From Whence Cometh Motivation To Workout?

Hi folks,

The FitOldDog Training Wheel moves from the study of awareness of what we are to determination of why we do what we do. From:

The FitOldDog Training Wheel moves from the study of awareness of what we are, to determination of why we do what we do. From:

The first spoke of the FitOldDog Training Wheel is ‘awareness,’ including both mind and body awareness. If you do not know how to explore your psyche and your body, how will you progress in an orderly or effective manner? This leads immediately to the question, “Why do we think what we think and do what we do?” Why are we motivated to do this but not that? The purpose of this blog is to encourage those who need to undertake safe exercise for better health, to get started and then to ‘stay with the program.’ How does one motivate a person to work out if it is not their natural inclination? Having undertaken some kind of sport or exercise all my life, I find this question fascinating and somewhat perplexing.

FitOldDog with Deb checking race bags just before the 2010 Lake Placid Ironman. Photo by Randy Muse

FitOldDog and Deb at bag checkin before 2010 Lake Placid, New York, Ironman. Photo by Randy Muse.

In my case, working out is always goal oriented, but I also enjoy the process and I definitely don’t feel so good without regular exercise. Training invigorates my life! More recently, it would appear that exercise saved my life due its (a) correcting a serious genetic hyperlipidemia without recourse to muscle toxins (statins), and (b) raising my body-awareness to the point that I self-diagnosed an abdominal aortic aneurysm that was ready to pop and finish me off (thus this blog). I am also convinced that my general state of health makes me a promising candidate as a mate. So you could say that my Ironman training is motivated by a combination of fear of death, a history of health and social benefits in the past, and the pleasures of exercise-induced endorphin release.

It would thus appear that humans, and most living organisms for that matter, are motivated in large part by two factors, (1) fear of pain and death or (2) the desire for pleasure. We have pain receptors and transduction systems that let us know when it hurts, which is key to survival. We use the lust for pleasure to find food, sex, and other forms of comfort. In a way, fear and pleasure are two sides of the same coin, as the pleasure of food is linked to fear of starvation, and whilst sex is great fun, failure to find a mate will prevent our genes passing on to the next generation, a real no-no for ‘The Selfish Gene.’ But is motivation that simple, just a combination of pain and pleasure pushing us along?

Sometimes one just isn't motivated, to workout, but you are motivated to have another beer. The only way to change that is to put down the beer and start exercising. From:

Sometimes one just isn’t motivated, to workout, but you are motivated to have another beer. The only way to change that is to put down the beer and start exercising. From:

It turns out that people have been thinking about motivation for some time, generating a number of competing hypotheses, including the role of brain physiology and neurotransmitters. Such research is important for the treatment of depression, and so forth, but I really liked an article entitled, ‘Chez Ollie.’ The author, Joe, says, “The motivation comes from the results. Very rarely before it. So here’s the catch: In order to get the results …that will further motivate you …you have to find a way to do action necessary to begin the cycle.” He’s saying, “Just do something,” and the motivation will come as the desired result. I like this approach. We can talk about neural networks and our childhood forever, but getting some exercise is really what we need, so JUST DO IT! If that works for you. The real trick is to see what works for you.

My image of the Lake Placid Ironman swim keeps me motivated to improve my strength and skill in the water. Photo by Randy Mews.

My image of the chaos of the Lake Placid Ironman swim keeps me motivated to improve my strength and skill in the water. Photo by Randy Mews.

I wrote a blog post on the issue of motivation in relation to early morning swims (which I really hate to go to), and I clearly have multiple motivators for this activity, both positive (Won’t I feel great and my breakfast taste wonderful afterwards? And I do, and it does!) and negative (Can I face having to tell my coach that I chickened out of his swim program, again – no way!). I am also attached to qualifying for the Hawaii Ironman race, and the qualifier that I attend every year in Lake Placid, New York, starts with a pretty cold 2.4-mile swim in Mirror Lake. Doing well in this leg of the race is key to my confidence for the rest of the day, so thoughts of this swim get me moving in the pool.

