Low Motivation!

In my last post, I discussed how many of us have low tolerance to many things that are hard, difficult, or painful. In this piece, I want to discuss how motivation won’t help you do things that are hard, difficult, or painful, and it doesn’t matter how motivated you think you are, I know you are a work-shy, bone idol, lazy loafer.

Now before you go ranting in the comments section let me explain why all of you are inherently lazy. Its because all humans are lazy, even the most devoted, dedicated, ardent SOB deep down is a lethargic lay about because evolution has taught us that conserving energy whenever possible is really smart.

Lion Jogging

This is because in a world where energy is finite and survival based on avoiding being eaten or starvation, conservation of energy is paramount, and this applies all life on our planet. For example, you don’t see many lions going for a morning jog before a day hunting, or a gorilla doing some press-ups to keep buff for the ladies. In nature, you will not see anything do something it doesn’t have to. And this is really no different for us humans.

To get a human to do something that requires a significant expenditure of energy they need a stimulus to act. This use to be things like fleeing from predators, chasing something to eat, or occasionally an urge to reproduce. It’s these basic instincts that motivate us and everything else to move, referred to flight, fight, and f**k

These days to get a human to expend energy without these basic instincts is really, really hard. Many know that regular exercise is beneficial for them, yet despite knowing this, many don’t do any, and it’s getting worse.

A recent depressing report found that many adults in the UK now sit on the toilet longer than they exercise per week. Our species is simply devolving away from exercise as we have lost most of our motivation to move.


Tinder Moves

Most of us in the modern world live in secure safe environments, with easy access to ample amounts of calorie-dense food and even easier access to members of the opposite sex (thanks tinder).

Basically, we have lost our basic flight, fight and f**k motivators to expend energy. And many try to replace these with other motivations. However, motivation is a really weak stimulus to get anything done consistently.

Simply put without flight, fight or f**k, motivation for anything else is very limited and very finite. In fact, motivation runs out extremely fast and very quickly for most of us.

Yet motivation is often hailed and promoted to be the answer to getting us moving more and exercising regularly. You only have to go on Insta-google-face-tweet-book to find a gazillion personal trainers, doctors, physios, and other exercise gurus giving their motivation tips, pictures, and videos to encourage humans to move and exercise more.

Chocolate Teapots

Personally, I think motivation is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. That’s because motivation only works when everything else is ok. Most people are motivated to exercise when they have no other major issues, hardships or problems in their lives.

Motivation is weak, discipline is key.

We should all move away from using motivation and focusing more on discipline. Many think motivation and discipline are the same things, they are not.

Motivation operates on the need for particular mental or emotional states to complete a task. Discipline is independent of and separate from moods or feelings.

Motivation is about trying to like doing stuff. Discipline is about doing it even if you don’t like it. Motivation will quit on you in the presence of hardship, discipline won’t!

Discipline is a key skill to master in life, and once you do you can master anything, even regular exercise. Once discipline is a regular trait you won’t need motivation to exercise or do anything else hard, difficult or awkward.

Smell Of It

Of course, if you have discipline and motivation together that’s a great bonus, but don’t rely on motivation as it will run out very quickly, even if you really like doing exercise, and I know this only too well.


I love to exercise in lots of different ways, rugby, boxing a bit of BJJ and these days mainly running and lifting heavy things. I’ve done these for as long as I can remember. I love the feeling, the rewards, and even the smells of exercise.

Yet despite this, there are many, many times when my motivation to exercise just isn’t there due to a bad day at work, feeling tired, bad weather, an ache, a busy schedule, the list of motivation thieves is long. All these things often and regularly reduce or completely steal my motivation to exercise.

However, despite no motivation, I still go and lift, or run not because I want to, because I need to. This is the difference between motivation and discipline, this is what I think needs to be educated, promoted and focused on more in the general population and our patients. More need to understand that it is still possible and essential to do things even when you don’t want to.

I know many of you will think I am yet again being too simplistic, too harsh, too uncaring towards those who don’t exercise regularly. I’m not, I’m just trying to highlight that trying to increase someones motivation to exercise is ineffective and insufficient and something else needs to be done.

Not Easy

I am well aware that this is no easy task and there are huge barriers to negotiate and overcome to do it, but there are ways to help improve discipline. Things like planning, setting routines, targets, rewards, back up plans and having a good support network. But without a doubt, the best way to start developing discipline is to start with small steps.

Any change is hard to tolerate but a small change is less hard.

There is an old tale that if you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out immediately as the change in temperature is too much. However, if you put a frog in warm water and slowly heat it up it won’t jump out as you bring it up to the boil. As nasty as this sounds the moral is don’t try to change too much too soon. Small changes done consistently can lead to big changes over time.

Research has looked at exercise compliance within physiotherapy and found it to be very low due to many multifactorial reasons (ref, ref, ref). I also know some research has come up with suggestions of how to address these (ref, ref, ref) and I think these recommendations are good. However, they tend to overlook or ignore the effect of an individuals discipline when it comes to exercising consistently.

