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by Boko Suzuki
© 2016

I’ve consulted with hundreds of people who are unhappy with their health and fitness and when I dig into the causes, the three most common are: time, money and motivation. Let’s look at time. We all have a finite amount of it and we have more control over how we spend it then we tend to think. I work at a 24 hour gym and I like to tell people, “We’re open 168 hours a week. I’m asking you to find three.” No matter how hard we work and no matter how demanding our schedules, we all have some discretionary time and how we spend that really comes down to how we WANT to spend it. Money works the same way; both come down to motivation. It’s amazing that once I’m able to help people find their motivation, they’re able to find the time and money. So let’s look at some simple strategies for finding and keeping your motivation:

1. Start with why.

One of my favorite TED talks is by Simon Sinek and its called “Start With Why.” You can check it out at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPYeCltXpxw

Hopefully Simon will forgive my paraphrasing but the gist is that most of us define what we do, then figure out how to do it, but often never get to the why. He proposes starting with the why, then the how and finally the what. How many times have you said to yourself, “I really should work out/do my taxes/clean out the garage, but my heart’s just not in it”? It’s because of how our brain functions. The what – the working out or doing our taxes or cleaning out the garage – is rational thought that resides in our neocortex, but that’s not what drives behavior. The why, the motivation behind the action, resides in our limbic brain, where we actually make our decisions.

So try this: Write down your why. Pay attention to the language; words like “should” or “think” indicate that you’re not really getting to the why. No one gets motivated by statements like, “I guess I should work out because I think it’s good for me.” Words like “want” or “feel” are more about the why, like, for example, “I really want to lose that spare tire because it makes me feel less than what I know I can be.” (This is a purely hypothetical example from a friend).

Here’s a trick that often works: If you had a magic wand that would grant you one health and fitness wish, what would you wish for? Some real examples from clients are, “I want to dance with my daughter at her wedding” or “The most important thing to me is to be able to play with my grandchildren and enjoy my retirement.” Start with why and you’ll find your motivation.

2. Keep your motivation by keeping your why front and center.

There’s a great scene in Seinfeld where Jerry is frustrated because he made a rental car reservation but they’ve run out of cars. He says, “You see, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation.”

By the same token, there isn’t much point in finding your motivation if you can’t keep your motivation. It sounds simplistic, but keeping your why visible will help you remember why you’re taking action. Writing down your goal and posting it on your desk or fridge helps a lot of my clients. I like to use the notes app in my iPhone. Keep your why prominent and you’ll keep your motivation.

3. Be specific with your goals but don’t set a time limit.

I took up taekwondo at the age of 39, with very little athletic ability and zero flexibility. My classmates all seemed younger, stronger, and more coordinated. The teacher was a friend so I asked him, “Am I your worst student?” He was not mean about it at all, but he confirmed that indeed I was! My saving grace was reading a book by Joe Hyams called Zen in the Martial Arts where Joe describes his journey taking up martial arts as an adult and how by removing his artificially imposed time limit, he was free to progress as a martial artist.

I took his advice and ended up being the only person from that class who progressed to the level of black belt. I’ve often seen the advice that one should set fitness goals with a timeline, like losing a certain amount of weight by a certain date. I’ve seen firsthand that people who fail to meet these imposed deadlines tend to become discouraged and lose their motivation. If you think about simply putting one foot in front of the other and striving to better yourself, you might be surprised by your results.

4. Compete with yourself but don’t compare to others.

Apparently not satisfied with my taekwondo humiliation, I decided to take up yoga last year. Once again, I was surrounded by impossibly flexible, strong, and lithe people who made me look like a turtle who had flipped onto his back and couldn’t get up. The teachers (are yoga teachers not the most soothing human beings on the planet?) had a mantra: “Don’t compete and don’t compare to others.”

Good advice, but I would make a small revision: I do believe in competing with myself as far as improving my practice. I understand that we all have good days and bad days but I believe that the striving to better oneself over time can be powerful fuel and is much healthier than trying to imitate that woman one row over who somehow has wrapped both feet behind her head.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  – Michael Jordan

Easy to say when you’re MJ and you’re gifted with a once-in-a-lifetime ability, right? Well, not really. Failure is difficult no matter who you are and, as much as we tend to fixate on natural talent, the common factor I’ve seen in people who’ve achieved success in any field is the willingness to persevere through failure. We have no control over the amount of natural ability with which we’ve been gifted but we have absolute control over how we respond to adversity. If you fall down, so what? You just get up again. Failure is our best teacher.

6. Start today.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

My former boss Bill used to quote that proverb and it resonated with me. Think of all the energy we waste lamenting not having done something in the past when we could be using that energy to do something NOW. Once you find your why, you need to put it into action. You don’t have to change the world or break any land speed records. You simply have to start. Start today – start right now!