One thing that really motivates me is when people tell me, “You can’t do that!” That really gets me going, and often in the wrong direction. This was why I became a veterinarian instead of a biochemist (the recommendation of my careers master), only to find that I did not enjoy veterinary practice one little bit (it was the people not the animals that bothered me), but fortunately my career took an odd turn as a result of my wishing to study French literature, which took me to a Toxicology job in Geneva, in French-speaking Switzerland. This led eventually to my doing lots of biochemistry that I really enjoyed, thank goodness. That said, I think it’s generally best if the motivation comes from within, rather than as a knee jerk response to our external environment.

I suspect that we do what we do in response to a subtle, or not so subtle, mélange of fear and pleasure. Whatever the underlying motives turn out to be in your case, just do something to get in shape! A little something is better than nothing, and I’m sure that you’ll find that it is much easier than you expect.

-k @FitOldDog

Today’s workouts:

Workout PLAN Coach: Chris Hauth
Duration: 04:00:00
Steady Z2 – watch the HR those last 90 minutes – goal is to remain ‘in control’ of HR those last 90 minutes
Duration: 00:30:00
short but steady run off the bike – try to get to Z2 running HR

P.S. Just for fun, here are a few exercise motivators that you might want to consider:

  1. It makes you more attractive to your chosen mating group.
  2. Reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease (courtesy of my friend Stacey).
  3. Improve the way you look to yourself.
  4. Because you think that you look fat (even though you may not actually be fat).
  5. To get into last year’s clothes, as clothes are expensive.
  6. Because you need to get in shape to climb the Andes, go up in the space shuttle (oops, too late), or bike across America.
  7. To go places people who are unfit just cannot go.
  8. To be able to walk upstairs at work without getting out of breath.
  9. Because!
  10. Because you think that you would look cool in workout gear at the gym.
  11. Because you received a gym pass from your partner as a present (was this a hint?).
  12. You doctor told you to.
  13. You had indigestion, thought it was a heart attack, got scared and wanted to do something about it.
  14. No particular reason.
  15. So that if you fall over you can get up again.
  16. So that if your motor bike falls over you can stand it up again.
  17. So you can eat more and still get out of the house to go buy more food.
  18. You wanted to run with that girl/guy who seemed to be interested in talking to you.
  19. Because your Mom and Dad told you to, and you forgot that they aren’t running your life anymore.
  20. Because you can’t see your feet when you stand up.
  21. To improve your cardiovascular health.
  22. Because you like looking at yourself in the mirror at the gym.
  23. To be part of a team and respected by your fellow team members.
  24. To complete an Ironman so you can have a silly tattoo on your ankle.
  25. Because you were inspired by someone else, which is a common and excellent reason.
  26. To stave off old age.
  27. To help pretend that you aren’t getting old.
  28. Because you’ve always dreamed of flying and you know that you need strong arms to do that.
  29. So you can carry your own golf clubs.
  30. So you can get back out of the nursing home.
  31. Because you want to get in shape, and it feels good.
  32. So you can strut around the gym, between infrequent weight lifting sets, for no apparent reason (we called him ‘The Strut Master).’
  33. So that you can dance the night away.
  34. Because your butt is too big.
  35. To ride a bike from San Francisco to San Diego in five days.
  36. So that you can reach your toe nails to cut them.
  37. Why not! You got a problem with that?
  38. To control your weight.
  39. Because your butt is too small.
  40. So people won’t threaten you.
  41. To reduce your hypertension.
  42. So you can run away if people do threaten you.
  43. Because you read that strength training is highly recommended for older people.
  44. Because you like jumping in cold lakes early in the morning.
  45. So you can stand up without undue difficulty.
  46. Because you love walking around and around and around the mall with other old lads and lassies.
  47. To keep you out of the nursing home, continuing to live independently.
  48. To compete in the Olympics.
  49. So you can shoot some baskets without risking your life.
  50. To strengthen your tendons and ligaments in order to stabilize your joints.
  51. To drop your cycling partner, and laugh as you go by.
  52. So you can catch your kids.
  53. To normalize your lipid profile – who would think of that one?
  54. To cure your type II diabetes mellitus in order to watch your grandchildren grow up – now, there is a real reason.

Now come up with your reasons, and get on with it.

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.