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Motivation Won't Get You Fit—Here's What Will

Do you spend more time trying to get motivated to workout than you do actually working out? You're not alone. Supermodel, coach, and trainer Jill de Jong explains why "finding motivation" doesn't work and shares the secret behind what does.

By
Brock Armstrong
9-minute read
Episode #515
The Quick And Dirty
  • You don't have to enjoy working out to enjoy the benefits.
  • Don't wait for motivation, schedule your workouts so you get them done.
  • Align your workouts with "big juicy goals" you're inspired to reach.

Finding the motivation to exercise can seem like one of the most elusive things in the world. The amount of time and effort we put into trying to create, find, and sustain motivation often outweighs the effort put into exercise itself ten-fold.

What if motivation wasn’t necessary? What if you could create a much stronger and more stable desire to keep you going back for more?

But what if someone were to tell you that you're going about it all wrong? What if motivation wasn’t necessary? What if you could create a much stronger and more stable desire to keep you going back for more?

Well, that is the essence of what my guest—supermodel, coach, trainer, and chef Jill de Jong—would tell you if you came to her saying “I just hate working out" or "Exercise is boring!"

You don't need to like working out to enjoy the benefits. Do I like brushing my teeth? Not really. But I do enjoy clean teeth and fresh breath. So, I brush my teeth twice a day. Same counts for working out. Just show up and do the exercises. And it's very likely you'll feel better after your workout than when you started. So, when you're more connected to your body, you also show up differently. You walk more confidently, you speak more confidently. You may have increased energy. Your stress levels may be decreased and you may just feel happier. So when you can add feeling good with working out, you'll keep coming back for more.

Jill De Jong

You may have seen Jill de Jong gracing the covers of Women’s Health and Fitness Magazine. Or perhaps you know her from her book “Models Do Eat.” Or perhaps you use one of her Yoga Block Socks or maybe you listen to her podcast, Life Done Better. Wherever you know Jill from (and if you don’t, you can take my word for it), this Dutch model-turned-podcaster knows a thing or two about fitness. 

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Jill joined me on a call to discuss her take on some of my favorite topics, like:

  • What she says to her clients who say that they don’t like working out

  • What role motivation plays in her fitness life

  • How she creates motivation—or does she?

Below is a transcript of the interview. But for the full effect, I encourage you to listen to the audio version (using the player at the top of the page) so you don’t miss any of the subtle messages. 

Brock:
I like that you look beyond the usual message of “come on, be an adult and just get your workout done" to looking at the actual benefits or how you feel after your workout. I think that's a really important little piece. That even brushing your teeth makes you feel more confident, fresh, and happy.

Jill:
Absolutely. My day only starts after I brush my teeth. I'm like "OK, I feel like I'm ready to start my day and work out and see my clients." And if I don't, if I forget brushing my teeth, I'm just like, "There's something wrong." And it's the same thing with working out. The more you work out, the more you want to do it. And then if you would say skip a whole week, you're like "Something's wrong. I'm not feeling the same." And so going back to the feeling of super -important motivation is not necessary. If we had to wait for motivation, nine out of 10 workouts wouldn't happen.

The more you work out, the more you want to do it.

Brock:
Yeah. And that goes for professional athletes too. If they waited for motivation to get them every single day, they would never qualify for the Boston Marathon or for Kona Ironman or anything. They'd just be sitting at home going "Why am I not motivated?" They just get up and do it.

Jill:
Exactly. So, instead of motivation, we need to schedule it. We need to stick to it. And you know, for people that are listening there, obviously, you may not have these big goals like ever completing a triathlon, but you may have other goals. Like you want to keep up and play with your kids. You may want to go on a fun adventure and you want to feel strong and capable. Also, you may have anxiety that you want to get rid of. Well, exercise helps. And so when you schedule your exercise and stick to it, the only reason why you should not show up is when you are sick in bed! If you even have a slight headache or if you are tired, if you are too busy, stop what you're doing.

So, instead of motivation, we need to schedule it. We need to stick to it.

Because you schedule it in, you make time for it. Because if you don't make time for it, it will be gone. That time will be gone. There is always someone that needs you, laundry that needs to be done, someone needs your help. You have to make yourself a priority. And even though you may not enjoy the exercising itself, like the act of it, you're going to feel so much better when you're done. No one ever says "Oh, I worked out and I wish I hadn't done that." Right? It was like "Man, I'm so glad I did that. I'm so glad. "

Brock:
So you're really speaking my language here. I live and die by my calendar and my to-do list. If it's on my to-do list, it gets done. And that's where my workouts are. That's where my leisure time goes. That's where everything goes. 

But do you also think there's a role for motivation to play somewhere in this realm or in your life?

Jill:
Yeah, I think so personally, my motivation is like an event that I sign up for. I have done a half Ironman. I've done a marathon. You know, you cannot show up unprepared. So that's my motivation. 

I cannot skip going running all week if I have a marathon in so many months from now. So that's a huge motivation, right? But people that have smaller goals, motivation should not be your looks. Because especially now, it's winter and you're covering up your body, your body does not need to be beach-ready. Don't focus on your looks. Focus on how you feel. Focus on something that you want to accomplish, do, or have the strength for.

