Motivation. If you really want to see great strides in your fitness and abilities, it’s no longer enough to know whether or not you are actually motivated. We need to start digging into how we are motivated.
Let me explain:
There is a ton of research out there that I won’t bore you with that basically says motivation exists on sliding scale with amotivation – the complete lack of motivation on the far left, and intrinsic motivation on the far right.
Amotivation, we try not to concern ourselves with, you can lead a horse to water and all that. Immediately to the right of amotivation though, is external motivation. It’s the scale between external and intrinsic motivation I am going to focus on.
When I was a kid, my dad used to say, ‘if you don’t clean your room, you will get punished (read ‘spanking’)’. So, I would go up to my room, pull out a snow shovel and clear a path from the door to my bed. The room was now ‘clean’, in a manner of speaking.
I did the least possible work to avoid a punishment. I was externally motivated to perform a task. I didn’t want to do it; I certainly didn’t go above and beyond what I was willing to do to avoid said punishment. The idea to clean the room was not my own, and I definitely didn’t enjoy doing it. My motivation was entirely external.
Several years later, I was a proud member of the United States Marine Corps, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and I got my first station; MCBH Kaneohe Bay, HI. Apparently, the Marines had a pretty high standard for the cleanliness of barracks rooms and those that occupied them.
There is some external motivation involved in the form of push-ups and extra duties if the barracks wasn’t kept as the platoon sergeant thought it should be. But, since I was one of three in a single room, there was also a sense of accountability. If I screwed up, all three of us got punished. If I screwed up, I would be letting my fellow marines down. I would feel bad, and internally punish myself. I would call myself all kinds of names in my head and stress about how my fellow marines would view me as a result of my unreliability.
So, I cleaned the room and took care to make sure it was properly completed every day. I was experiencing Introjected Regulation; I was participating in a task I don’t enjoy to avoid an internal punishment. Strangely, once I started carrying out my share of the clean-up chores, I started to internally reward myself and feel good about what I was doing. I became even more diligent in these mundane tasks, that I still didn’t enjoy, to experience an internal reward! Motivation works both ways.
After the Marine Corps I move to SoCal and moved into an apartment with two friends in Newport Beach, CA right across PCH from the ocean. I immediately started living the party lifestyle while I attended community college. I still didn’t enjoy the task of cleaning my room, however, I noticed that California girls appreciated a clean and well-organized room.
So, what do you think I did? Damn right! I spent half an hour a day just making sure that room was spic-n-span! Seeing the long-term benefits of having a clean room encouraged me to engage in an otherwise unpleasant activity. I had just learned about Identified Regulation, long term benefits shaped my choice to engage in an otherwise unpleasant activity.
Five years later, I was back in Hawaii serving as a police officer with the Honolulu Police Department. I had a lovely one-bedroom apartment in downtown Honolulu, right across the street from Aloha Tower and within walking distance of all the great sushi spots and attractions of Chinatown.
This was the first apartment that was truly my own and I loved living the bachelor life. I worked hard and I diligently paid my rent. I was still no great fan of cleaning, I would put it off as much as possible throughout the week, but I’d grown up a bit over the previous few years and I knew I needed to start living like an adult should. Besides, this was my space, I wanted to take pride in it and enjoy it.
That meant you clean your space. You put away the clothes after the wash, you clean the bathroom before the mold starts to grow – not after it takes over, clean your fridge and run the damn vacuum once a week. This is called Integrated Regulation; coherence of the activity with your self-values shape the choice to engage in the unpleasant activity. I was cleaning because the value to me of having my own space that I could enjoy required it.
Many moons later, I have another little apartment, this time in downtown Gainesville. It’s not much, 500 square feet and could be described as spartan. I love it. It’s just what I need with nothing I don’t. I keep my place very clean and extremely well organized. The difference is, now I clean the apartment almost daily because I love to clean!! I love seeing a sparkly and shiny apartment when I come home from classes or work. I enjoy walking in and not seeing clothes piled up on the bed or dishes still in the sink.
Cleaning is therapeutic and fun for me now. Even if I just cleaned the bathroom yesterday, I’ll probably give the shower a wipe down after I use it today. As an added bonus, I get to enjoy my space all the more because I’ve put so much work into it. I take pride in what I’ve accomplished with a 3M pad and some 409, and it makes me want to continue keeping this space as clean as possible. I’ve finally made the breakthrough into Intrinsic Motivation when it comes to cleaning.
Intrinsic Motivation is the gold standard in sport psychology. Everything we do to help athletes is to help funnel them into a state of intrinsic motivation with regards to their craft.
I am never going to the CrossFit Games as an athlete. I know that and I’m fine with it…mostly. But I will never stop pushing myself every day in the gym. Why? Because I want to look sexy as fuck by graduation? Partially. But I also just love working out. I love and crave the feeling after a good session with the barbell. I never want to stop feeling just a little bit sore the next day after a particularly hard METCON. I get off on seeing how hard I can push myself in the middle of a WOD. Did I push further then yesterday?
I never liked cleaning my room when I was younger, but I always did it for a variety of reasons and motivations. It’s okay if you don’t love working out or going to the gym every day. It’s okay if you’re doing it for external reasons, or reasons other than love of the process. Just keep it up, see the results, see the long-term benefits, feel good about your accomplishments and one day, probably sooner than you think, you will cross that threshold into intrinsic motivation when it comes to fitness.