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June 17, 2012

The Three Ls of Motivation

by alive

Phew, it’s been a while. Life always finds a way, as they say. In this case, it was a way to stop me from writing. But I managed to get on that treadmill of Life, turn up the speed, and then outrun and lose most of my immediate obligations, so I could hit the keyboard and put up another article for this neglected blog, come hell or high water. Let’s hope it stays that way for a while!

With that, I thought it was time to talk about something that overshadows any weight loss quest like a Sword of Damocles: MOTIVATION.

Sword of Damocles

Most articles on fat loss will follow what I call the DOSE formula. That is, they have these elements:

DO this: Often purporting to come from a famous personality or bodybuilder, but most often ghostwritten rehashing of the same old stuff over and over again.

Sexy model: Some people will buy the magazine for… let’s say ‘motivation’.

Exercise pics: Demo of some exercises which should help. Sometimes good old standbys, sometimes crazy and unusual to generate interest and infuse a sense of ‘freshness’ or a mystical promise of the ‘secret formula’.



I can tell you that most of these articles are useless.

You see, over the years in hospital, I’ve worked with close to 500-600 people trying to lose weight. And over the last twenty years as a personal trainer, I’ve had to change my approach many times, and find one that seems to work to help people start exercise, lose weight, and then SUSTAIN it. And I’ve learnt that where it all begins… is MOTIVATION.

RIGHT NOW you already HAVE what you need to exercise. And if you really wanted to, you could get information on HOW TO so easily.

And I can prove it to you.

Do you have a pair of sports shoes?

Do you, when faced with this at the buffet table, know if you should eat this, or skip it?

Do you log on to the internet, and know about a channel called YOUTUBE?

You do? So do many people! You already have the equipment, the instinct, and the knowledge to get started and keep going for it.

So why do many of them FAIL?

Because HOW TO is just one part! And in my experience, the easy part.

The WHY is even more important! Not the why to do this exercise or that, not why I should train like this or that, and not ever why cardio is better than weights for fat loss.


No, the WHY I am talking about is a deeper, ingrained, personal WHY. As in…

WHY do I WANT to do this?

WHY is it URGENT for me to do this NOW?

This is the most important step I take my personal training clients through, and now I’d like to share it with you.


The Pain Pleasure Principle

People do things to avoid pain, or to gain pleasure. That’s the most basic it gets, but it’s true.

Pleasure: I can start an exercise program because I want the pleasure of being fitter than my old schoolmate I will be seeing at the primary school reunion party.

Pain: I’ve just had a heart attack/ got diagnosed with diabetes. I MUST start exercising to avoid dying early.

Which do you think is more motivating for most people? Yes, PAIN. People do more to AVOID PAIN than they will to GAIN PLEASURE. Pleasure creates no urgency, so it often gets stuck on that whiteboard of the mind. Yup, it’s there. Somewhere. And someday I’ll start, but just not now.

But pain is what will make you DO IT NOW. It will make you RUN, not WALK, to the nearest gym, seek out the best qualified personal trainer, or start reading that book on exercise that you bought two year ago collecting dust exactly where you left it… two years ago.


The Three Ls of Weight Loss Motivation

I came up with a framework that helps to explain the three major motivators of successful weight losers. I will always share this with my clients because when they recognize in which category they belong, they start on that path to awareness. Once they have found their true, personal motivation, the true PAIN, that’s where we really see results.



It’s not news that inactivity leads to a lot of health problems. Some are directly caused by obesity while others have strong relationships to being overweight. Sure, PLEASURE would say: let’s exercise NOW to prevent any of this happening! But often it’s the PAIN of already developing these problems that finally get people off their butts.

What are some of these pains?

Leading ones are:

Heart disease – often leading to a heart attack, and the precipitating factor for them to start exercising seriously… if they survived. Not everone will survive the first heart attack.

Diabetes – the danger of eventual amputation of the foot or leg, and the knowledge that it was years of inactivity plus high sugar intake that caused what might have been an avoidable problem, finally gets people to an exercise program.

Stroke – this is something that seems so far away to many people, especially the young. Yet the thought of never being able to walk normally again makes many people put in the miles… while they still can walk.

