Motivation Part 2: A Showdown With Encouragement

Part one of the motivation series explored the concept of motivation as it relates to just exercise. We continued to explore this concept to see if there is such a thing as too much motivation and/or if motivation can ever have an adverse affect, again as it relates to just exercise. Our conclusion: sort of, though the reasons may not be what you expect.

We found quite the blurred line between motivation and encouragement; it appears too much “encouragement” (or in some cases, any encouragement) does have an adverse affect on exercise. Go figure.

The Oxford Dictionary defines encouragement (noun) as: “The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.”

That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? In fact, part of our job as professional fitness trainers is to encourage clients to reach their potential as people, as well as their goals. Yet, false, based on A LOT of input from people from all over the country. Before we jump into the good stuff, I want to clarify that the people are not clients of ours, they’re just average Americans who took the time to post about their experiences. Moreover, these experiences are a mix of group class settings as well as one-on-one settings, where the encouragement was given by both participants as well as instructors. Now that that’s out of the way.

The majority of people felt that encouragement such as “You can do it!” “Don’t quit, don’t stop” “You got this!” was/is:

  • Distracting. Example: I was doing just fine holding a plank position for 2 minutes when suddenly I hear “don’t give up, we’re almost there!” being shouted at me, derailing my focus and reminding me how difficult holding this position really is, and how much it actually burns.
  • Condescending. Example: I’m in the middle of a cardio burst, actually feeling pretty good about myself and out of nowhere I hear, “you can do it, don’t give up” and now I’m thinking ‘I didn’t think I couldn’t do it, now I kind of think I can’t do it. Now I don’t WANT to do this.’ I feel like an idiot.
  • Pressure. Example: I’m not the fittest person, having someone say to me “don’t stop, keep it up” makes me feel pressure to complete the exercise perfectly, or like I’m less than capable.
  • Annoying. Example: When I’m concentrating I don’t need cheerleaders; that would annoy me to no end and make me want to quit.

Not everyone felt the same way, a few people actually felt the opposite:

  • Helpful. Example: When I’m working really hard during an exercise and I’m ready for it to be over hearing things like, “you can do it, you’re almost done” remind me that I KNOW I can finish strong by just continuing on.
  • Motivational. Example: The group classes I attend are very “cheerleader” heavy and I love it. It makes me work harder than I would on my own.

This all begs the question, if ‘encouragement’ means something so good, then why does it feel so bad? Curious indeed.

Another part of our job is to motivate clients along the way to help them meet their goals. In our last post we identified how difficult it can be to motivate yourself, let alone someone else. So are we miracle workers? Wizards? Hardly. We also identified in our last post that finding motivation can be made simpler by asking yourself a few questions. Well, shocker, that’s how we do it too.  In our studio, we ask our clients all sorts of questions during initial consultations to specifically find out why they’ve come to us looking for assistance.

If I want to motivate a person who came to me because of a hypertension diagnosis I might do that by reminding them why they came in the first place,

Yeah, it burns now, but that’s nothing compared to always having high blood pressure.’

If I want to encourage that same person, I might do that by saying,

‘You’re doing great, keep up the hard work!’

Both are seemingly positive, one seems more positive than the other and yet those two statements are often interpreted completely differently, often negatively. In fact, the latter being borderline insulting to some. So what’s the biggest difference between the two?

Motivation, again, is the general desire or willingness of someone to do something and encouragement is …giving someone support, confidence, or hope. Since Oxford and I are on a roll with definitions, a desire is: a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.

There’s definitely a place in exercise for those strong feelings that give us motivation. Those same feelings are driving the energy throughout your body to keep it in that plank position for minutes on end. Desire comes from within. Encouragement is given. Confidence has a place in exercise too, though if someone is already confident then is more really what they need? Support is also incredibly helpful in exercise, when it’s needed, otherwise it can come off as intrusive.

In the end we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not motivation that you can have too much of, it’s encouragement. However it’s not even that you can have too much of it, it’s that encouragement is best when someone actually needs it. That’s the Foss perspective and we’ve even updated our initial paperwork to reflect the importance of both in exercise.

Have you ever been encouraged unnecessarily while exercising? Are you in a place where encouragement is as important as motivation to exercise? What about the flip side, have you ever needed encouragement to get through exercise but weren’t able to get it?

That’s where we’ll leave it for today. Until next time, peace.