I cannot skip going running all week if I have a marathon so many months from now. So that's a huge motivation, right?

And like I said, I personally love adventure. So I'm going on a big hike on Friday. It's probably a five-hour hike and it's rocky. It's not, you know, a paved path. I have to be very focused and I have to make sure that I don't get injured in those five hours. 

Now, I've built up for this hike for many months. I've gone on hikes every week. I've gone on difficult, easy, and fun ones (and not so fun ones) but I kept going hiking. And it's not my favorite thing to do. But adventure—the feeling of the adventure—is my favorite feeling. So again, motivation should be in a bigger juicy goal. 

Motivation should lie in a big, juicy goal.

It shouldn't be about your looks because [that kind of motivation is] just not sustainable. Because honestly, when I think about "Oh yeah, I would like to have a six-pack" I'm like "Well, my bread and butter and cheese really do taste much better than that six-pack looks right now," you know? It's just not motivating enough. 

So you want to have a bigger, juicy goal that you really can stick to. That really makes you feel excited. And maybe even a little scared. Because you may dream of something that you've been wanting to do, but not feel ready, not capable right now, but you can be. So, I think it's really good to think and connect with that heart desire of what do you want to experience in life. Because you're going to miss out on experiences if you are weak and not energized or even sick, so take care of your body and move it any way you can.

You're going to miss out on experiences if you are weak and not energized or even sick, so take care of your body and move it any way you can.

Brock:
It really sounds like you're saying that motivation isn't the thing that you should be going after. The goal—your bigger goal, your desire—that's where you're placing your focus. And then the motivation is almost sort of secondary or comes out of that desire to achieve that goal. So we've almost got it backward. I think, in some ways, a lot of people are like "Oh, I just don't feel motivated." And we should be saying, "Well, the motivation doesn't come first. The goal comes first." Is that what you're saying?

Jill:
Oh yeah, you got that right. The goal, the juicy goal. Why do you want to do this? I mean, when I look at most advertisements, I see all these at-home workouts, I see more equipment, more things that we should buy and do. And a lot of people buy into it. A lot of people have equipment lying around in their house and do not use it. Why? Because again, they don't feel motivated. But if I were to use a TRX suspension strap, or if I use a Peloton bike, if I used the things that I have really spent a lot of money on and I now start using it for an experience in the future, something that I truly love and excites me to go do...

A lot of people have equipment lying around in their house and do not use it. Why? Because again, they don't feel motivated.

And it can be as small as a vacation with your children or grandchildren. ... It can be something in the near future that you're working towards. Now [exercising] starts to be worth it because the lunges and the squads and the pushups or the cardio, whatever you're doing, this is now contributing to your bigger goal, this juicy goal.

Now it becomes about functionality. You can stand up better from your chair or the couch. You feel instantly when your quads are working. When I get out of bed at night, when I go pee, I use my core. Like, I feel like my abs are engaged when I go to the store and I pick up something heavy, [like] my grocery bag, I have a lot better posture. I pick up my groceries differently. I lift from my legs. I don't hurt my back. So I'm excited about the functionality of those movements.

Think about the feelings instead of the number on the scale—about the way you look, how your clothes fit—because the side effect will be all these wonderful things that you want to happen anyway.

And again, it's not about, you know "I don't see any results. I haven't lost the weight I wanted to lose. I haven't seen much of a difference." And how long has it been that you've been working out? "Well, maybe three weeks." Okay. Keep going. But how do you feel? "Well, I do feel stronger and I do feel, yeah, maybe a little happier." So think about the feelings instead of the number on the scale—about the way you look, how your clothes fit—because the side effect will be all these wonderful things that you want to happen anyway.

Brock:
I totally agree with you. Fitness is so much more, and so much more important in our lives to be striving for. So before we wrap up, I always like to leave the listeners with sort of some homework or some things that they can start doing right away. So what are three things that you think people can do right away to get moving? Even if they don't feel motivated

Showing up is 50% of the work.

Jill:

  1. Right now, if you're sitting, obviously not in the car, but if you are sitting at home, then get up and start walking. Get out of the house. You're already listening to a podcast, so why not move while you're listening to something interesting? It actually lands better. It makes you focus more. It makes you integrate what you hear better.
     
  2. And if you can go outside, if the weather is shifty, then you may have a staircase. Go walk up and down the stairs and crank up some of your favorite tunes, get excited about the tunes. And don't worry about how long it is. Just get moving and you may actually end up doing something else, and then something else. And that's the trick to fooling yourself into doing a 10-minute workout.
     
  3. The third thing I would say: Go do a 10-minute workout. It can be as simple as doing a plank, some lunges, some squads, some ab exercises. It's very likely that you're doing it for 10 minutes. And you add on another five or maybe another 10 minutes because you already started. Time went by pretty quickly. So, just getting started. Showing up is 50% of the work. The other 50% is the actual workout.

Brock:
I love it. Well, thank you. And I know you've got your own podcast and you have a great Instagram feed and stuff, and we'll put links to that in the show notes, but is there one place that you'd like people to go and find you?

Jill:
Find me on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher—Life Done Better, that's my podcast. And @_modelsdoeat is my Instagram account.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.