I often get emails asking how to get motivated to work out to lose weight or prepare for military training in general. Out of all the questions asked, "How do you motivate yourself?" has to be the hardest to answer. Over the years of trying to answer this question, I have determined we have two types of motivation: motivation to survive and motivation to compete. The question is, how much do you have of one or the other? We all have both, you just have to find it.
For instance, I am not particularly motivated to go do the yardwork that is required of me today. But I was motivated to go run, pt, and swim this morning. So, lack of motivation does not necessarily mean you are lazy, it just means that the task you are procrastinating on is not particularly fun or rewarding. When I work out, I feel like I did something worthwhile because I like pushing myself against previous times, reps, and weights. I have made fitness a daily habit. With an activity like raking leaves, my yard looks like it is supposed to for a day or two, then I have to rake it again. So I am motivated to compete with my workouts, but motivated to just get by (survive) with my yard maintenance. The question now is – how do you change that?
I consider surviving the minimum standard for life. We are all built to survive – all animals. One of my favorite sayings is "Train to Compete – Not Just Survive." This goes back to my pre- SEAL training days when I ran a race that I was just trying to finish (motivation to survive) and saw the actual winner warming up. He had a different mindset than I had. He was motivated to compete and drop a minute off of his best time. I found the same mindset at SEAL training. Those who were competing every day to win something never thought about quitting. Those that were struggling to make the standard had a tougher day with all the events and that made it easier to consider quitting. You truly don't think about quitting when you think about winning. However, as witnessed in BUD/S, there are some people who are just so mentally tough, even when borderline failing physically, you could not get them to quit, no matter what. So it is all mental.
Here is what you should do:
Taking a page out of where I am motivated. Set a Standard , then strive to beat it. Make the mundane a game. I now time my leaf raking. How long does it take me to pile up a section of the front yard? Then set my timer for how long it takes me to bag all of the leaves? Oh yea – the goal is to beat last week's time. I also had a few buddies over one day and we did the yard together. Cost me a few beers but as a group, we did it faster and it was more fun. You can do the same for your fitness routine if that is what you are dreading to do each day. Make each day a race, and have buddies to help keep the pace.
To those considering joining the military but are worried about getting in shape and need a little motivation to get moving, try these steps:
You have to get started moving at a regular time every day. Even if that is just walking and building a habit of fitness. Scientists say it takes 3-4 weeks to build a habit, so you now have a goal of daily activity. Meet it and beat it. Get a partner – it does help, but self-motivation is just as valuable as group motivation and teamwork. So get good at both ways to train. No training partner? Use your watch. It will help you set a pace of movement.
If you need some more structure, start here with a free (you can't beat that price) 45 day plan and watch what you eat if you're trying to lose weight.
Also consider my lean down plan.
You have to ask yourself how badly you want to join the military. Bad enough to work out daily? You need to realize something very important: your fitness level will one day save your life or a buddy's or victim's life. That is how seriously you have to take your health, fitness, and weight loss. Not just to lose weight but to save your life when you need it in the military, police, and fire fighter professions, or with self-defense or natural disaster. Adding fitness to your routine will prolong your life. So fitness is a win – win.
You just need to build a habit and stop making excuses. Some things are best started on your own. You do not need a group to train each day, although it is nice. You will find like-minded people once you get moving to where all the people who move congregate.
Get Moving and change your world.
Stew Smith works as a presenter / editorial board with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). There are also over 800 articles on Military.com Fitness Forum focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.