Where Does Your Motivation Come From?

This article is meant to ruffle some feathers. Your opinions may differ, but my belief structure has taken me from a pretty lazy party guy, working out two or three times a week in my early years of college to a go get'em.
Motivation is such a CROCK!

Before you crack open your emails and want to start bashing or flaming me, read on. There is no such mysterious thing that some people have and others don't called "motivation". Simplistically, motivation is a matter of focusing your energy and how you spend your time. Yes, some people do have a better idea of how to get to where they want to be and spend their time doing those necessities. Others would rather hide from what they want to do and drown themselves in distractions. Motivation is the combination of knowing where you want to go, a well laid out plan to get there, and then doing things on a daily basis, in spite of fear and laziness, to get there.

This article is meant to ruffle some feathers. Your opinions may differ, but my belief structure has taken me from a pretty lazy party guy, working out two or three times a week in my early years of college to a go get'em, always busy entrepreneur, a college grad with a degree in Psychology and a bodybuilder. I've assisted numerous people along the way in attaining their dreams and goals through focused planning as well.

The Usual Suspects

If you are having a problem with motivation and focus you aren't alone. In fact, here is a message I recently responded to on an online message board ...

(Anonymous Question)
I can never wake up early in the morning to do my cardio, I hate it, I only get 6 hours sleep, I go to bed at 12, wake up at about 6:30, if I had to do cardio I'd have to wake up at 6. At about 7:35 it's off to school. What motivates you guys to get up and do cardio while cutting/bulking?

(My Response)
This is what separates the committed from the "also rans." You have to have HUGE goals that are so motivating that it's the first thing you think of the SECOND that alarm clock goes off. Don't allow the negative thoughts to creep into your head. The only sound in your mind should be the Rocky theme going off in the background and visions of you standing center stage with a big fat GOLD medal around your neck.

Paint a mental picture of all the guys back stage dropping their head the second you take your warm ups off and over a loud speaker you hear a voice that booms like the Almighty Himself saying, "Contest Over!"

Imagine the women at a beach swooning over your huge ripped body and your friends looking like chumps trying to pick up your left overs.

A few months back I asked IFBB bodybuilder Tom Prince where his mental toughness came from. To this date his response is one I review every week:

    "Where that mental toughness comes from? Somewhere very deep down inside. Somewhere in a place where I'm terrified to fail. In a place where I'm all too aware of the limits of my genetics, and that every bit of what I have BETTER come from hard work.. cuz' it ain't comin' from anywhere else.

    To be honest, being a pro bodybuilder is all I've ever wanted to do. It makes it really easy when you love something so much." Tom Prince (quoted from the Muscle Mayhem message board owned by Chad Nicholls)

If this doesn't answer your question then it really is time to reflect on WHY you are bodybuilding. Personally, I've got a passion and a drive to be the best that I can possibly be. To not give it my everything would be me failing myself. Because of my competitive nature and my deep down LOVE for bodybuilding I can approach everyday and every workout with a pure unadulterated passion to be the best. I've planned out what it will take to get there and I execute that plan to the best of my ability everyday.

Analyze your priorities and check yourself. You might be participating in a sport that you only want to have as a hobby. Some people take that approach. Just like the guys that go to the gym as a social function or as a way to pick up chicks. There is nothing wrong with whatever you decide, you just need to be honest with yourself. Figure out what it is you really want. I prefer to take the road less traveled, the hard road. Which road is your road?

Here you see that this gentleman is obviously not nearly focused as to why he should be getting out of bed. There is a lot more going on, but that is the simple truth of the matter. He would rather be getting the extra sleep than shaping his body to be at it's best. Is it too late for him to do anything about it because he's a guy with no "motivation?"

Redefining Motivation

In the psychology field we refer to motivation as desire or want that energizes and directs goal-oriented behavior (1). The fortunate thing about our minds is that we decide how we want it to run. If we decide to have a different and more influential meaning of motivation we can.

I particularly prefer to use two words that encapsulate a very motivating dream I have. Those words? The Shadow. Yes, I'm referring to 6-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. He and I have similar body types, I've adapted my own version of his training philosophies with my own, and this wasn't me just grabbing a book one day with Dorian Yates pictures. I really studied what made/makes this man tick. I've own his video, read his book, read countless interviews, articles he has written, articles written about him, etc. I developed a tangible figure using all of the senses. If I find myself straying or having thoughts of cheating on my diet I simply say something like the following to myself, "what would Dorian do?" or "Do you think that The Shadow cheated on this repetition?"

