It's Time to Get Moving and Change Your World

A soldier wins a 50-meter sprint at Fort Hood
Staff Sgt. Teelia Gooden, 49th Transportation Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade master fitness trainer, races to first place in the 50-meter sprint during the 15th SB Commander's Cup competition at Fort Hood, Texas, Oct. 9, 2008. (Staff Sgt. Matthew Cooley/U.S. Army photo)

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.

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 do the yard work that is required of me today. But I was motivated to go run, PT and swim this morning. So a lack of motivation does not necessarily mean you are lazy; it just means that the task on which you are procrastinating 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 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 who were struggling to make the standard had a tougher day with all 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, some people 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:

Set a standard, then strive to beat it. Make the mundane a game. I now time how long it takes to rake leaves. How long does it take me to pile up a section of the front yard? Then I set my timer for how long it takes me to bag all of the leaves.

Oh, yeah -- 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 helps, 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 more structure, start here with a free 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 one day will 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 firefighter 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 is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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