Here’s the secret to exercise motivation: there isn’t one. Michelle Bridges taught me this when I met her a couple of weeks ago. Crushing, isn’t it? But in a way it’s also quite freeing. And it could be the missing link when it comes to understanding why so many Australians don’t exercise enough or even at all. Clearly, we need to stop waiting around for some magic motivational bullet to propel us off our bums and into a Pilates class. Not going to happen.
If you described Michelle Bridges as Australia’s most famous and successful trainer, you’d probably be right. Via her programs, she claims to have helped strip 100,000 unwanted kilograms of weight off Australian bodies. She’s also a bit like a cult leader because it’s impossible to meet her and not come under her energetic spell. This happened to me recently during a function where Michelle was one of the panellists and I was MC.
It was a breakfast event so at 6:45am, I couldn’t even state my name with complete certainty but she was glowing as she towered over me in the most incredible shoes you’ve ever seen. In fact she was quite incandescent with energy and enthusiasm and….zest. Verve. Zing. Pizazz. She fizzed, like champagne washed down with espresso. But that’s not even the most interesting part. What Michelle got me thinking about that morning was the myth of motivation.
As the panel discussed some research into how many Australians are overweight, the subject of how to change people’s behaviour came up and I directed a question to Michelle: “How do we motivate ourselves to exercise? What’s the secret?”
Her answer was surprising.
Basically, Michelle thinks the idea of motivation is bullshit. I’m paraphrasing because her mouth is not as potty-ish as mine but that’s her basic view.
Like the rest of us, Michelle doesn’t adore exercise when she’s doing it and she doesn’t particularly look forward to it. And it’s this myth – that we should LOVE exercise and be inspired to do it – that so many of us use as an excuse not to.
Michelle says she’s asked about motivation all the time because people assume she is a motivation machine. But she’s not. “I don’t wake up, pump my fist in the air and go ‘YES! I’M GOING RUNNING! RUNNING! YESSSSSSS!'” she insists. Just like she doesn’t wake up and go “YES! I’M HAVING A SHOWER AND BRUSHING MY TEETH.” Or “YES! I HAVE A DENTIST APPOINTMENT!” It’s just what she does.
If you wait for motivation to magically appear? You’ll still be sprawled on your couch watching The Real Housewives in a decade.
The clouds do not part. Inspiration does not strike. You will probably never be overcome by the urge to exercise. You. Just. Do. It.
It turns out Nike might be onto something. Who knew?
Accidentally, I’ve taken this approach to exercise for a long time. It’s also known as the Don’t-Negotiate-With-Terrorists method if by ‘terrorists’ you mean the self-sabotaging parts of yourself that would prefer to sleep-in or go for drinks after work instead of moving vigorously until parts of your body hurt and get sweaty.
I don’t negotiate with myself about exercise. Ever. I’ve done the same thing for years. And years and years. Exercise is one of the most boring and predictable things in my life but also one of the most important. Without it, I’m Moody McBitchface.
The way I sidestep the need for motivation is to remove as many variables as possible – I exercise indoors so weather doesn’t matter. I exercise alone so I’m no relying on anyone. I don’t have a trainer or do classes so it’s not budget dependent.
I always exercise in the morning and always on cardio machines. The morning part is crucial. It means I don’t spend the day having those exhausting debates in my head about whether I will or won’t do it after work. Exercising in the morning is as much a part of my routine as getting dressed.
Before you say it, yes, I’m sure I could get far better ‘results’ if I mixed it up, got a trainer, cross-trained yadda yadda yadda. But doing that would be risky and counter-productive because it’s the very predictability, sameness and lack of spontaneous change that makes it more likely to happen.
Does this make me motivated? Disciplined? Or just a bit OCD?
Thinking about it, I realised I apply this non-negotiable approach to other areas of my life too. Like writing.
One of my favourite TED talks is by Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert where she speaks about creativity and writing. She’s also a Just Do It girl. Because if you’re a professional writer with deadlines, you don’t have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike.
A large part of being a writer is just writing. Obvious but true. Less angsting, more doing. You can edit bad words but you can’t edit no words. I give that advice to every writer who asks me about writing this column or books or blogging…don’t be precious about it, just pull finger. Enough with the waiting and analysing or deadlines will pass you by. And so will life.
How do you motivate yourself to exercise (or do anything else, for that matter)?