Maybe even "how are you going to look like Yates if you don't get to the gym?" To you this may not seem very motivating. Because I love Dorian's physique, personality and his accomplishments this is more than enough to push me into taking action.

Plan Like The Man (or Woman)

It doesn't have to be a person, but a plan needs to be in place for you to know what you are motivated to become. Basically you need to determine:

  • What level you are willing to commit to get to your goal.
  • Figure out where you currently are (body fat, weight, ).
  • Map out a plan to get to where you want to be (you MUST account for bumps in the road).

Now that the plan is there it's time to start defining what is most motivating to you. Remember, this is the core of what will keep you on track to your plan. This realistic future vision is what motivation really is.

Opposite Attraction Theory (OAT)

In my vast study of psychology, I've learned that people have mental strategies that dictate how they are most often motivated. Some people lean towards being "move away from" people (negatively motivated), while others prefer "move towards" strategies (positively motivated). Many people have seen this stated as reward and punishment. I've actually developed my own version of this strategy that has worked with numerous clients working on their motivation. This system is the "opposite attraction theory". In this theory you utilize BOTH negative and positive motivation to create a system of moving away from negativity and moving towards positively simultaneously.

So how does this theory work? Think about your plan in terms of two questions. First, what will you get if you follow through with your plan? The second, what won't you be able to have or how adversely will it affect you if you don't follow through with the plan. Here you have a punishment and reward system in place that should propel you forward into taking action on a consistent basis.

Let me explain by example using my The Shadow reference. I know that i want to possess a body like Dorian Yates has in the shortest amount of time I possibly can so I can start winning bodybuilding competitions. In order to get that body I need to execute my specific plan with very little to absolutely no deviation. When a temptation creeps in, like a friend asking me out to eat and play pool on a workout evening, my mind immediately references my OAT. I know that by going out to eat I will experience the following:

Negative Motivation

  • I could possibly be laughed off stage
  • I'd let myself and the people I've agreed to be accountable too down
  • I won't be able to use my free meal and free days from the gym later to do more fun things that I've planned
  • I won't reach my full bodybuilding potential in as short of time as possible

Positive Motivation

  • When I choose to do the right thing I continue a great pattern I've established for my life
  • I'd be more Dorian Yates like in a shorter amount of time
  • Know that I'm doing everything within my power to be the best I possibly can be on stage
  • Set a great example for the people that I'm accountable to and be a better role model

All of these reasons rush through my mind. Once again, you have to sit down and find YOUR motivational reasons. You should be able to read a list like this for yourself and be quivering to get into the gym. This list alone should be strong enough to

Putting It All Together

1. If you haven't already, work through a plan that has the following:

    a) What level you are willing to commit to get to your goal. You can quantitative this with time values or qualitative it with laying out other areas of life you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve this goal.
    b) Figure out where you currently are. For people in bodybuilding you get your current weight, body fat, etc.
    c) Map out a plan to get to where you want to be (you MUST account for bumps in the road).

2. Write down your negative motivators as they relate to your goal (see my example above under Opposite Attraction Theory).

3. Write down your positive motivators as they relate to your goal (see my example above under Opposite Attraction Theory). Remember, these are:

4. Write out some bad habits you may need to change that would prevent you from achieving your ultimate goal.

5. Give this plan a two or three word name that you will remember (I named mine "The Shadow"). This is known as your Watch Word.

6. Play through realistic scenarios in your mind where you might experience behavior not inline with what you want to do. As you are going through it, visualize yourself following through with your plan. As you are mentally doing the right thing repeat the name you gave this scenario.

7. Take this plan to a real world situation where you practice and reinforce your new found motivation.

You'll be amazed at how these situations start to play themselves out in your real life. Just by repeating your watch word your mind will set a pattern of behaviors in your life more consistent with what one might call motivation. This may be a little contrived and awkward at first, but with some practice and reinforcement your motivation will become sky high!


1. Huitt W. Motivation. Valdosta, GA: