Where Does Motivation Come From

Where Does Motivation Come From

Dec 13, 2015

Heard a pretty cool story this week that I wanted to share with those of you struggling to get results as well as a few of my own words of wisdom:

“You gotta’ get motivated! You just gotta’ get motivated!” Becky said loudly to her close friend, Julie.

She wasn’t trying to criticize her, but help her. Becky could tell that Julie’s lack-luster approach to weight loss just wasn’t cutting it. Half the time she’d be complaining about her weight, and the other half she’d be complaining about the exercise. She just didn’t seem to be able to get fully committed to her diet and exercise program—she wasn’t motivated!

Becky was smart enough to realize that Julie’s lack of motivation was hindering her progress. Becky also recognized that it was only “motivated” people who really seem to be able to muster up the “stuff” it take to get the “job” done. By telling Julie to get motivated, Becky was only trying to help. However, telling her friend to “get motivated” is a lot like telling someone that’s been sick for a long time to, “Just get well; you just gotta’ get well.”


It’s akin to telling a homeless person that the solution to their problem is they “just gotta’ get rich!”

Of course the homeless guy needs to make more money!

Of course the sick person needs to get well!


Of course Becky needs to get motivated!

But these only describe the end result, not the “HOW?”

HOW is Becky going to get motivated to lose weight?

That is what Becky needs to know…it’s what many of you need to know!


That’s what I’d like to talk about today. To begin with, let’s see if we can take a closer look at where motivation comes from—especially when it come to getting healthy:

Many of us know someone (maybe even yourself) who was motivated in the past to lose weight. You can tell when someone is motivated because they take on this razor sharp focus and they seldom stray from their objective. When tempted by some food or negative social behavior, they often site their objective as the motivation behind why they must pass:

  • “No thanks, I’m training for a triathlon.”
  • “Oh, I’d better not…I’ve got my daughter’s wedding coming up and I need to fit in that dress.”
  • “I’ll pass. I’ve got a big competition in one month that I’m training for.”
  • “Sorry fellas, no beer for me tonight. I’ve got to lose ten pounds before we go on our cruise-ship vacation.”

So motivation is definitely connected (at least in part) to “setting our sights on some foreseen future benefit or reward.

I can’t tell you how many times I have witnessed someone who has this AWESOME INTENSITY and FOCUS when they start Bota camp. They can always point to some FUTURE “event” or “goal” they are zeroed-in on. These hyper-focused individuals have a passion and drive in their workouts that I wish everyone could have.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that motivated people always come into the studio excited to get on the scale and weigh in. They KNOW that their weight is going to go down because they’ve been putting in what is required: They’re weighing and measuring their food; they’re doing extra activity outside of class; and they are “bringing-it” when they are in class. They’re confident when they step on the scale and even if the scale is not down today, they don’t sweat it—it will be down tomorrow.

On the other hand, those individuals that step onto the scale hesitantly, or even kind of begrudgingly, know before they even step-on that their weight will be a gamble today...more than likely, it will be up. Deep-down inside, they know that “something” is just missing. They know they haven’t been fully committed. They blame their lack of commitment on their inability to “get motivated.” Unfortunately, these individuals are often the same people who complain about why things aren’t working and make excuses about why their weight is up. But they already know what the issue is—they’re not measuring…they’re not doing extra activity outside of class…and more importantly—they don’tFEEL like doing it. This is especially the case with individuals who were motivated once before, but are no more. They appear almost like drug addicts that have had their drugs taken away—they were high before, but now all they feel is LOW!

Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this all too often. I see someone who is all excited about some big upcoming event such as a race, wedding, or big vacation. They work so hard, and give ALL they’ve got up until the day of the big event. A month or two after their deadline, I often run into them and cannot believe the transformation. They look like all of the life and energy have been sucked right out of them. The wave they were surfing has finally died out and they come crashing into the shallows depths of despair. Their “event” has passed—and so has all their motivation!!

I like what Zig Ziglar (motivational speaker) has to say about this:

Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; that’s why I recommend it daily.”

Zig Ziglar, Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World

It’s important to understand that motivation is something we have to immerse ourselves in on a regular basis. What this implies, is that some kinds of motivation need to be INTENTIONAL and ONGOING.

This is to be contrasted with what I call: “ACCIDENTAL MOTIVATION” or “HAPPENSTANCE MOTIVATION.” This kind of motivation can work in the short-term, but it often runs out quickly—when the threat or circumstances are over. Let me explain.

