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Motivation is one of those “squishy” ideas.

We intuitively know what we are talking about when we speak about motivation, but it can be very difficult to define and put concrete ideas around it.

Motivation is often defined as either: The general desire or willingness of someone to do something. The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

The way I like to define motivation is “behavioral inertia,” it is the energy and direction behind the behaviors that we make. So, how do we attempt to change the energy and direction behind those behaviors?

This blog will lay out a few tips on how you might be able to affect your motivation.


We often think that motivation is something that comes from within. Something that we must muster up every time that we should go workout. However, motivation does not just come from within (internally), it can come from outside (external) sources as well.

Internal motivation often stems from the internal rewards you get from engaging in a task or activity, like exercise. For example, you may be motivated to exercise because you find it enjoyable or satisfying. Or maybe the motivation comes from you identifying as a person who values exercise, which makes your identity a motivator for you. Identifying, labeling, and focusing on those internal motivators can be helpful for many people.

External motivation stems from gaining an external benefit from engaging in a specific behavior. One example of this is rewarding yourself for engaging in exercise. This might look like buying yourself a new workout outfit after you exercise 5 days a week. Or maybe you pay yourself five dollars for every workout that goes toward your “spending money”.

The field of psychology and sports psychology has deep literature on these different types of motivation, but both types can be utilized.


One of the rarely talked about dirty little secrets about motivation is that it is FAR better for keeping you going with something than helping you start it.

Most people look toward motivation to get started with behavior like exercise, but in reality, motivation is far more useful once you have started something.

Look at motivation as the source of energy that keeps you engaged and working through something during the early stages of it, but not as the catalyst that kick-starts the behavior.


This is a vast oversimplification, but there are two ways to find motivation:

1) wait around and hope you find it,

2) force the issue.

Waiting around looks something like this: When I mentally feel ready, I will go exercise. I will try and use internal motivation cues to motivate myself to do it. I will watch a few motivational YouTube videos to get pumped up to exercise.

Here is the problem with this approach: you don’t control when or if the feeling of being motivated comes. Forcing the issue looks something like this: I scheduled my exercise in my calendar, so I have to do it. I registered for a 5k event 6 weeks from now, so I have to exercise. I sold my car and bought a bike, so I have to ride my bike to work.

Forcing the issue is another way of saying, “shape your environment”. Do not rely on the whims of your emotions or feelings to dictate your behaviors, but rather structure your environment so you limit your ability to be “unmotivated”.


Motivation is just the transitory feeling of being between behavioral states. Most people don’t need to be motivated to brush their teeth. When they were young, they did, but eventually, it became a behavioral state or a habit.

When you truly think about the role of motivation, it is indeed behavioral inertia. It is the force that helps you change from one behavior state to another. The true goal of getting motivated to work out is to make it a behavior state, it has become a new habit.


We often lose motivation or stop chasing a goal at least in part because we start to focus very intently on an outcome. If an outcome becomes too difficult or too far away or too ambiguous our motivation often falls away.

The late Kobe Bryant had an interesting insight on success and failure that can help individuals maintain motivation. Once Kobe was asked by a reporter a question along the lines of, “as an athlete, are you driven by your love of winning or by your hate of losing”. Kobe responded by saying, “I’m neither, meaning that I play to figure things out. I play to learn something. Because if you play with a fear of failure or play with a will to win, it’s a weakness either way…[failure] doesn’t exist, it is nonexistent. What the heck does that mean? I mean seriously, what does failure mean? It doesn’t exist. It is a figment of your imagination”.

This idea leads to the concept that the real goal is growth, not an outcome, and when you focus on learning, improving, and finding ways to grow, there is always a reason to stay motivated.

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