Why Motivation is Often Bullshit

Motivation: much of the reason as to why many of us fail to reach our fitness goals.

The most cliche image about motivation that I could find
  • I’m motivated to start, but can never keep it up
  • I have too much to do to stay motivated
  • This particular person has more money than me, so they can buy better food and supplements then I can. It’s easier for them to stay motivated.

And the list goes on and on and on…

I’ve heard it all. And let me tell you right now, IT’S ALL B.S!

Discipline: The True Answer

This is where the true answer lies. According to Webster Dictionary, the definition of discipline is:

training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character

Discipline (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discipline

To me, this definition is very powerful. This is one of the core reasons as to why we’ve gotten into fitness and training in the first place; to mold the ideal version of ourselves.

What people often don’t realize is that training shapes our character. Yes, you need the motivation to start, but it’s the discipline that you develop over the years and years of training that truly gets you going.

I’m sure you’ve noticed these effects that have come from training and living a fitness-based lifestyle:

  • Learning that failing is actually a good thing, as long as you continue to try again
  • Established more patience for obtaining the fruits of your labor
  • It’s more about the quality of worked performed than the quantity of work performed
  • You’re honestly capable of a lot more than you give yourself credit for

Again, this list can go on and on, but I think you get my point.

But Wait, You Actually DO Need Motivation?

But I understand, you do in fact NEED motivation to get started, before you can ever develop the discipline that’ll help you to keep going. In this article, I will tell you all about what I, and the literature, have to say about gaining the momentum from motivation so that you can reach that blissful discipline stage that keeps you in the game for the long run.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

There are two types of motivation out there. As you can tell by my heading, there are two of them.


This is the kind of motivation that lies within somebody. Some examples of this are the personal enjoyment that you get while doing something (such as playing video games) or the feeling of accomplishment you get after completing a particular challenge (such as exercising). This is the kind of motivation that will keep you in the game for the long run, as opposed to…


This kind of motivation is the opposite of intrinsic; coming from the outside. Examples of this include trying to impress your peers and monetary (financial) gain. This kind of motivation isn’t necessarily “wrong”, but the problem lies in using this as your primary┬ásource of motivation. You’ll quickly run out of gas by using this as your main fuel source.

So How Do I Use These Kinds of Motivation To Help Me?

There have actually been a multitude of studies where these kinds of motivation have been put to the test in order to determine what the best method for exercise motivation is.

One study in particular examined college-aged students (both male and female) and found out that the students were more likely to report their intrinsic motives such as the enjoyment of engaging in a sport rather than their extrinsic motives, such as their weight. What we can gather from this is that it may prove to be more beneficial to always have a tangible goal for your fitness pursuits.

For example, say you’re a bodybuilder who’s plateaued in the gym. You’re not motivated to train anymore, so you haven’t gone to the gym nearly as often as you used to. What should you do in a scenario like this?

Set a goal. Yep, that simple. Aim for a photo-shoot. Do a bodybuilding contest. Try to improve on one of the “big 3” lifts. There are limitless possibilities. If you don’t have a clear goal, then you’ll just be spinning your wheels in the dirt.

Let Both Types of Motivation Work Together

In one of the most extensive analysis of data that I’ve ever seen, researchers looked at over 4 decades of research and 9 meta-analysis (yep, they looked at over 9 summaries of data and made their own summary about it) on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. What the researchers discovered was that in terms of performance in multiple settings (school, work, physical activity), intrinsic motivation was what they call a “medium-strong” predictor of performance.

However, the surprising discovery here is that when incentives were added (extrinsic motivation), researchers were better able to predict the participants quantity of performance. In other words, although the quality of work was similar, they were more often than not able to perform more of that quality work when some sort of extrinsic motivation was applied.

So don’t think of these two types of motivation as inherently “good” or “bad”. Instead, think of them as tools; being able to use them together to more effectively and efficiently reach your goals.

Bottom Line

So, do you need motivation. Yes, you do. The title was more “clickbaity” than anything else. (It’s just the way it is now)

Although motivation is quite important, discipline is what keeps you going indefinitely. So use these motivational tools to your advantage to help you reach that discipline stage and let me know how that works out for you! Feel free to reach out in the comments to share your experiences with these types of motivation.


Cerasoli, C. P., Nicklin, J. M., & Ford, M. T. (2014). Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic incentives jointly predict performance: A 40-year meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin,140(4), 980-1008. doi:10.1037/a0035661

Kilpatrick, M., Hebert, E., & Bartholomew, J. (2005). College Students’ Motivation for Physical Activity: Differentiating Men’s and Women’s Motives for Sport Participation and Exercise. Journal of American College Health,54(2), 87-94.

Discipline [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discipline


Boston-born bodybuilder currently residing in the beautiful city of Tampa, Florida in pursuit of a Master's Degree in Exercise & Nutrition Science. Competitive NPC Classic Physique athlete with a passion for strength training, health, well-being, and the science that makes it all possible. I want to sift through all of the B.S that's out there to provide you with the best information possible for you to achieve YOUR goals, whatever they may be. Human physiology is an amazing thing, let's find out what the human body is capable of!

2 thoughts on “Why Motivation is Often Bullshit

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    December 31, 2018 at 8:05 am Reply
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