JCC Blog & News

The Myth Of Motivation

access_time May 22, 2021 - By Jessica Montour

By: Danny Amon, JCC Fitness Center & Personal Training Manager




Motivation is incredibly fleeting, and it can’t be relied upon to sustain exercise and dietary progress. It’s trendy in the fitness industry right now to denigrate New Year’s resolutions because of the high failure rate, but they’re an example of the “fresh start effect.” This is where motivation is at its highest because of a perceived fresh start, turning of the page, etc. Other examples include Mondays, the first day of the month, and birthdays. And while I don’t think it make sense to throw them out entirely, they do demonstrate why we can’t rely on motivation…it simply doesn’t last long enough for sustainable change.

Without constant new sources of motivation, the goals made when it was at its peak will never be reached, especially when the goals are big (as health goals generally are). Major weight loss, body re-composition, and the building of muscle are all things that take, at minimum, months to achieve, and they generally occur over years. It’s simply not feasible to sustain high levels of motivation for that period of time, despite how many YouTube motivational videos you watch or self-help books you read.

Habit, on the other hand, *is* sustainable…it’s kind of the definition, after all. Success in the health and fitness realm will be built on the back of strong habits because they will pick up the slack when motivation wanes. A personal anecdote I love to relate to clients is my own experience with this; even as someone who has spent over 20 years completely in love with weightlifting, at 36 I rarely feel any sort of motivation to do my workouts. I also never had even the slightest motivation to do cardio, so I didn’t do it at all for years. However, I currently (and have been for years) managing 5-6 weightlifting workouts per week, 5-6 cardio workouts, plus outdoor adventures when the weather permits, so how does that make sense? The short answer is that I’ve managed to cultivate strong habits that get me in the door 95% of the time. Invariably I feel the same amazing reward from exercise-including cardio-once I’ve started to do it, so it’s the habit that allows the whole thing to work. For all my friends in the fitness industry this is true as well.


The trick is to use initial motivation to start the process of building habits, so that should inform the approach taken. That’s one reason I think there’s still a lot of value to fresh starts and the accompanying motivation, as this can be a huge boost to ingraining those initial habits.

A few general principles to think about when that motivation is there are timing of workouts, food preparation, and the types of exercise chosen. The idea is to remove as many obstacles as possible so that it’s easier to cultivate habits, and ultimately, discipline. Working out early in the day, for example, is an easy way to minimize the number of excuses that can accumulate over the course of the day, not to mention that it’s before all the aches and pains of the day have set in. Food prep is another common positive habit, as this will minimize time barriers that we all encounter at the end of the day. And when a healthy choice is readily available, it’s on a better playing field to compete with quicker, usually poorer options like fast food. Finally, choosing most of the time to do exercise you actually like doing will help reinforce the habit, as you can only slog through rep after rep or mile after mile of something you hate doing for so long.