Lifelong Fitness: A Path to Sustainable Motivation for 40+ Guys

“I need to get motivated.” I’ve said this a thousand times over the years.

Once or twice in a big-picture sense when I wasn’t exercising enough, or eating well enough. Many, many times in a next-five-minutes sense. As in, “if I don’t change clothes and start a workout in the next five minutes, I’ll lose my available time window today.”

But it’s been years since I’ve had any big-picture motivation challenge, and I don’t even feel the next-five-minutes version that much anymore.

So what changed for me, motivation-wise?

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“I need to get motivated.” I’ve said this a thousand times over the years.

Once or twice in a big-picture sense, when I wasn’t exercising enough. Many, many times in a next-five-minutes sense. As in, “If I don’t change clothes and motivate to start my workout in the next five minutes, I’ll lose my available time window today.”

But it’s been years since I’ve had any big-picture motivation challenge, and I don’t even feel the next-five-minutes version that much anymore.

So what changed for me, motivation-wise?

I hope what I’ve learned helps you refine your own view of motivation, brother, and how to make it work for you.

Defining “Motivation”

First, “motivation” isn’t a single, uniform feeling. There are different types.

“Motivation” can mean incentive to…

1. Avoid negative long-term outcomes. This fear- or threat-based motivation is to avoid things like weight-related diseases and conditions, heart issues, etc.

Said starkly, it’s “exercise and eat well so you don’t develop life-limiting health issues, or die before your time.”

2. Achieve positive, non-immediate outcomes. Examples: be active enough to enjoy being a parent or grandparent. Or, have your physical appearance become / stay “good enough” to serve romantic goals.

Experts call these positively-oriented incentives “developmental” motivations.

3. Achieve positive, immediate outcomes. This is the feeling of a workout being refreshing in a clear-your-mind way. Or of an outdoors walk or run letting you appreciate nature and feel happy you’re part of it.

This third type is referred to as “intrinsic” motivation.

The Best Kind of Motivation

Experts agree negative-avoidance is the weakest form of motivation.

As in “yeah, I need to start getting in shape and eating better to avoid a bunch of long-term negative health consequences. But I can start on that tomorrow.” Or next week, or month, or year. This is the New Year’s Resolution dynamic.

By contrast, positive motivation is much better. Research show positive goal-seeking is a much more powerful incentive than negative-outcome-avoidance.

The best kind of motivation? It’s the intrinsic kind. People joke about being “addicted” to exercise. I don’t want to make light of a serious word, but in one sense, this is in fact what we’re trying to reach or sustain. The feeling that we “need” physical movement on a daily basis.

The secret to “getting more motivated” isn’t only  teeth-gritting resolve. Rather, it’s charting a path to change how you feel initial incentive to behave certain ways. And then how you feel rewards that reinforce those behaviors.

Feeling incentive to exercise because you want the great feelings it brings, that very same day…that’s powerful motivation, man.

How to Reach the Better Kinds of Motivation

The big question is:

How to move ourselves along this motivation spectrum, toward the more powerful and sustainable kinds?

Hopefully one or more of these tactics will help…

⇒ Think explicitly about positive goals you’ll achieve by getting, or staying, in tip-top shape. This can span the self-less (“be there for my family”) to the self-oriented (“keep on looking my best”). The more positive reasons, the merrier!

⇒ Use “grit the teeth resolve” short-term to force new behaviors. These can, over time, create appreciation of intrinsic benefits you didn’t feel before. This is at least a three or four-month endeavor. Not a “30-day miracle” thing, dude. You’ll be literally re-wiring your brain to associate positives with exercise, and that takes a little time.

⇒ Create accountability. Commit to a fitness program with friends or family Or, pay for something (fear of having wasted money is a motivator). Plan an adventure that requires getting into better shape.

⇒ Take small steps first. Try a new “tiny habit” you can get into without big motivational hurdles. This can then snowball in a positive way. I wrote about these types of small steps here.

⇒ Experiment with new forms of exercise. One or more of them might “grab you” with immediate positive rewards, in a way that other activities haven’t.

⇒ Make exercise a respite from the world’s craziness…a “you time” source of mental relief and refreshment. This, together with physical “endorphin release” effects of exercise, is a big part “positively addicting” yourself. This likely means sometimes getting yourself out of the gym, man.

⇒ Use good nutrition to help reinforce an exercise habit. As in “I’ve been eating so well…I can’t ‘waste’ that benefit by not exercising, too.” Or the reverse: “I can’t let my good exercise get undermined by eating poorly!”

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Gents, I hope this helps you think about how to best motivate and manage yourself as the second half of your life rolls slowly by.

One last idea for “extra credit” readers. We tend to use “motivation” and “inspiration” interchangeably, but they mean subtly different things.

“Inspiration” is literally related to the idea of “in spirit.” So really, the ultimate OlderBeast goal isn’t motivation at all. It’s inspiration. This is where fitness, nutrition and Wellness are vital to you at the “soul” level, at the foundation of who you are and why you’re here.

If you think this would be useful to others, please help spread the word about OlderBeast by sharing this post with the social media buttons below. THANKS, MAN.

“Still I look to find a reason to believe.” (Rod Steward, Reason to Believe – click to listen)

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So many guys know they need to lose weight, improve cardio health, and/or battle the decline of strength and flexibility. They know all the reasons why and they know reasonably well what to do. But still…time passes. Periods of resolve (especially around New Year’s) are followed by longer periods of less discipline. The body-and-soul health gap grows larger. And the long-term game plan to address it recedes into the fuzzy future.

In truth, do you recognize yourself here? This was me circa 2004 by the way, so please don’t hear this question as criticism or judgment. I’m describing, at least, a sizable minority of 45+ guys. Maybe even a majority.

If you’re one of them, I respectfully believe you need a different kind of 2018 New Year’s resolution, man. Not just to “work out more” or “join a new gym.” These kinds of resolution are easy to make but so hard to keep over time. (So is “eat better,” but nutrition is its own major topic and here I’m sticking to the exercise component of fitness).

Here’s a resolution that may sound harder to start acting on, but which is much more likely to really matter in your life. “In 2018, I’m going to discover and attack the root cause – cognitive or emotional – of my persistent under-attention to fitness and health.”

2 Comments
  1. Marty OKeefe 3 years ago
    Reply

    Excellent summary Mark..hits the mark. I’ve can check of many versions of these motivators..depending on where I was in my life. Its a journey….but you need to start and find your way.

  2. […] “WHY” is a question of underlying motivation, man. It’s the bedrock of OlderBeast resolve to “double down” on fitness, nutrition and Wellness for the second half of life. We began discussing motivation in this earlier post. […]

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