Motivation. It’s a word that keeps being thrown around a lot these days. How do you keep motivated to go to the gym? To eat healthy? To avoid junk food? How do you get motivated to get things done? People go around searching for this magical ingredient expecting that once they find it, everything will become easier.
I’m afraid that’s not how it works.
Being consistent with your training, eating healthy or whatever it is that you’re aiming for, has nothing to do with motivation. I have days when I don’t feel like training, when I don’t feel like cooking. It’s not about motivation, it’s not about being dedicated, and I don’t think it’s heroic either. It’s a habit.
I’ve recently read James Clear’s Atomic Habits and there was one section that particularly blew my mind. He talked about the fact that people are more likely to stick to their habits if they believe them to be a part of their identity. If you believe yourself to be a person who is dedicated to their training, if you consider yourself an athlete, going to the gym is easy because it’s in alignment with your belief system. On the other hand, if keep proclaiming that ‘gym is not for you’, that will make going pretty damn hard. It works the other way too. If you believe yourself to be a person who cooks healthy food every night, saying no to a pizza takeaway is gonna be a lot easier than if you are a person who orders takeaways every night.
I get it, when people try to change something in their lives, they usually need a bit of motivation. If you’re not very active and you’re trying to start training regularly, maybe you’ll be motivated for a first week but then, it will fade away. But it’s not the motivation that you should be looking for, but a way that you can stick to this new habit. And that can be hard at the beginning because you’re trying to do something that you don’t believe is a part of your identity. But the good news is, that every time you do this action, you provide evidence for this new identity. That’s why it’s important to go to the gym even if you don’t feel like it, even when you’re not motivated, when you’re tired, or busy. Because your brain keeps it at the back of your mind as evidence, that you can do it even in those situations. And then, the next time you feel tired and don’t feel like you want to go, you’ll have evidence that you can do it either way.
Habits are mental shortcuts learned from experience. In a sense, a habit is just a memory of the steps you previously followed to solve a problem in the past. Whenever the conditions are right, you can draw on this memory and automatically apply the same solution. The primary reason the brain remembers the past is to better predict what will work in the future.James Clear
But there is another aspect of this idea that blew my mind even more. I am at that stage when I don’t need any motivation to train or to eat healthy, I just do and it feels so natural, so easy, I don’t even think about it. This is when I realised, that’s why it’s easy, because I consider it a massive part of my identity, it’s just what I do and what I’ve been doing for the past 6 years.
I realised that if I want to truly improve other aspects of my life, I should be applying the same strategy. I don’t need to look for motivation, I don’t need results. I should define this new identity I want to become and then just act in accordance with it. And every time I take action, I give myself evidence which gives me more confidence and makes me focus on the process rather than immediate results. If you want to be a runner, don’t worry about your 5k time, just go for a run every morning, even if you run for 10 minutes. If you want to be a musician, play a guitar every day, if you want to open your own business, work on it every day.
Do it every day. Wash, rinse, repeat. Fall in love with the process. The rest will follow.