effort to move forward in a straight line. You just push off. Your only real responsibility is to aim carefully; precisely because there is no resistance!
If only we could have that same zero-G experience when it came to our own health and wellness. Certain structures would make that easier. Living on a mountainside, for example. You’d build your own house, grow your own food, and wrestle grizzlies. This lifestyle would have you in incredible shape—no gym required. But as an actual, real-life human living in the big city, you have to become an expert at dealing with friction points.
Eliminating friction points all starts with noticing where they exist in the first place. Here are some of the most common challenges:
Friction Point: Not feeling ready
The Real Issue: Not knowing how to shrink the change
Tell me if this one sounds familiar: you decide that you’ve had enough with bad eating and that it’s time to make a change. So, you start a cleanse or intensive nutrition challenge. Things are hard—really hard—but you stick with them. You make legitimate progress, see the difference, and even enjoy it briefly before…Going right back to Square 1.
If we look at this experience in retrospect, we can see that there’s just too big a gap between your cruising speed—the kind of daily habits you can comfortably maintain—and the challenge itself. They’re on two different islands and nobody has built a bridge. That’s why your habits—before and after the challenge—look pretty much the same. That’s because your body isn’t built on suffering or restriction. It’s built on habits.
You shouldn’t need discipline for everyday habits. You don’t need to get psyched up to brush your teeth or wash your face. Nutrition should work the same way. One small change—like eating veggies with every meal—will not transform your body. That’s simply asking too much from your broccoli. But stacking one small change on top of another is exactly how big things get done. The trick is finding the right level of challenge and then balancing it with the level of change you need to maintain motivation.
The better you get at choosing the right level of change, the more you’ll be (and feel) successful.
Friction Point: Not feeling disciplined enough
The Real Issue: Not having the right systems in place
Let me tell you the story of Andy and Mandy, twins who have nearly everything in common—including a serious sweet tooth.
Andy works in an open-concept office. Several of his coworkers like to bake and bring treats to work. Andy tries not to indulge too much but sometimes feels like his willpower is insufficient. He frequently caves and winds up with more chocolatey frosting in his bloodstream than he would like. Once a week, after work, Andy will head down to Costco and stock up on groceries and supplies. He doesn’t set out to buy junk food but will sometimes find a bargain that is too good to pass up. The plan is to be moderate about snacking on junk food at home but—once again, he often feels like willpower is his problem. He wants to work on this issue but—if we’re being honest—is pretty fuzzy about just how to do that.
Mandy used to work from home and had the same issue with junk food. That was until she changed her shopping habits. While Mandy had no self-imposed restrictions about what she would eat, she only kept nutritious food at home. If she had a strong craving, she would walk or bike to the ice cream parlour a few blocks away. No restriction, just the addition of a friction point (these can work to your advantage as well).
Mandy recently took a job back in an office environment that is very similar to her brother’s. She knew that she would be facing a lot of temptation, so she made a new rule for herself: no snacking. Mandy politely shared that personal rule with any coworker who offered her treats during the day. She was friendly and charming about the way she explained it and—because nobody personally felt judged—her colleagues respected and supported her decision. Some even adopted the same habit.
This is a made-up example but you can see here how Mandy doesn’t rely on willpower for her day-to-day functioning. Instead of constantly having to manage temptation, she lets her systems do the heavy lifting. The result is a massive long-term difference in progress when compared to her brother.
Friction Point: Fear
The Real Issue: Associating pain or misery with the path you have to take
Movies and television shows have done fitness a tremendous disservice. Now, many people are convinced that exercise has to be synonymous with suffering. For those with tons of stress in their lives, this turns the whole idea of consistently working out into an insurmountable obstacle.
Exercise is not a punishment. It’s not absolution for your caloric sins. It’s a chance to tune into your own body and make sure that your internal ecosystem is tip-top. Exercise—all by itself—is a privilege. Exercise can also be fun.
Please reread that last sentence as many times as necessary.
Friction Point: Internal resistance
The Real Issue: Having an identity that conflicts with the path you need to take
Yoda said, “There is no try, only do.” Habit expert James Clear fleshed that out with a nice little continuum of change. It goes from being someone who tries something to someone who regularly does something to someone who is something. Here’s an example:
Person A: I’m trying to quit smoking
Person B: I’m quitting smoking
Person C: I’m a non-smoker
Similar but definitely not the same. My money is on Person C to stay smoke-free.
I like to tell the story of one of our members, Adam. On his very first visit, he told me, “I’m not a gym person.” I didn’t fight him on it, I just helped this “non-gym person” structure some workouts. No great magic happened here beyond his utter consistency. As the weeks and months stacked up, so did his progress. At what moment did things change? There was no clear demarcation point.
It wasn’t until Adam was back home for the holidays that he noticed that something had shifted. Some friends were discussing exercise when one of them turned to him and said, “Hey Adam, you’re a fit guy—what do you think of this?” Enough had changed for others to recognize Adam as a gym guy—even if he hadn’t yet. That’s how results work, though: they are the cumulative effect of your habits, not your intentions.
Symptom: Terrible gym experiences
The Real Issue: Not getting support
Whoo boy. This is a heavy one. This is why many people don’t think of themselves as gym people. Nobody wants to walk into a place where they feel judged or made to feel less-than.
How do you get over that barrier? You get support. You get a workout buddy. You hire an expert. You find a place that is welcoming. From there, you put your head down and do the work. Remember though, if the person who is constantly judging you is also you, there is no respite. Be gentle with yourself and make room to build an imperfect practice of some kind.
Finally, if showing up, working hard, and being nice isn’t enough for you to be a valuable member of a community, you’re in the wrong damn community. Moonwalk (or Moon Door) right out of there immediately and go find your tribe!
Friction Point: Lack of consistency
The Real Issue: Choosing the wrong goals
This friction point is one of the main reasons that people come to believe that they lack discipline or willpower. It relates very strongly back to the idea of shrinking the change. In other words, don’t take on too much too soon.
Researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky coined the term “planning fallacy” to describe the tendency to underestimate the time required to complete a future task. This idea definitely fits here. Have you ever chosen the wrong goal by underestimating what is really required for success? I’m pretty sure that we all have.
There’s another piece to this, though, and it goes beyond strategy. You ultimately have to ask who you’re doing this for. Did you choose your goals because they resonate deeply with your values? Is this genuinely enjoyable for you? If at the heart of things you’re trying to please someone else or meet some kind of external ideal, your relationship with fitness is going to be transactional. The second it stops delivering, you’re going to lose momentum pretty fast. So, keep digging until you find a big enough why.