A person needs to take a shower. They instantly recognize that it is something that needs to be done and they do it without fanfare. Yet, that same person needs the equivalent of a ticker-tape parade in order to go to the gym. This piece is intended to help people de-glorify their trips to the gym. Sadly, this may result in fewer Instagram and Facebook postings about your workouts. I apologize in advance for ruining your social media experience.
I often am asked about how I motivate clients, or even how I motivate myself to workout. My response is, “I don’t.” This is usually met with a confused stare, possibly a tilted head and often a vocal response of “But….you’re a trainer!”. My well rehearsed response to their shock is always “Exactly. I educate, I don’t motivate.”
The reality is that I don’t care if you’re motivated or not. You either show up and work or you stay home. I know my clients are motivated because they do show up. From day one, I explain how my role is that of an educator and that I am not going to chase after them if they decide to skip sessions for no good reason. I treat them like fully grown adults who have the ability to make decisions on their own. In that way, my sessions are a lot like a course in a college lecture hall. I don’t take attendance but if you keep on being absent, you’re going to fall behind in the material, the material being your goals.
While that may sound harsh and unfriendly, it is the truth. “Personal trainer” has become synonymous with professional motivator, life coach and therapist. To be fair, there is always a bit of crossover involved, but the most basic role of a personal trainer is to teach people safe ways of using their bodies, design programs that fit their clients’ needs and assist said clients in reaching pre-established goals. Holding their hand and providing endless emotional support for simple tasks is nowhere on the agenda. Chastising people, yelling at them, and generally acting like life is one giant gym class, under the guise of motivation is not part of the game either. Besides, if someone needs that much of a push in order to exercise, they’re better off staying home.
Please understand that there has to be an internal drive to make you do things. Otherwise it’s just someone else dragging you along by the collar. If I have to keep reminding you to do something, like tie your shoes, it’s clear that you don’t find it important. Perhaps when you trip over your laces it will prompt an internal change to make tying them a normal part of your life (or maybe not and you’ll just keep stumbling for years on end). You won’t need comments from your friends giving you encouragement, and you won’t need internet memes with inspirational words plastered over some person lacing up a pair of boots at sunrise.
What I’m about to say is going to sound weird, but…stop making such a big deal out of working out. Take it down a notch, ease back, relax, whatever phrase you want to use, just remove some of the triumph out of your forays into physical activity. I’m not saying this to be a jerk, I’m saying this to help you. It’s basic Pavlovian reasoning. If I exercise, tell people how far I ran, how much I lifted and I get a huge response with tons of encouragement, I’ll feel great. I’ll keep working out like a madman and continue telling everyone what I’m doing. And this system will work wonderfully until one day when the stock drops on all the “attaboys”. Now with my prime method of motivation not functioning like I expect it to, it becomes extremely difficult to get psyched up to workout. I’ve tied my exercise success to other people’s reactions and now their lack of reaction has caused me to lose interest. The bell has stopped ringing and I’m no longer drooling.
Compliments mean more when they’re attached to a real accomplishment. If one were training for a marathon, posted every time they practiced/conditioned/stretched and always received a “Way to go!” or “You’re so inspirational!”, would it mean anything when those same words were said in response to them beating a personal goal at the actual marathon? Of course not! Those words of congratulations have been emotionally dehydrated from overuse on lesser milestones. Not everything you do in life should be up for public consumption and appreciation. Some things should remain the sole possession of your own awareness. You will have ups and downs, good days and not-so-good days. Learning to accept those as part of a process called life is very important. Do not devalue your actual achievements by demanding recognition for every single step along the way.
You may be coming away from this thinking I don’t care if you succeed or fail. That is actually untrue. I care very deeply if someone achieves what they set out to. However, nobody can get into your head and force you to do anything. That’s your wheelhouse and you’re the captain. You should care more about how you feel about achievements than how other people feel about them. Start to internalize your motives and take pleasure in your workouts. Make them something for yourself and not for other people.
To paraphrase Nike, stop talking about it and just do it.