Have you ever had someone ask you that question? The one that makes you question your capabilities?
Something that you don’t immediately know the answer to (but should)?
I had a message the other day from a member of my transformation challenge. She asked if anyone else in the group was having trouble being positive about change and finding inspiration to get working.
“Damn”, I thought. “What am I missing?”
“How do I motivate and inspire a client through a computer screen?”
“How can I push someone to be their best through words alone?”
“Can I? Really, can anyone?”
As I sat and pondered this, I started to realize that I was trying to answer a rhetorical question. I was trying to motivate and inspire her when what she really was searching for was validation that it was okay to feel unsure.
In this age of Instagram coaches and cheerleader trainers it is easy to forget that we should be playing a role in our client’s lives, not playing a role online. They are hiring a coach, not an actor.
While energy and positivity are excellent traits to have, they don’t make for a better fitness professional. And honestly, most people whose idea of inspiration is a generic quote printed over a serene landscape either haven’t been exposed to much in life or are just completely full of shit.
Motivation and inspiration are internal aspirations, they occur out of a general desire and a deliberate passion. It is amazing what one can and will do when blindly following passion. Sometimes for the better, sometimes worse.
Yet, we consistently attempt to create motivation and inspiration through external stimulus. We think that cheering or posting stories of people overcoming unfathomable odds will motivate someone to make a change.
Motivation comes from inside you. Somewhere deep inside. It may be bred of anger, the rejection of one’s youth. It may be born of a fear of failure or even of death. It may also be stoked by a love of someone or something. The point is, no one can motivate you, except for you.
What is my motivation? My inspiration?
When writing a response I felt that I needed to put myself in her shoes and think about her situation instead of trying to solve it. I looked through my old training journals, thought about my own life and what managed to motivate me.
The beauty of keeping detailed journals is that I can get a macro view of much of my life. How my sleep was, how work and stress were affecting me, and how my body was reacting. I realized, looking back, that I had a solid year plus of absolute shit training.
I was deep in the throes of trying to get out of a job I hated (but financially supported me) while also trying to build a successful career in fitness. I suffered all of the normal struggles that come with living in NYC and was working from 6am until 10pm 6 days a week. Sundays I was usually taking side jobs for a little extra cash.
When I could find time to train I hated every minute of it. I didn’t trust my training programs. I was weaker, fatter, and slower than I had been in the past 5 years. I felt like every lift had the potential to injure me. I trained when I could with what I had available but constant barbell movements were leaving me crushed.
Where did the days go when I would daydream about getting to the gym to smash deadlifts? What happened to actually looking forward to hobbling down the steps after a brutal leg workout? Why was I so miserable? More so, why am I still training like I do if I hated it so much for so long?
It’s easy to be motivated when life is good.
In those early days of consistent PRs, daily body comp changes, and becoming a part of the brotherhood of iron I had all of the inspiration I needed in the gym. I saw my friends, gained a community, and learned from their collective knowledge. I had an image to emulate, a template to follow. I now knew what strong was, and I was learning how to get there.
I could see the fruits of my labor taking shape. The weight added to the bar and the scale. The technique development that made my lifts look better as they improved. The athletic achievements on the competitive level. I was becoming my own inspiration.
Things evolved, times changed. My training partner and mentor moved to LA. Our gym home closed and we were displaced. I retreated to Brooklyn and began work on my career as a personal trainer. I studied and attended seminars. I honed my skills teaching group classes and fitness beginners. I trained in my off time instead of pining for the time to come to train.
I went from sweating in a hall of monsters to training alone. When I was coaching, I was the strongest person in the gym. I was still in contact with friends that I lifted with and traded some training stories. I saw my social media friends continuing to push the boundaries of what the human body is capable of, but it wasn’t the same.
As my career evolved, my time for training grew less. I had to make time. Since I didn’t want to be that guy that doesn’t look like a trainer I made it a priority. My motivation was to just not suck. Training became habit and that meant it was just something I did.
I have had years of uninspired training. But I kept showing up and putting in the work. At one point i had to change my training environment and that gave me a renewed excitement. I went to train at a great bodybuilding gym in my neighborhood. I realized how much I love training for training’s sake. I was inspired again.
Then, that gym closed. I ended up in flux, finally settling in at the local YMCA. For having such a tough reputation, New York City is increasingly becoming devoid of great old school training facilities. I again started to go through the motions but training nonetheless.
