Fitness & Life Coaching

High Desire vs Low Motivation: How To Get Your Fitness Back on Track

By Danny Wallis Personal Trainer & Online Fitness Coach

October 26, 2014

I work with people who want to lose weight more than anything else. So, why is it when people stand on the scales to have their body-fat measured there are some weeks when they actually get fatter despite working with a trainer and having all the nutrition and exercise support they need at their fingertips?

It’s probably the same reason for people who have a situation in their lives they are unhappy with, yet never do anything to really challenge or change it. An example is when someone is unhappy with their body, yet never really changes their diet successfully or adheres to a long-term progressive exercise plan; the reason is that desire and motivation for something are two completely different things.

Desire Alone is Not Enough

In my business I see the differences all the time. An example is when I consult with a new client when they first begin training with me. They are often really keen and enthusiastic to have me help them start their new training regime and begin losing weight with the expectation that it will happen quickly and easily.

I then mention that food is actually 70% of the results they achieve and ask them what are they prepared to do to change their eating habits. Quite quickly people’s body language changes when you ask them what they are prepared to do for themselves.

A Decline in Motivation

Another situation people find themselves in is promising themselves they will have a ‘good week’ of diet and exercise just for the weekend to come along and ruin their promise. Measurement day comes around again and the good work they have achieved all week was set back by a weekend of indulgent behaviours and neglecting their promises to themselves.

The outcome is they often end up sad and unhappy because they are not any slimmer than the previous week. The desire is now stronger than ever, but the lack of results causes motivation to decline, meaning they are less likely to achieve fat loss the following week and so it goes on and on.

Desire & Motivation Are Different Animals

Putting it simply, having a strong desire for something is a deep, emotional want for it.  Having strong motivation for something is being prepared to do anything to achieve it, sometimes at any cost.  

The challenge here is that we are programmed psychologically toward what we want rather than what we need.  How many times in your life has you been asked ‘what do you want for dinner tonight?’  Probably a lot more than ‘what do you need for dinner tonight?’

Actually what we need is a balance of the correct nutrients, a specific amount of calories per day and to exercise our bodies regularly to keep them well oiled and working properly. Often what we want is food that tastes nice, to be full up and content, oh and hard vigorous and potentially painful exercise?  No thank you.

Set Some Goals

Firstly, simply wanting something is not enough. Desire is an emotional response to something you have become fixated on. If you are serious, you have to stop ‘wanting’ and start ‘doing’.

What you then need to do first is to set some clear goals to kick-start your motivation. My advice would be to firstly work out what it is specifically you want to achieve first – That will give you a tangible target.

It would then help to create some measures so you will know when you have achieved what it is you want. Ideally, set both short and long-term measures to keep you motivated in the short-term.

You need to work out how you are going to achieve it, which will become the plan behind getting what you want.  You also need to consider what resources you need and when all this is going to happen by and commit to a date of when it will happen by.

This is called a SMART goal (Specific Measureable Achievable Resources Time-bound) and it’s how I set up goals with my clients to get them as motivated toward achieving their goals as possible.

Be Realistic

There is an old Chinese proverb which I love… ‘You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time’. Choosing to commit to unachievable goals is probably one of the main causes of people quitting on their dreams.

Start small and commit to only what you know you can achieve. Want to lose weight? Aim for a maximum of a pound a week, even if you have several stones to lose. Want to start exercise? Maybe just start once a week. Trying to workout everyday when you are just starting out will leave you so sore and you may end up hating it, that’s if you can even find the time to work out everyday in the first place.

Want to improve your diet? Start by reducing the things you know you shouldn’t be having, such as; sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks and alcohol before promising yourself a perfectly nutritionally balanced diet. Start small and build up as things get easier and you start to create new habits.

Get Focused

Keep your eyes on the prize and stay committed. Last weeks blog post Top Ten Tips For Fitness & Fat Loss number one tip was the importance of consistency. It’s not enough to focus on what you want now and then, it needs to be in the fore front of your mind consistently.

It’s especially important when you want to lose weight as food has such a major impact on your results and we eat at least three times a day.

Making the right food choices is key and that means the right mind-set when you are just waking up in the morning, when you are busy at work and when you are tired in the evening. The mind is like a muscle – it needs to be exercised and you need to practice working it to make it stronger. Stay focused on your goals consistently for a week or so and next thing you know, your habits will start to change toward you achieving your new goals without you realising you are doing it.

Record Results

Nothing motivates quite like seeing results. Getting into that once to small pair of jeans, feeling amazing in that bikini you never thought you would wear again and hearing compliments about how amazing you look. Lets not kid ourselves, these things make us feel great and are a fantastic motivator to keep going.

A great tip is to hang on to those memories because anchored to them is your motivation. Save pictures of yourself looking great, store text messages or emails from people complimenting you, and keep looking at your measurements dropping from one week to the next.

You can mark the tape measure on a week to week basis and look back at where you started and how much smaller you are. All these are great ways to remind yourself how well you have done.

Re-evaluate When Things Are Not Working

So, now you have your goals you know what you are going to be aiming for, by when, how you are going to get there, what resources you need and you have your new-found focus. You’re working hard toward your goals and sticking to your plan… But hang on, something isn’t right. You are still where you were and nothing has changed.

Don’t panic.

Yes, you may have goals, a plan and are focused. You may need to consider though your plan may not always work the way you want it to and sometimes, they don’t. In some cases, it’s not even the right plan to begin with which is often only something we can learn on the journey.

The short-term measures you have committed to will let you know if things are working for you or not.  If they are not, you have to take responsibility to do something about it.  That means tweaking the variables of you plan.

If it’s weight loss you want and it’s not coming off, you can work out harder, for longer and / or reduce your calories. Try that for a week then re-evaluate your results.  If you want to build muscle and it’s just not happening… Are you eating enough?  Are you training properly? Do you need to seek advice? Are you consistent with your regime?

I honestly don’t believe in failure.  I believe when we are not achieving the things we set out to, it’s an opportunity to learn about ourselves and what it is that’s stopping us from being where we want to be.

Those with closed minds may scoff, but as a coach and a trainer there are always multiple options for achieving a goal.  Not achieving it just means that you haven’t found the right way yet.

Have A Great Work Ethic

The final and probably most important thing to consider when wanting to keep seeing results and to maintain a high level of motivation, is to consistently work hard toward what you want.  Nothing ever worth having comes easy and where there is a challenge, there is very often a benefit of some sort.

Having the right level of focus and a solid plan without a real intention to then put the hard work in to make your goal a reality is a bit like a firework on Guy Fawkes night with no fuse to light.

This is true to any goal you set yourself, but most relevant in the world of fitness.  If you want to lose fat, you have to convince your body you don’t need it anymore.  That means working hard at keeping your diet clean and it means applying yourself with your workouts to physically burn off the amount of fat that you want to lose.

If you want to increase muscle tone and build muscle it’s about consistently breaking the body down to then rebuild and repair to encourage growth.  If you’re not working hard enough to break your tissues down in the first place it probably won’t happen for you.

So, now you know what you want and have worked out how to get it.  You know what to do when things stop working and you know whatever happens you cannot fail.  You now have all the tools to start moving toward you new goals.  The key question, however, is will you?

About the author

Danny Wallis is a Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, NLP Life Coach and Nutrition Advisor, with over 20 years experience in helping people achieve their goals.

Danny Wallis

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  1. Wow this has really helped in me achieving my goals it has made me think hard and i have made some changes to my diet, attitude, training and my goals. Thank you, this its fantastic.

  2. Every single point here has great value…but the best of all? Have a good work ethic! I find that approach my fitness with the same attitude as I do my job. It’s important and I try not to diminish that:)

    1. I totally agree and that is so refreshing to hear! The points I have made in this post are not just specific to fitness related goals – they are transferable to anything else you want to achieve in your life. Good for you. 🙂

  3. Very encouraging post. I am feeling motivated already and I have no need to lose weight!

    Putting goals in place will ensure that one reaches their target. Simply desiring to be a smaller size is not enough.

  4. Value in every one of your points Danny. There was someone, a coach, who I heard say something like, “Things will only change when you make a DECISION to change.” This is the second time in my life I want to lose weight. I gained 20 pounds when I was 40 and took it off. Now, MANY more years later, it’s back. I’ve decided to lose it – for good. Just starting and even more motivated by your post. Thanks …

    1. Thank you Pat, that means a lot. You are absolutely right, a person needs to make the decision themselves. Even as a personal trainer we cannot make someone want to help themselves. Motivation needs to come from within, my job is to simply help bring it to the surface. I wish you every success on your new health and fitness journey.

  5. Excellent advice that applies to any effort to achieve meaningful life changes. I agree with each of your points, especially getting focused. I used to work with entrepreneurs starting their first business and one of the hardest things for most of them is to get focus on their reason for starting a business in the first place. It’s what I call the “I just want to be happier” syndrome. Hard to make progress when you don’t really know where you’re going or why. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thank you Marquita, I appreciate the feedback and your kind words. I love your “I just want to be happier” syndrome! I guess it’s a human condition that affects us on lots of different contexts and levels. Thanks for your comments.

  6. One of the things that happens to me is that so much of what I do socially involves food, restaurants or bars. I have a pretty good diet at home but I tend to forget a lot of stuff when I’m out.

    1. Hi Ken, thanks for your comment. A change of environment often means a change of the healthy habits that you have promised yourself to keep in place. I will be covering how to manage that in a future blog post. Stay tuned!

  7. All points are very important. I have gained 6 kg after my holidays and working hard to reduce it. I think it is great that I came across this post now.
    I will try to follow your tips. I hope they will work for me.

    1. Good for you! My tips are tried and tested and will work if you apply them properly and stay consistent. I wish you every success with your new goal. Please feel free to subscribe to follow me via email – I will be adding lots of new content and advice about weight loss and best practices which you may find helpful.

    1. Thanks Pat. Setting unrealistic goals is incredibly common. There is nothing wrong with having ambitious goals, however the trick is creating short term objectives that will then, one by one help you achieve your greater goal over time. Look out for a future blog post on ‘chunking’ that will show you how to deal with exactly that.

  8. Thank you for these great tips! On the golden anniversary of my birth (two weeks from now), I am committing myself to an exercise routine. I will walk more, I will eat healthy and stick to my doctor’s meal plans for me (I am diabetic, hyperthyroid and now showing signs of gout). I will bookmark you page as reference in creating an achievable goal for weight loss and healthy living.

    1. Hi Eileen, what a lovely story! I am so pleased that my advice is able to help you. Good for you for such a positive plan. If you would like updates on future blog posts, please enter your email in the ‘Follow Me Via Email’ box on my website and press the subscribe button – it’s free and will keep you up to date as the posts will then come straight to your email. Thank you for your comments. I wish you every success!

  9. It’s not enough just to have a goal. It has to be well constructed and you have to follow through. I think lofty goals are okay as long as you break them down into smaller goals. I think people start out with goals that are more difficult to attain than they realize and get discouraged. Nice post Danny!

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