Imagine if you walked into school on the first day of kindergarten and your teacher handed you an exam for calculus. Or maybe even algebra. What would happen? You’d fail, obviously.
The same thing happens with diet and exercise. You walk into a trap. One that is designed for most people to start and stop with limited success, regardless of the plan. Instead of receiving a foundation built to help you accept your lifestyle changes, you focus on “best exercises” and “superfoods.” Sounds great, but that’s not enough for most.
In working with clients on every goal from fat loss to muscle gain, one of the most common weaknesses has become too loud to ignore. The situation plays out like this:
Step 1: You start a plan, feel excited, and dive in with extreme compliance.
Step 2: Eventually (usually around the 4-week mark), you’ve suddenly lost motivation, almost as if it was sucked from your body. Going to the gym is harder. Eating healthy is stressful. And eventually, you quit. Or you don’t exercise as hard. You make more exceptions in your diet.
Sometimes the problem is the plan itself, whether a faulty 4-week fix or a diet plan not designed for your body.
The bigger issue is you’re missing a basic concept that allows you to apply new information and strategies to your life. You usually look at why things changed and how you someone seemed to lose your edge. It’s not that motivation isn’t real. TED talks or videos (Rocky montage, anyone?) can obviously trigger a spark that helps you regain your lost motivation and help you push forward. You’re treating the symptom, not the problem.
Don’t wait to regain your mojo before you push ahead. It’s a bankrupt approach. Motivation, willpower, and any other mental capacity is limited. So relying on motivation is not an effective success strategy, especially with your fitness and diet goals.
Overworked: Why You Lost Motivation
The area of your brain (the prefrontal cortex, if you’re interested) that controls willpower is the same part of your brain that also handles your day-to-day tasks, short-term memory, and focus. It’s more overworked than your Facebook feed.
Take a minute and think about everything you have to manage on a daily basis. And now imagine that same overworked employee also having the responsibility of dragging your butt to the gym, eating the right foods, and preventing you from half-a-dozen Jack and cokes at the end of the day.
Still want to pin your hopes on willpower?
If you really want to transform your body, the most important plan starts not with your body or meal plan, but instead an approach that will strengthen your mind.
The Art of Body Transformation
If self-motivation and willpower can’t lead you to body transformation, what can?
The answer is intention and commitment—two acts that turn a goal into a concrete process.
This might seem like a joke, but the facts are undeniable: there are countless studies showing how making a commitment—and preferably writing down your intentions in specific details—make it much more likely that you’ll not only stay on task but also achieve your goals. It’s behavioral psychology 101, but it’s skipped for training and meal plans. And yet, making these simple changes will enhance the effectiveness of any workout or diet.
Research from the British Journal of Health Psychology shows how it works. In the experiment which focused on helping people become more consistent with workouts, one group tracked their exercise [the control group], and another group tracked exercise. This second group was motivated by reading about how exercise prevents disease. [The motivation group]
And a third group did the same thing as the motivation group, but they also had to specify their intentions in the following way:
During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].
The results? About 35 percent in both Group A and B trained at least once per week. And Group C? They had an awesome 91% compliance rate. Coincidence? I think not.
The examples are everywhere. For diet compliance, researchers from Norway found that those that formulate a plan for their diet eat healthier.
Why does it work?
Several factors make your transformation dreams a reality. Researchers from Australia found that taking a step-by-step approach, such as building one habit at a time, helps reduce cognitive load. Or in simple English: your brain has less to process, which makes it easier for you to find your way to the gym.
When you create big tasks (I’ll lose 20 pounds), your brain relies on precedent. Did you fail in the past at getting shredded? Your brain will remind you of that on a subconscious level and trigger what’s known as learned helplessness. Fail enough and you come to expect failure.
You still have to work hard, put in the effort, and stay consistent. If you expect a miracle in a month, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be frustrated and searching for a new plan in a month. You must play the long game to see success.
But following a plan instead of achieving an intended goal is different. It’s basic processing, no different that taking a grocery list to the store and buying food.
When you make your goal simple, clear, and easy to follow, you reinforce behaviors that make success a more likely option.
It might seem basic or even ridiculous. But in no time, you won’t worry about lost motivation. Training your brain for success will build a mindset that will guide you to the body you want.