About this time is when my drinking really began to overwhelm me. I somehow set two all time PRs (in my front squat and bench press) while spending most days wasted and wasting away. I lost passion for much of anything and ended up with a nice forced deload week. (If you haven’t already you can read about it here)
Today, being free from alcohol, I have a renewed sense of motivation. I am more excited than ever to see what I can do. To see what I can achieve. Proper nutrition and consistent training in the absence of a substance that was fighting against them. I am my own inspiration once again.
What is motivation? Inspiration?I don’t know. I guess it has to do a lot with our perceived success. And failure.
One of my favorite resources is fellow Brooklynite and coach Jonathan Pietrunti. He is a Sports Psych Coach in addition to strength coach, nutrition coach, blogger, and ugly training shoe aficionado. Basically, he is in his scope of practice to speak about the psychology of motivation whereas I can only speak to my personal experience and my observation of clients’ experiences.
His website is called That Grey Area. He explores the pieces of training and nutrition that tend to be not so black and white. The world that most of us live in, that area in between. Which is what struck me about motivation and inspiration. They wax and wane. Motivation might stoke inspiration and vice versa. Yet they are never quite black or white.
He recently wrote a great piece on failure and how it is both inevitable and necessary for growth. In order to see any measurable success in any aspect of our lives we must be willing to take risks. Financial, emotional, mental, or physical. Risk equates failure as often (probably moreso) as success. And that’s okay.
What is not okay is developing a failure mindset. Jonny refers to “failure avoidance” and the tendency to create winning situations (soft goals, weak competitions) instead of challenging oneself. (to read more about his exact vernacular and not my bastardized paraphrasing look here). I have been guilty of this myself. More than once.
“There is no losing in jiu jitsu. You either win or you learn.” Grand Master Carlos Gracie Sr.
I love this quote, especially when tied to jiu jitsu because it is an art form that requires absence of ego. No matter how strong you are, how athletic you are, how rich or good looking you are. The mat is a great equalizer. You will get your ass kicked when you start jiu jitsu. A lot. You can be motivated to win but you cannot let winning define you.
Don’t define yourself by your victories but instead what was learned or gained on the journey. If you can only be motivated to train by setting a goal to compete in 8 weeks, than by all means send in that application. If, however, you can only validate your training cycle by winning said competition there may be other things to address.
Likewise, if you are only inspired by the achievements of others, you may be in for a hard reality if your success doesn’t match up to their version. Try looking inward. Look at that person in the mirror. Is it the victories and successes of that person that inspire you?Or is it the times that they got knocked down, shit upon, stabbed in the back and still soldiered on?
We all have had our share of struggle. We have all fallen down. And we are all still here. Still fighting the daily battles that are life. I think that is inspiration enough.
When I shared the story of my fight, my time at the bottom, I received a lot of messages of encouragement and love. But, more importantly, a lot of people shared with me their own struggles. The struggles that they aren’t quite ready to share with the world. They weren’t trying to motivate me, they were just letting me know that I am not alone. And I find inspiration in that every day.
Jeb, just answer the fucking question.
So, how do we get inspired? How do we get motivated?
Just show up. When I had shitty training cycles, shitty training years, I just kept showing up. I wasn’t hitting PRs, I wasn’t gaining muscle and I definitely wasn’t sporting a 6-pack.
I learned what I liked doing and what my body responds best to.
I learned that training for strength might be past me.
I learned that I really like training for hypertrophy and using dumbbells and machines, things I eschewed for years.
I learned that I might have to give up on a 500lb squat and 600lb deadlift. I was on my way and kept getting injured.
I learned that those numbers don’t quench desire anyways. They feel good for a minute and then just get replaced with a new, higher number.
Talkin Bout My Inspiration
Inspired training has really only hit me a few times in my life. And to be honest, it wasn’t the training that was inspiring. It was the life it was giving me. It was the community. It was the ball busting and talking training and pushing my training partners to be their best like they pushed me.
I don’t need to be motivated to train. I schedule it into my day like I schedule my clients and my writing time (another thing I used to wait to be inspired to do). It is just something I always do.
If you are having trouble feeling motivated, change things up a bit. Make time every day to train. Even if it is just a 30 minute walk or a 15 minute HIIT session. Just make time. Make it habit. Then, make time to plan your meals. Cook some chicken and ground beef and rice in bulk. Make it a habit.
I promise, the motivation will come. It won’t be in the form of a cat in a tree with “Hang In There” printed over it. It might be disguised as routine, masked as discipline. Soon enough though, those little victories will add up and you will find yourself affecting real change. Who knows? Maybe you will inspire someone. Maybe that someone will be you.