Fitness Motivation, Part 2: self-motivation deconstructed

In the last post, we explored how motivation by others’ transformations, while powerful at first, does not last long. Most motivational fitness stories are not something we can truly relate to, unless we are going through some life-changing events. If we do, we use those stories as a road map to our own transformation. And if we don’t – we see some tremendous work, the staggering contrast between Before and After, and we feel guilty. Someone in a more difficult situation had more discipline while you still struggle.

Intrinsic motivation – the one that comes from you – is the only sustainable way to stay on track. So you are your own best cheer leader in fitness (as everywhere else in life). Self-motivation comes down to wanting a remote reward – a beautiful body – much more than being discouraged by not so remote suffering – a need to adhere to a number of restrictions.

But here’s a problem. The main reward is far ahead. So we are really exchanging one suffering from a body that we dislike now to another suffering from the fitness lifestyle restrictions. Why? Because the remote rewards are less important to us than the immediate discomforts.

You can understand the nature of intrinsic motivation by the analogy with the time value of money. It goes like this: 10 dollars today are more than 1o dollars in a year. Because you can put these $10 to work and get more than $10 later. As the result, when evaluating a potential investment, finance kids compare the outflow of funds today with a sum of discounted (by the required rate of return) net inflows in the future. You got the idea!

Here’s how it applies to your body. Your negative body image is an “outflow”. It drains you and prevents you from all sorts of progress. The discomforts related to the fitness lifestyle adjustment (dieting and regular workouts) are also the “outflow”. They require you to initiate and to sustain a palpable change in your daily routines. The body of your dream, on the other hand, is an “inflow”.

Simple so far.

Because the “inflow” is remote and uncertain, its potential impact is not as as strong as the impact of loss of freedom in the lifestyle that we have to maintain. You can say all day long that you would do anything for a beautiful body. It’s just not the case when the sweets withdrawal (or whatever guilty pleasures you indulge yourself in) kicks in.

To minimize the outflows we simply don’t follow through with the lifestyle change and stick with just suffering from the negative body image we already have. It is familiar to us, so we just choose what is easier. In other words, the remote promise of your sexy body is not enough to stay loyal to boring cucumbers and chicken breast while your body still sucks (by your standards, anyways). So you keep the body you don’t like, tell cucumbers with chicken breast to go to hell and the cake – to come in.


Negative body image and discomforts of lifestyle adjustments NOW are the “outflows” for internal motivation. Beautiful body in FUTURE, on the other hand, is an “inflow”.

OK that’s messed up! So how do we turn that around? How do we make the remote reward more meaningful, hence, motivation more lasting? Let’s start with suffering from the negative body image. If that were not a problem, and you loved yourself in the current state no matter what (here’s how you learn to – and it requires practice), change to the fitness lifestyle with inherent sacrifices is now a smaller “outflow” compared to a potential beautiful body “inflow”. As the result, every step becomes a small contribution to a bigger goal. At the same time, what you have now – you already appreciate. Result – longer motivation.


Eliminating the negative body image makes going through the lifestyle adjustments seem like steps of the progress towards a bigger goal.

But what if you cannot eradicate the self-loath, which you diligently cultivated in yourself with the help of commercials, social media, and even some of your close people? You can try rethinking you perception of   a beautiful body as a one-time payoff! Because it is not! And it will not come as a lump sum in one moment. Becoming more aware of positive micro changes in your body can improve the certainty of achieving your goal and diminishing net “outflows” related to the fitness lifestyle restrictions. Now you got the additional “inflow” – positive body changes – to counter the “outflow” – the required discipline to workout and to diet.

Another way to increase the “inflows” is to reward yourself in the process. Design the lifestyle such that you get non-food related rewards for adhering to the lifestyle. Acknowledge your progress to be excited to continue.


Understanding that a fit body is not a one-time payoff, noticing small changes in the process, and rewarding yourself for them can keep you motivated to continue. 

Finally, who said that the lifestyle adjustments are even “outflows”? Getting and staying on the path to fitness can be fun, if you don’t let your own head screw it. Changing your perception about your new lifestyle can make all the difference. The concept of flexible dieting is designed to allow for flexibility in eating while your body improves. Similarly, varying workouts‘ styles and targeted muscles make them not such a drag after all.

If you look at your new fitness lifestyle as fun and not as restricting as they might appear in the first place, you will be more inclined to maintain it.


Our self-motivation fails us when we get into a mindset that we are exchanging one suffering (negative body image) for another (restricted lifestyle) with a hope for a remote positive outcome. Looking at self-motivation using the analogy of time value of money, we can decompose what goes into intrinsic motivation to improve the chances of staying on path.

Removing of negative body image and perception of fitness lifestyle as a set of restrictions, while focusing small changes and rewarding yourself for them improve your chances to stay motivated.

Finally, things do not stop after the magic day when you come to a mirror and, with a tear in your eye, officially proclaim your body fit. Chances, you body will be in a great shape long before you actually allow your mind to call yourself fit, but that’s another conversation. The point is, your fitness does not become a constant after a certain point. Yes, you will get accustomed to a new lifestyle, but what will be your motivation now that you are fit? Some people want to hold on to what they worked hard to earn. Some people want to constantly improve. Others find passion in sharing their knowledge. Yet there are those who lose incentives after they have become fit. Motivation after achieving a fit body – a topic for the future post.