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.
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.
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.
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.
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