Many kinds of motivation in our lives arise as the result of circumstances around us that are somewhat out of our control. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying that we don’t have some measure of responsibility or control in much of this, but sometimes we must deal with the cards we’ve been dealt. And the cards are not always dealt “fairly.”

  • For example, an irresponsible and young teenage girl finds out she’s pregnant (no accident there) and all of a sudden she discovers this newfound motivation to cleanup her act and become more responsible. She gets a job, quits smoking and drinking, and stops hanging out with the “crew” she used to. She has “set her sights” on a future event to take place and she is focused and determined…and even excited.

This kind of motivation was not something intentional that she planned; it sort of just happened as a result of a potentially destructive choice she had made earlier.

  • A similar scenario takes place with a smoker that’s told by his doctor that he has lung cancer. Does he now have a motivation to quit?
  • If a man is told by his doctor that he has heart disease, does he have a new-found motivation to eat better and exercise? Maybe. Sometimes motivation is thrust upon a person.
  • Imagine a Father who has a fear of water. His young son falls into a river. Does he have a new-found motivation to swim?

Many times the motivation in our lives kind of happens to us without us planning for it at all. Psychologists and sociologists often refer to these kinds of motivations as “triggers”. The National Weight Control Registry reports that many of its participants reported “medical triggers” as a significant motivation to lose weight and get healthy.

Not all motivation comes from joyous occasions and events. Fear can be one of the most powerful motivators there is. John Bear, in his book The Black Mail Diet: Lose Weight or Else talks quite a bit about this concept. In fact, he argues that setting up unavoidable and unpleasant consequences for failing to reach your desired weight can be more effective than rewards. This could mean that you contractually promise to give some sum of money to a group or person of your choice, give away some kind of treasured possession, or even committing some kind of socially embarrassing act if you fail to reach your goal. The important thing is that whatever you choose, it must be something you wish to avoid, and that it is something you cannot renege on.

To summarize, it seems that motivation can come from two places:

  1. A desire to move TOWARDS something you DESIRE. Or…
  2. Move AWAY from something you find UNDESIRABLE or unpleasant. In either case, we are still motivated to change. Some motivational gurus, such as Tony Robbins, argue that most people work well in only one of these modalities at a time. If you find that working towards improving your health and obtaining a more attractive body does not motivate you, you may be more motivated by having to move away from planned, intentional, unpleasant consequences.

In my own personal observation over the years, I have found at least 7 drive-centers of motivationthat people thrive in. I truly believe that it is crucial to identify what REALLY drives (motivates) you and YOU SPECIFICALLY and makes you different from those around you. The fact of the matter is that WE ARE NOT ALL DRIVEN AND MOTIVATED BY THE SAME THINGS. Furthermore WE DON’T NEED TO BE! Nothing irks me more than someone trying to convince me that I need to be motivated in some other area of my life that I’m not passionate about! Why should I try to motivate myself to run a 5k if I have no desire to run a 5k?! Running a 5k may be important to a performance-based individual, but it may never cross the mind of a recreationally-based individual. On the other hand, they may both enjoy running a 5k, but for entirely different reasons! The performance-based individual may really have a desire to finish the race under a certain record time. The recreationally-based individual, however, may really just be looking forward to the social interaction he/she will experience during and after the race. They could care less if they finish in 17 minutes or 45. Maybe someday the recreationally-based individual will shift towards a more performance-based mentality. However, we need to be driven where our passion is RIGHT NOW, not where it will be SOME DAY!

By identifying your personal areas of motivation, you not only narrow down your focus and become better equipped to set motivational goals, you also develop an improved sensitivity to others who may have desires and drives that are different from your own. Just because you are motivated in one area, does not mean everyone else has to be. You also increase your awareness of how an “OVERFOCUS” in one area of motivation can cause the neglect or even abuse of another area. For example, a body-builder whose top motivational centers derive from aesthetics and performance-based areas can often neglect or abuse the health and longevity centers by using anabolic steroids, eating a diet overly high in protein, etc.

See if you can see which area or areas of motivation most apply to you. You really have to be honest at this point and do some soul searching. Many of us would like to think that our number one motivation for exercising is just for our health, but our aesthetics (how we look) may actually be more important to us if we are totally honest about it. One fun way to do this is to simply rate them from most important down to least important.

Where Does Your Motivation Come From?

1. Aesthetic-Based Motivation: These individuals are concerned with appearance first. They want to be lean, good looking, sexy, attractive, and maybe even have six-pack abs.

i.e. “I want to look sexy in my new dress.”

