I get asked questions on a daily basis about nutrition and training. People approach me inquiring about my diet, my training approach, what they need to do to lose weight, to get in shape, to gain muscle, and so on. But the single question I get asked more than any other question ironically has absolutely NOTHING to do with a specific exercise, or training program, or fat loss trick at all.
The question I get asked most frequently usually centers around motivation, around my ability to remain on track and focused day in and day out. What keeps me motivated? Disciplined? Consistent?
Those questions are legitimate ones, because what makes a person successful in their fitness goals has less to do with training and nutrition specifics than you might think. In order to see results- to both get AND keep them- you need to not only have a plan, but you also need to have the ability to STICK to the plan, to stay passionate and focused, consistent and dedicated regardless of convenience or circumstance. In other words- what characteristics, or habits separate the people who achieve physical greatness from those who start and stop over a dozen nutrition or training plans without ever seeing results?
The following are my three personal “secrets” (if there is such a thing) to how I manage to remain focused, disciplined and on track every day, of every week, of every year.
1) Find a sense of comfort in the uncomfortable. You cannot be afraid to work hard.
If you want to be successful, you have to STOP looking for the easy way out. Surrender your search for a short cut. There is no magic pill or instant fat loss fix. You will not miraculously drop 30 lbs in a month, or somehow shape your flat butt into a beautiful round set of glutes in a week. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned over my last 13 years of training is that nothing happens overnight. You have to resign yourself to working hard, day in and day out with passionate consistency for weeks, months, even years to get to where you want to be. Hard goals require a hard focus.
You have to stop cutting corners or being half-assed when it comes to your fitness goals. Don’t be afraid of a tough diet or tough training. Remember that tough circumstances BUILD tough individuals. You cannot fear hard work or being uncomfortable if you want to be great.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a difficult set, a brutal conditioning workout, a severe caloric cut or a stressful work day- whatever obstacles you’re dealing with you have to resolve to not be broken by them. Your focus needs to be enhanced by life’s challenges and difficulties not diminished by them.
Embrace that whatever your goal it’s going to take hard work and lots of it. Immerse yourself in it. Know that every challenging set and rep is pushing you further towards your goal. Relish in the PRs and the visual changes and be proud of your calluses, your sweat, and the mental and physical strength you build from finding solace in uncomfortable circumstances.
2) Accept personal responsibility. Don’t point fingers, do not pass blame, and don’t expect others to step in and assume responsibility for you. Be a self starter.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that “the mind is the limit, that as long as the mind can envision something, it can be done.” Physical strength is directly correlated to mental strength. You cannot build a strong body if your mentality is weak. The two mirror one another. And ANYONE who is successful knows that personal responsibility is the foundation of a strong and efficient mind. Personal responsibility builds mental strength.
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
If you want to be successful you have to stop passing the buck. Own your own decisions. Accept the consequences for making them. Know that NO ONE is responsible for your life other than you. Your trainer can’t give you the body you want, your nutritionist cannot give you the body you want- ONLY YOU can do that. You can have the most expensive trainer money can buy or the most explicitly designed nutritional program but if you don’t have the accountability to adhere to either, it’s all wasted.
You have the power to choose- whether to eat well, or eat junk, whether to skip the gym or whether to hit your training hard. Blaming others for your problems, for your lack of willpower, of self control, or lack of dedication is nothing more than weakness, and you cannot be strong in the gym if you’re weak between the ears.
3) Find what works for you, and do it. Don’t worry about whether it’s the right way, or the wrong way, or even the best way. Find YOUR OWN WAY.
The fitness industry is full of trends, and full of enticing information about the latest miracle exercise or the newest weight loss fix. And I’m sure we ALL know that one person who seems to always be on whatever the latest and greatest diet or training plan is. They’ve hopped on the high carb wagon, the low carb wagon, done no cardio, and done tons of cardio and probably bought every supplement Dr Oz has ever endorsed- and yet they still always LOOK THE SAME. Despite all their efforts and their constant search for the next miracle fitness fix, they never seem to ACTUALLY improve how they look. That’s because they’re more concerned with being up on the latest trend than they are actually formulating a plan that works for them.
You have to find what works for you, and do that. It doesn’t matter if the latest trend is to eat 3x a time and do intermittent fasting, if those methods don’t work for you and don’t fit your lifestyle or goals, then don’t use them! So many people are constantly swept up in re-evaluating their own approach based off of what is working or not working for others rather than focusing on doing what works for them. I can tell you, first hand, that part of why I’m able to remain so consistent is that I’ve found methods that work for me, both in the gym and in the kitchen. My methods might not be on par with the latest trends in fitness, but they are methods that have proved and still prove effective for me and frankly, that’s all that matters.
And if some method isn’t working for you, don’t hesitate to walk away from it. Stalled progress is unacceptable if you have big goals. Don’t allow yourself to plateau simply because you will not longer be able to identify with some specific dieting or training approach. I used to be Paleo, staunchly so, for about two years. But the diet was not effective for me when my training began to change and so I re-integrated grains into my nutrition plan with incredibly positive results. I don’t label myself as being one type of dieter or another, instead I’m simply focused on doing whatever I need to do to reach my goals.
Be an independent thinker and release the need to be a part of a diet tribe, a training clique or to be able to label yourself as paleo, vegan, crossfit, or whatever. I don’t require a label for myself- I just require that I keep progressing towards my goals.
The bottom line is that you HAVE to be strong minded, consistent, independent, and unafraid to get a little obsessive with your goals. The word “obsessive” has such a negative connotation to it. And yet one of the synonyms for obsession is PASSION. And passion means intense desire, fervor, zeal. Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it because it means that much to you. Passion is more than just enthusiasm or excitement, passion is ambition materialized through action.
And while you could call it obsessive, I believe the average person simply cannot understand what it means to put that much heart, mind, body and soul into something.
The mediocre stay mediocre because they lack passion. They never lose weight, get the job they want, the relationship they deserve or the life they were designed to live because they lack the passionate drive to achieve those things.
The truth is that if you want to succeed- at anything- you have to be focused. Disciplined. Your goals need to preoccupy your thoughts.
You might lose balance.
You might be called obsessed.
But the only way to create the life you want for yourself is to get out there with passion and SEIZE it.
Photo credit: Nicholson Studios