What’s your Motivation to Train?

Jun 26th, 2013

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Category: Motivation

What’s your Motivation to Train?

I hope the title of this article will stimulate your thought processes in regards to why you train whether you’re a PT/Instructor or train with a PT or at the gym or at home.
Most of us would answer for some various physiological reason such as fat loss, increased muscle, injury prevention and rehab, and maybe sport related performance improvements. Also a gamut of other potential physiological health measures as perhaps recommended by a medical professional. For most of us these are considered to be extrinsic motivators and are based on the ‘outcome’ of training.


For some of us training is a way of life, the classic Utopian approach we hopefully try to get all our clients to and where we are motivated by the actual performing or ‘doing the training’ the intrinsic and ‘process of’ and not by the extrinsic or the outcome – where physical activity is a part of our everyday lifestyle for it’s enjoyment alone!


Psychologist Abraham Maslow(1943, 1954) stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualised people as those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of. (1)
The earliest and most widespread version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs includes five motivational needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. This has been adapted over the years further.


However this five stage model can be divided into basic (or deficiency) needs (e.g. physiological, safety, love, and esteem) and growth needs (self-actualization).
One must satisfy lower level basic needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. Once these needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualisation.


Maslow noted only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualised because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs. This is where we as trainers can often re-enforce a client’s focus through outcome goals and extrinsic motivators rather than intrinsic and process goals which can develop our client towards self actualisation.


While it doesn’t take a doctorate in psychology to see if your clients have met the deficiency needs (they must have or they wouldn’t be paying you!) then they are usually at the self esteem or social stages. Although over the years I have had the rare occasional client that is self actualising with their training. Amazing to work with!


Every person is capable and has the desire (knowing or not) to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualisation. Unfortunately, progress can often be disrupted by an inability to meet lower level needs. Life experiences including divorce and loss of job may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy.


I’m sure you know where I’m going with this (especially those of you that I’ve worked with before).
Over the years of training both clients and learners to achieve many of the above goals I’ve noticed that it is our desire (not always an awareness of) for our self esteem to be increased and as a result a perceived increase in control over our life through the extrinsic and outcome. Which as we can see is two of our basic instincts. The issue is when most of us get ‘stuck’ in a never ending cycle of extrinsic and outcome focused existence with little focus on the present and now!


This has been evident where upon the achievement of an extrinsic goal, said individual is still ‘unhappy’ still not satisfied with the outcome regardless of how they have in some cases dramatically changed their aesthetic, athletic and physiologic qualities! (One of the biggest learning curves in my career!)


Our industry can be fantastic at delivering results and improving self esteem at times.  I’ve witnessed the amazing change in a lot of clients (not just mine I must add!), however our industry can also have the opposite effect for a huge number of  individuals removing control and destroying their self esteem and holding them back from ascending to self actualisation! I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past to some degree.


As a PT and Lecturer one thing I’ve learnt (and am still practising) is to use different methods to try to identify what can help develop and facilitate a client/learners awareness of any intrinsic motivators and emphasise process goals along the way. Of course being careful not to enforce MY perception as to what SHOULD work for them but what lifts THEIR self esteem and gives them back perceived control in their life in the moment and through the intrinsic Once this is developed in a client the training itself becomes the motivator and not the outcome!


When it comes to contentment the standard model can often be along the lines of….” I will be happy when I get…….” ” I just need to feel…..in the future and I’ll be satisfied” “As soon as such and such happens I’ll be happy” this is flawed (2) focuses on the outcome and even when achieved is soon to be replaced with the next issue and so on. However if one could identify what, right at that moment your client can feel gratitude and self worth for their level of contentment and other important outcomes can increase as a direct result!
If we’re not careful as trainers we can just exacerbate this worsening condition! Facilitating growth of self worth in clients is something we have paid lip service to in the fitness industry and it shows when it comes to the % of drop out from programs, clubs and physical activity in the UK.


As an end note – while SMART goal setting is an extremely important and necessary tool that can motivate us all to achieve, although it’s paramount to consider the A (achievable/agreed) and the R (realistic) very carefully to ensure that success is the outcome rather than failure.
Also that the emphasis should equally be placed on the intrinsic achievement during and throughout the individual sessions rather than only on the outcome/result farther down the line. This can have huge implications to the individual’s re-enforcement of contentment and self worth!


Click here for an insight to more.
Can one word (3) sum up true happiness, contentment and well being, perhaps click here for those that like a more scientific, mystic and guru free approach!



1 - Maslow, Abraham (1998). Towards a Psychology of Being. Wiley; 3 edition. p. 89.

2 - Achor, Shawn (2010). The Happiness Advantage. Random House.

3 - Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania. 



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