2. Performance-Based Motivation: These people are all about what they can do!

i.e. “I want to be able to bench press 300 pounds!” OR “Run a 5K in….”

3. Socially-Based Motivation: These individuals just love to be around others.
i.e. “I love being around people who inspire me.”

4. Recreationally-Based Motivation: I just want to have fun.
i.e. “Exercise is fun! I’m bored if I don’t do it.”

5. Mentally, Emotionally, Spiritually-based Motivation: My mind and soul come first.
i.e. “I feel sane…connected…more certain when I am eating healthy and exercising regularly.”

6. Health and Longevity-Based Motivation: Who cares how much I can bench if I die when I’m 45?!
i.e. “It’s often not much fun, but I know it makes me healthier and may improve my life-span.”

7. Fear-Based Motivation: I’m Afraid.
i.e. “My doctor told me that if I don’t, I’m going to have a heart attack and DIE!”

Once you’ve identified which motivational areas are of utmost importance, you’ll want to go ahead and begin to apply the following strategies SPECIFICALLY to those categories. For example, if you identified “Aesthetics-based Motivation” and “Health and Longevity-based Motivation” as your TOP TWO areas, you’ll want to apply as many of the following strategies to those areas as possible.

Strategy #1: EDUCATION. Begin to educate yourself in this area on a regular basis. Read books, watch movies, go to conferences, talk to educated people, read articles, listen to podcasts, etc., etc. The more you surround yourself with education in this area, the more AWARENESS you will obtain and the more motivated you will feel.

Strategy #2: GOALS. Set yourself a personal goal in at least ONE of your top motivational areas. For example, if you are a Performance-based person, you need a performance-based goal to focus on! Enter in a 5k race. Sign up for a bodybuilding or fitness competition. Try your first marathon or triathlon. Understand that once you’ve reached your goal you may experience a let down, you need to plan ahead and already have your sights fixed on your next obstacle to demolish.

Strategy #3: SOCIAL SUPPORT. Surround yourself with people who have similar goals and motivations. If you are a performance-based person, you thrive around other performance-based individuals. Find a friend who will give you some healthy competition. Set specific and timely challenges with rewards and consequences that you can both agree to. If you surround yourself with lazy people, it is easy to become lazy yourself.

Strategy #4: INSPIRATION. You need to find a guru, role model, or person/s you can look up to for inspiration. Don’t let these people become idols or objects of worship (only God should fit that role), but people you can glean from and be inspired by. Follow their advice because they’ve been there and done it.

Strategy #5: CONSEQUENCES. If you recognize that there are areas of your life that your drive-centers are located in, it only makes sense that these are areas you are passionate about. This means that these are the areas you DO NOT want to lose. This makes them the perfect area to apply consequences towards. For example, if you are an aesthetically-based individual, you obviously care about your appearance. Set yourself a contractually-based consequence that would directly affect your appearance if you do not meet your goal. For example, if you do not lose 10 pounds in 1 month you have to do a workout on Main Street in a pink tutu. Maybe you would have to shave your head and donate your hair. A performance-based person would set a consequence that would limit their performance in some area. For example, they may make a commitment to enter a race and finish dead last if they do not meet their goal. No matter how slow the person in front of them is, they need to finish last. This is humiliating and extremely difficult for a performance-based individual.

Strategy #6: REWARDS. Rewards work too! The Aesthetic-based individual can not only promise to shave their head if they fail, they can also promise to reward themselves with a trip to the spa if they succeed. A performance-based person can promise themselves a brand new pair of sneakers.

Strategy#7: BLOGGING. Social accountability does wonders! Tell as many people as you can about your goal—blog it! Now the pressure is on!

Strategy #8: BOTA CAMP. Sometimes we just need to show up and do it!! It’s hard doing it on your own, so let others help you.

Working alongside others is extremely inspiring and motivating.

Strategy #9: MAKE IT FUN. Exercise and eating should not be all torture and pain. Make it fun. Find as many physical activities that you can squeeze in that are especially related to your drive-centers as possible. For example, if you are driven by spiritually-based centers, find out what church socials and functions are physically active and volunteer. It could be raking a neighbor’s yard, mowing the church lawn, or just helping a little old lady carry her groceries across the street.


If you cannot get motivated, pay someone else to motivate you until you can do it on your own!

NOW GO OUT AND DO IT!You cannot till the soil by turning it over in your head…Eventually you must put your hand to the plough!”