Motivation: Exercise’s Best Friend

Motivation. Lately this topic or concept has come up a lot with clients and people in general. The more I talked about it, the more I thought about it, and the more I thought about it the more clear it became just how unclear the concept of motivation can be to people. When it comes to exercise, motivation can make or break us. We’ve decided to explore “motivation” in a series of posts, part one being motivation in relation to just exercise.

The Oxford dictionary defines motivation (noun) as:

  1. The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.
  2. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

I have met and talked with so many people about health and fitness over the last few years, in both personal and professional settings. One thing that is pretty consistent is that when asked about fitness people do know what they want, in other words, they have goals whether they’ve realized it or not.

  • I need to lose weight because my health is now suffering
  • I want to lose 20 lbs for my wedding next year
  • I want to be healthy so I’m here for my kids and family
  • I want to be fit so I have energy to play with my kids
  • I want to be fit and healthy because there’s a lot I want to do in the future
  • I need to be fit because I have chronic pain

If we know what we want and/or we have health/fitness goals then why do we need SO much motivation to actually exercise?

A quick web search for “motivation in exercise” yields many results like these:

“Secrets to Regular Exercise Motivation”

“4 Scientifically Proven Ways to Get Workout Motivation”

“5 Ways to Stay Motivated to Exercise Regularly”

“31 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise”

“29 Smart Ways to Motivate Yourself to Work Out”

Is the motivation to exercise a best-kept secret? If so, why is it a secret in the first place and not just common knowledge? Are we even meant to uncover the secret or is it secret for a reason? Volunteers on opening up Pandora’s box of exercise motivation?

Do we really need scientifically proven reasons to exercise? Is our lifespan and quality of life not reason enough?

29 Smart and 31 ways to motivate yourself. That’s 60 ways to motivate yourself, do you want to read all 60 ways to motivate yourself? How can there be a cool 60 ways to get motivated at the same time that these are supposed to be secretive?  Also, why are 29 considered smart? Who deemed them smart? While the 29 reasons I read were all clever ideas, they were also very subjective.

Lastly, 5 ways to stay motivated. So in addition to finding the motivation, which appears to be quantifiable, one must also factor in motivation to stay motivated to exercise?

Wtf, mate?

Does anyone else feel exhausted by this? If just getting motivated is this involved, then what does that say about the exercise itself?  It seems complicated enough to get that coveted motivation in the first place, forget about working out…

Then I remember those discussions I had with clients, or friends, or family, or with myself. Why do YOU want to be healthy? What does fitness mean for YOU and YOUR life? 

Is it possible that we don’t actually have to search all over the world or web for the motivation to exercise; that we can create our own motivation fairly easily by asking ourselves a couple of questions?  We definitely think it is, however it doesn’t quite end there because what about that whole staying motivated part?

The Oxford dictionary definition doesn’t make any mention of needing motivation to be motivated about something. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.  Two different questions we can then ask ourselves are 1. What is it that you want/desire? and 2. What are you willing to do to get it?  Remember when I said that people, when asked, know what they want and that they have goals whether they know it or not? What I’m getting at here is that your desires are your goals.

We encourage our clients to set short-term goals, as these are easier to achieve and therefore less daunting. It only takes 30 days of doing something consistently to develop a new habit; 30 days of regular exercise is more than enough time to meet a number of short-term goals. Once goals are met they’re replaced with new goals, and we established that goals are also desires, so it’s only natural to ask ourselves once again, “what am I willing to do to meet this new goal?”

Perhaps staying motivated is as simple as recognizing the progress we’ve made, however small it may be- because it IS happening. In our studio we regularly track measurements and body fat % to show our clients that their bodies are changing even if the scale isn’t showing what they want to see. When we accept and celebrate the small wins we’re able to shift our focus towards the new goal easily and often seamlessly. You could call that “staying motivated.”

This is the Foss perspective, and sure, we have a lot of experience on the subject but we know there are all sorts of perspectives on this broad topic.

Have you had a time when you felt super motivated about something important and then it kind of just dwindled? Are you currently feeling like all of your motivation packed up and left you long ago, so the mere idea of being motivated to exercise is laughable? Our next post will be a continuation of motivation as it relates to just exercise, though we’ll look at it from another angle. Is there such a thing as too much motivation? What happens when motivation has an adverse effect?

Stay tuned. Until then, peace.