Not to mention joint pain with increasing weight increases. Most of us have some kind of ache or pain after age 35, but imagine… with accelerating weight comes accelerating pressure and wear and tear. Not good!

So… reason number 1: LIFE. Correction of problems that could have been avoided by living a more active lifestyle, in the fear that this really is it. The last chance.



Imagine, you’re reading a lifestyle magazine.

Healthy cooking… read that later.

How to be more romantic….. nah…

And then…

OH MY GOD! Coupons! One-on-one for MacDonald’s Happy meal! Free ice cream with every Burger King purchase! Cut cut cut cut cut.

And then you flip the page for an ad… it might be for a product, it might be for a supplement… it might be for a gym membership… but you see this.

And you think, “Hey… I used to look like this!

I find it interesting that ladies are often more motivated by the potential changes to their faces than to their bodies, while for the guys, maybe it’s a midlife crisis. But who can ignore the fact that many who come to train are people who are sick and tired (there’s the PAIN again!) of having a lousy social Life, and have started to discover feelings for the opposite sex, and have realized that their extra fat is weighing them down in more ways than one?

Whatever the underlying reasons, it’s LOOKS that will motivate this group to start exercising.

Superficial? Shallow?

I say… SO WHAT!

There’s nothing wrong! If it’s looks that motivates you, acknowledge it’s the looks.

We have a RIGHT to want to look better! We have a RIGHT to want to look attractive!

And if you start an exercise program telling yourself, I’m doing this for that six pack! Or I’m doing this to be attractive again! Then that’s how your passion for exercise will truly be ignited.


You know what I used to do with my personal training clients? When a guy came to me who was honest and told me he wanted a six pack to attract girls, and he was on the treadmill, and about to give up, I’d shout at him “GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!” Or when a girl tells me she’s interested in some guy and that’s why she wants to get into shape, I’ll laminate a picture of him and stick it on whichever machine she was using. You bet they get results… both in the gym AND socially!

Don’t be like a lot of people who start exercise without a real reason, or with a fake reason which sounds good, such as “I want to improve my health.” It won’t work! Be honest and don’t let anyone judge you!



Finally, there are plenty of people who will simply NOT do anything for themselves. Not for Life, not for Looks. These include some of the busiest people but also some of the laziest.

Busy people: enterpreneurs, business people, corporate execs.
Lazy people: serious, hardcore, TV watchers or computer gamers!


When loved ones come into the picture, THAT’S when people start to do something.

Because it is love for OTHERS that will make you DO more. ENDURE more. SACRIFICE more.


How many people would love to see their kids grow up and be active enough to play with them! What could you do with your family if you weren’t overweight? What extra options might you have to explore Life and adventure together? Do you want to carry a loved one? Or be carried?

For those who have kids… are you worried that they will become one of those statistics for early heart attack, early diabetes, and early death? Well guess what? The best way to fight obesity is to prevent it in the first place!

And if you develop those habits first, it will be so much easier to inculcate these eating and activity habits in your children.

Childhood obesity is a huge problem now, and children are getting heavier all the time. In the hospital setting, I notice that people coming for cardiac rehab after heart attack are getting younger and younger. I’ve seen people aged 25 getting heart attacks from being overweight.

And finally, there are economic burdens to families when health gets so bad you can no longer work at your job, or when a family member has to work in order to pay mounting healthcare bills.

So LOVE for your family and others may help you make that decision.


Think… Decide…Write It Down


Think about your true reasons for wanting to start exercise. THINK VERY HARD. Decide which ones are important to you. Then write them down. You don’t have to let anyone see it if you don’t want to. But YOU need to look at them often to remind yourself of what IMPORTANT and WHY IT’S URGENT. That’s what will help you do the exercise and eat the right food day after day.

A fake reason isn’t going to get you excited about waking up early to do that morning jog.

A fake reason isn’t going to restrain you when you reach out for that extra stick of satay.

A fake reason isn’t going to help you when you have to make a decision… the gym, or the movies with your buddies.

If you want to succeed like many of my students who’ve succeeded, you MUST clarify your TRUE MOTIVATIONS!




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