Progression Motivation Cycle – Stay Motivated on a Fitness Plan


Motivation is your fuel. It’s what propels you towards your goals and aspirations at break neck speed. On the other hand, a lack of it could be the kiss of death towards those same hopes and dreams. I used to think I could always rely on will power and discipline to replenish my motivation but that never worked so well. There is simply no good substitute for motivation. You can’t fake it, or conjure it up through sheer will.

Trying to will yourself to have motivation can be like willing yourself to fall in love. It’s not exactly something you can just make happen through pure choice and effort. Sure you can force yourself to go through with a diet or hard workout but the real question is, do you really want to do it? Is the desire and fire within you making you hungry for the process?

Without any exception, all fitness success is only possible when a burning desire within the person to do the work that is necessary to succeed. Be it going for a run or ordering a salad, all choices are only possible when the hunger of motivation is driving the choices.

I used to believe that an exciting goal was the key to having motivation. While having a goal is important, you need more than a carrot at the end of a stick to keep going. You must have a desire for the actual journey that brings you to your goal as well as the goal itself.

I recently read a book that had some very interesting research on how the brain operates and its effects on our desire to do something. In one study, subjects were given a choice to make based on personal preference and desire. Examples included what kind of ice cream they would like or what color car they would drive. After each question, the areas of the brain that control emotion activated first. After they had their emotional response, the area of the brain responsible for logical thought fired off second.

The brain scans showed that the choices the subjects made were based upon emotional thoughts and feelings and logical thoughts came into play to accommodate those emotions. A good example of this is when we make an emotional purchase but then draw upon logical reasons to justify spending the money.

In the second part of the study, the researchers started asking questions that were highly logical. Things like would you invest in a stock that offered a 5 percent return or a 7% return? Even though the questions were very logical, the emotional area of the brain still activated first before the logical areas. This suggested that even the most logical choices we make in life still have an emotional foundation to them.

This is why scientific data and facts have limited influence upon our diet and exercise choices. We can learn about calories, muscle fiber recruitment patterns and hormones all we like. However, at the end of the day it’s our personal desires and emotions that are the driving force behind the choices we make.

motivation-exercise-1Therefore, motivation is very much about our emotions and personal desires. You can read food labels and study the facts behind your workout all you like. The information is good to know, but your motivation won’t come from a logical point of focus. You can’t sit down with motivation and give it a Power Point presentation on why it needs to increase. It only shows up when we have an emotional and passionate desire to do what must be done.

This is why motivation can be such a fleeting and variable thing. You can do the same workout for years. The facts and logic behind it will be the same time after time, yet your emotional state can vary greatly from one day to the next, thus so will your motivation.

It’s important to note that having your motivation guided by your emotions doesn’t make you weak or undisciplined. You’re not weak because you have an emotional desire to eat something or skip a workout. It’s simply part of being human and a normal healthy human at that.

The first thing to consider is that negative emotions drain motivation. It doesn’t matter if it’s anger, sadness, or frustration. Any negatively charged emotion you feel towards any diet or exercise choices will drain your motivation. The second important thing to consider is that while emotions can cause you to sabotage your healthy habits, they can also propel you to new heights.

This is largely why negative feelings towards diet, exercise or even ourselves can stop our progress in its tracks. Every time you speak, or even think negatively about yourself or your habits it’s like pulling the drain plug on your motivation. Beating yourself up in an attempt to pep talk yourself into sticking to a habit may give you a short-term boost, but it ultimately drains your long-term inner fuel.

This doesn’t mean you should walk around with a fake smile on or saying you don’t miss chocolate when you really do. Your emotions are buried deep within and are seated in some very primal areas of your brain. You can’t trick your emotions. Therefore you can’t trick your motivation. You can however shift your focus towards the positive aspects you enjoy. So instead of thinking of how tired you are while working out, you can focus on how strong you feel during the movement.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find a positive aspect to a diet or exercise habit. If that’s the case, then you are probably better off just dropping the habit for something else you have more desire and motivation for. Always remember, there are millions of options within our fitness culture. There is almost never a single diet or exercise habit you absolutely must adhere to. You can give up or “quit” anything and still find ways to reach your goals. You have lots of options and very few requirements.

The final lesson is that your emotions and motivation reacts very strongly to progress towards your goal. The more progress you make, the more motivation you will have. This is due to the simple, yet basic, instinct we all have that is always measuring the balance between the cost of our choices and rewards they bring. Both your conscious and subconscious are constantly weighing the efforts you are putting into something and the results you receive. If the results are positive enough, you’ll have an emotional drive to do almost anything to keep those results going. However, if the results are too low, even the easiest and least costly habits can still become impossible to motivate yourself for.

motivation-exercise-2Losing motivation to do something is usually not because of a lack of willpower or discipline. It’s simply a healthy reaction you’re having that’s essentially saying “HEY! It’s just not worth it.” A lack of motivation can actually be a healthy thing so it’s not something you should ignore or fight against. It’s your own mind and emotions telling you that your efforts are better off being directs towards other pursuits. However, if you’re getting enough bang for your buck then you’ll have an endless supply of motivation. This is due to the fact that progression and motivation can build up momentum in a continuous cycle.

The more progress you achieve, the more motivated you are. The more motivated you are the more fuel you have to make more progress and the cycle continues. Of course, the cycle can spiral downward as much as it can cycle upward. The less motivation you have, the less you’ll power yourself to improve thus you’ll have less progression followed by less motivation. This is why keeping some sort of workout journal or record is so important. Much of the time, we either don’t know what to do to progress, nor do we notice the progression when it happens.

If you did 8 pull-ups in your next workout would that be progression or not? If you did 7 the week before then it is progressive and you’ll gain some motivation. However, if you did 9 the week before then you at least know what you have to do to progress. Without documenting it in a fitness log, you’re just guessing. Are the 8 pull ups progression or regression? Is that enough to get stronger or not? Is the number of pull ups appropriate towards your goal or are you just spinning your wheels with busy work? Uncertainty like this can keep your mental cost and benefit ratio in constant flux. Without knowing for sure what to do in order to progress your progression is left to random chance and thus so is your motivation.

So to recap the key points of this article:

  • Motivation is the driving force you must have to accomplish any and all health and fitness goals.
  • You cannot just will yourself to be motivated through willpower or discipline.
  • Your emotions and feelings have a far stronger influence on your motivation than logical thought.
  • Your mind is constantly evaluating the balance between the costs and the benefits of every diet and exercise choice you make. You’re motivated to make choices where the costs are low and the benefits are high and vice versa.
  • Progression and achievement can help you build motivation and motivation will help power you through more progression.
  • Keep track of your progress to know if you’re making progress. If you’re not making progress then your records will help motivate you to do what will bring you progress.

Motivation isn’t complicated nor is it something mysterious or pseudo scientific. It’s a simple and healthy set of emotional reactions that can potentially tell you everything you need to know to reach your fitness goals.

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About Author

Matt Schifferle

My name is Matt Schifferle and I'm an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Level 1 coach, underground strength coach and I'm a 5th degree black belt in Taekwon-Do. I specialize in outdoor and playground based underground and CrossFit style bootcamps. See my profile page for more information!

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