Fun Or Functional

As a physio, I give exercises to patients because they address their problems and issues, such as a lack of strength, capacity, or confidence in a movement or a task. I don’t initially give exercises to my patients because I want to get them fitter or stronger, or because they enjoy them, or fit with their preferences.


Don’t get me wrong if I can find an exercise that a patient enjoys doing then that’s a bonus, but we don’t live in a perfect world. To be honest not many of my patients get overly-excited about the squats, deadlifts, or overhead presses I ask them to do.

I know some therapists think this is terrible, abhorrent, non-patient centred and that I should try harder to find exercises or activities that my patients like to do, but this is just not always possible, or practical, or the best thing to do.

Most busy physios simply don’t have the time or resources to explore all the patient’s preferences, potential barriers, or issues of why a patient may not do an exercise. Nor is it possible or practical for most physios to play around experimenting with different exercises or movements to find one that best suits the patient’s preferences the best.

Instead, most physios need to find exercises that are known to be effective at improving strength or capacity, that will do the job quickly and efficiently, and that a patient can do simply. This often means for me the exercise is a simple basic well-known and trusted one such as a squat, deadlift, or overhead press, not sexy, novel, exciting, or fun, just effective.


More need to realise that motivation is weak and discipline is key if they want to improve their health or have a better quality of life. Things such as eating healthier, going to bed earlier, and exercising more all require the trait of discipline. This doesn’t mean it has to be a complete ball ache or military regime all the time, but it does mean that life has to be occasionally hard, difficult and painful at times. 

As always thanks for reading




  1. Hitting the mark spot on as always Adam! Love your honest, straightforward work. Keep it coming. Hope this comment will motivate you 😉

  2. Very nice read, i fully agree! And…talking about someones discipline will at least for a short time fire their motivation?!

  3. I found myself re-reading this blog entry several times, somewhat unsure of exactly what was intended, or alternatively, unintended, when writing it. To me, it looks like a bare admission that some folks in PT feel they are in a place to judge others, using words such as “motivation” and “discipline” to label clients for not doing what they are told. Are you aware of how paternalistic this sounds? Goodness me, who do you think you are to proffer such utter nonsense? One of the biggest impediments to the PT profession is its attachment to the medical model. Included in this apparently unexplored set of attitudes is the notion that knowledge is power, and so, the professional who possesses such knowledge must therefore know better than the client. From that condescending position, many traditional health professions try to convince the public that it is only by seeing them that such knowledge will be made available to the client.. The public is rejecting such a relationship, yet PT seems entirely oblivious to its own irrelevance going forward. The profession needs to evolve, yet it cannot or will not, perhaps out of fear of what admitting the truth might mean.

    While I enjoy many of your posts, this one not only missed the intended mark, but demonstrated the assumptions related to agency that PT remains blind to.

      • When you write a blog entry beginning as you do here, the reader may not easily understand if you are offering a parody of sorts, as if someone’s belligerent, drunk uncle at Christmas dinner just arrived to spout off with an ignorant opinion. If you are trying to be funny and get a rise, fair enough. But if you really do care about this or any topic, then maybe rein in the SNL skit writing and provide a theory-based argument for why PT program curricula should blend in psychosocial health, incl foundational training in social psychology topics like “motivation”.

        If you expect people to take your courses, your credibility matters, so maybe you might want to raise the bar so it doesn’t look like this is a Trump rally. Clear enough?

      • Darla, just in case you missed this, this is a BLOG. Blogs are for people to express their views and opinions. If you want impartial theory based arguments go read some research and peer-reviewed journals. If you want to hear my thoughts, views, opinions, and a bit of piss taking read my BLOG… or don’t… I dont care… no one is forcing you or anyone else to read this!

        As for expecting or wanting people to take my course… this is not my focus and has nothing to do with anything. As for comparing me to Trump… this is a tiring and boring tactic that you and many others do in an effort to detract the focus away from my points and onto my tone or attitude. Its pathetic.

        This conversation is over… don’t like it… tough… as this is my blog… my rules!

      • You mean to say that there are others who point out to you that you sound like Trump? Maybe that should give you some pause?

        I have appreciated reading well-supported criticisms. However, my concern is that this blog is more about you looking for attention by being obnoxious and noisy, rather than an authentic desire to reform the PT profession using best evidence and rational argument. If you cannot tolerate dissent here, then this is a fishing expedition in search of sycophants.

  4. Wow, superb observations. So, so true. As a physically fit 61 year old – in spite of various permanent issues (snapped – hence missing bicep for example). The true key is discipline. Motivation is a valid factor, I often use it while at the gym if slightly tired, however it is the discipline that has got me there in the first place. I am not a health professional, but really enjoy your honest takes. Keep it going.

  5. Maybe the larger issue here is what are society’s expectations of health care providers (physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers etc..). Are we expected to motivate and convince patients/clients to take an active role in their health OR are we expected to educate patients/clients on the importance/benefits of taking an active role in their health and ultimately leaving it up to them to decide whether to do so or not. These are actually two completely different things in my opinion. The former actually being more paternalistic while the latter being more mutualistic and patient centered.

    I would argue that persuading patients to CARE about taking an active role in their health should not be our responsibility. But, we can educate them and let them decide for themselves what is important to them.

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