Why Are Some People Motivated To Work Out?

Ever have those days where you just do not want to work out?  Like, there is no way it’s going to happen.  Maybe this is every day for you.  Then there are those people that no matter what they always seem to get a workout in.  They must never have these days.

That’s a common misconception; those people that are motivated to workout, exercise, train – whatever the accepted term is these days – are always ready to get-it-done.  There are plenty of days where “those people” just don’t want to get after it, but they do.


Well, what my non-existent psychology degree tells me is this: to be “one-of-them” you have to make the connection between exercise and one of the four core human drives.

That really does sound like I know what I’m talking about. Granted, I’m far from a psychology major but recently I had a bit of an epiphany. A holy-shit moment that spiraled and I ended up way down the emotional rabbit hole; far deeper than I expected to go.

I used to say that motivation practiced long enough turns into dedication and yes that does sound like a great tweet waiting for someone to steal, but how do we even get to the point of being motivated.

I started “working out” when I was 12.  My regime consisted of jumping jacks and push ups every day after school.  This transformed into a little bit of shoulder flys and back flys and some crunches when I got the idea to steal my mom’s Bally fitness weights and stability ball.

I then started reading more in magazines and as much online as our AOL free-trail, dial-up internet could get me before our time ran out.

I turned into the kid that would go to the closest field to run wind sprints and hills in the summer.  I remember getting the idea to run there instead of bike, immediately after eating my 3 egg omelette.  (What 13-year-old makes an omelette?)  Shit, that was a mistake.  So, I did it again the next time.  And again.  And again, until it was no big deal.

In high school, 15-year-old me convinced the basketball coach to open the weight room for me while they had their 7am practice, so I could lift after I was finished running the school stairs that I started at 6:30am.  Had to get some conditioning in during the winter right?

I knew I was going to the pros.  All 6 foot 1, 140 pounds of me.  Needless to say, I didn’t make it anywhere.  Turns out I’m genetically pretty average, maybe less and not the most skilled.  But, a workhorse I was.  I played a year of university football on a team that I’m not even sure I should have made but I had the bug.  I liked training.  Maybe I was just exorcising some demons from my childhood.  Who knows, maybe I still am but when I’m in the weight room, or even on the Firefit tower (as infrequent as that ends up being), whatever is going on doesn’t matter to me, unless my daughter wakes up before I’m done – then I have to care about things other than me.

Where does this all stem from?

Remember like 45 minutes ago when you started reading this abomination of my training history? I mentioned the four core human drives.  They are:

  1. The drive to acquire
  2. The drive to learn
  3. The drive to bond
  4. The drive to defend

Here’s where my epiphany came.  I was reading an excellent book that addresses these 4 drives (Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew for any trainers reading).  It’s a small section of the book but it really stuck out to me so I did a bit more research – a bit, I have a two-year old at home – and did some soul searching.

How do these relate?

Quick story again.  I remembered why I started working out at 12.  For whatever the reason was, I got picked on a lot growing up but there were kids that got picked on more than I did.  When I stood up for them I got the shit kicked out of me.  I always thought of myself being the bad ass in the movies that walked in on a kid being bullied and everyone ran away.  Pretty funny how we see ourselves so differently than others.  I wasn’t exactly imposing.  Tall? Yes.  But the wind couldn’t even blow me down because it couldn’t find enough surface area to grab on to.

So, push ups were the answer.  Hill sprints were the answer.  Puberty also helped a lot.  I became the fastest kid in the school.  Played on every sports team.  I’m not sure I ever used this as I intended at the time now that I think of it but that’s for a therapist to figure out.

It all started with the drive to defend.  Defend myself.  Defend the little guy.  Man, kids are dicks.

Because I didn’t understand where it all came from I thought everyone just had to show up and make themselves motivated long enough until they found they were dedicated.  Not really client or patient centered care but I had such a deep seeded drive to train that I didn’t understand the disconnect other people had with exercise.

These four core drives can be broken down like this:

  1. The drive to acquire – This is where people who are reward-driven can find their motivation. It is based on the desire to accumulate objects or status and I see it as accumulating fitness qualities. These fitness qualities are like currency. You trade your abilities for accolades and satisfaction from physical exertion. Have you ever felt very proud of the manual labour you’ve completed?
  2. The drive to learn – This is based on the need to satisfy our curiosity and to learn new skills. Those that can appreciate the process and enjoy working towards mastery will be motivated because of this particular drive. When I started in this field training to me was always an experiment, learning the ins and outs of human performance and continues to be.
  3. The drive to bond – We all want some love and acceptance. As humans we just want to belong to something. This is where Crossfit has done a fantastic job of creating a bond between its participants, even if it is worshiping Pukey The Clown.  Zumba and the bodybuilding community have also created places for people to turn to belong to something bigger than them.
  4. The drive to defend – We have an innate desire to protect ourselves, those we care about and what we have. Some people’s protective instincts will translate to a fitness programme of some kind.. For many, their motivation to exercise comes after a health scare for them or somebody close to them, or after an injury.

I now see the fault in my thinking about where motivation comes from. It’s not from a Motivation Monday post. Not that I have ever posted one or thought that these social-masturbatory posts were the answer to Rick or Karen’s lack of motivation. I’m fine with these posts but let’s call them what they are – a desire for attention and praise for their efforts. (We could maybe argue it helps their accountability) It’s how this person is satisfies their desire to acquire. Likes and share brah.

Unless the viewer can make the connection between these posts and one of their core drives, these posts won’t have much of an effect.. They’ll simply keep scrolling to the next shared buzzfeed article about cats dressed as children.

Motivation must come from within.  The greatest motivators are able to direct their rah-rahs to appeal to their audience’s core drives.

I can’t tell you or anyone why they should workout. A trainer like me can, perhaps, help you to identify which core drives are pushing you the most and help you make the connection between exercise and what pushes you to do what you do each day.

Knowing what drives you the most can create lasting motivation to work out and make better choices throughout the day, leading to a healthier lifestyle.  Chances are though, if you’re reading this you have at least a little itch to exercise, or you’re my mom.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: