Like most beginners when I first started working out I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I wanted to look like the guys on the covers of Muscle & Fitness Magazine.

Some 40-plus years later I still strive for a muscular athletic physique but the motivation is entirely different…well mostly different. I still want to impress the girls but now it’s only one girl.

Not everyone who starts training, especially later in life is pursuing the same objective. Nor does everyone have the same reason for doing so. But we all have one thing in common, a desire to improve.

Understanding where that desire comes from, and how it evolves as we mature along with its antagonistic counterparts is the first key to finding the motivation to get up off the couch and move. As well as the ability to stick with our commitment long after the temptation to quit presents its first (certainly not last) convincing argument.

Sometimes I Get This Feeling

Desire is “a strong feeling of wanting something or wishing for something to happen”. Deciding to get up and go to the gym is rarely the result of an intellectual process – it’s based primarily on an emotion or feeling. If the feeling is strong enough we move and potentially improve. If it’s not, we remain the same or worsen.

Now, you may be asking yourself “Is this guy going to tell me I have to get in touch with my feelings so I can improve my bench press!?!”

The answer is NO… well maybe?  

It is relevant to your ability to start and stick with the pursuit of your self-improvement objectives to understand that your actions (the new habits and behaviors you want to embody) are directly motivated by your feelings. And that your results (the healthy, strong, fit, AGELESS body you want) are a direct byproduct of those actions.

So it would stand to reason that if you want to adopt new healthier actions, habits, and behaviors, you may need to change the way you feel about it.

Case in point: At 52, JP had been working out for years but paid little attention to all the other aspects of his fitness. As a result, his arms looked big and strong but his weight had gotten out of control. He felt bad about himself every time he looked in the mirror and felt like he had to do something about it. He took action and started a new program that included eating healthier.

Initially, he found motivation in the idea of gaining back his health, looking and feeling and looking more like an athlete than a plumber (sorry plumbers), and repairing his self-esteem which had taken a bit of a bruising the previous decade.

But as the weeks progressed just as he was starting to see some encouraging results he began missing more and more workouts, cheating on his nutrition, and expressing less and less enthusiasm when he did make it to the gym.

JP isn’t alone. Motivated by a little pain, regret, and possibility, thousands of mature adults embark on a new fitness program with high hopes. In my experience within 6 weeks, 70% drop out, while another 20% quit within 6 months.

Emotional Misalignment

About two months into his new far more demanding training program JP started to experience something unexpected. He felt like he was neglecting the other important priorities in his life.  “Every time I went to the gym or did anything to take care of myself physically it felt like time away from his business and family.” This was causing an internal conflict. His initial motivation had turned against him. His desire to look and feel more “athletic” became negative as he started to feel like it was something he “had to do” rather than wanted to do.

As silly as JPs quandary sounds it’s not that uncommon. A lot of mature exercisers find themselves at odds with their initial objective. Some as a way of unconsciously releasing themselves from the commitment. Others because they’re too lazy to follow through. Many because comfort food and drink are more important. Then there are those like JP who encounter a legitimate values conflict.

With a little digging, we uncloaked that when JP was a kid he was taught to believe athletes were stupid, athletics were a waste of time and the only thing of real value and worth pursuing were academics. As a result, whenever he got anywhere near resembling or feeling like an actual athlete in-congruent negative emotions would bubble up and find a way of creating conflict.

Why am I sharing all this psychological mumbo jumbo with you instead of hand-feeding you a bunch of “exercise adherence” strategies and tactics you might ask? Because even the best strategies and tactics wind up being useless unless you are in emotional alignment with your objective.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

Motivation: “the process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviors” can be both intrinsic (from within) or extrinsic (from external factors).

Orders from your doctor to clean up your diet and start an exercise program or be dead in 6 months could be a painful extrinsic motivator. As can be bribes, fear of punishment, physical or emotional pain, and coercion, such as a paycheck. Extrinsic motivators will get your ass up and moving and keep you moving for the first few weeks but quickly lose their power and fizzle out.

The rewarding feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction over a job well done, feelings of contribution, and even pride, are all intrinsic motivators. They have a motivationally sustainable power that cannot be found externally.

When JP finally connected the dots between the success of his business and family to being fit, healthy, and vital he was able to re-frame his goal from the extrinsic objective of looking like an athlete to the intrinsic rewards of being the best he can be as a man in his 50s.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation to initiate action, but if you’re going to sustain it over the long run you must find the motivation from feelings within and make those feelings your ultimate objective.

Two Tools for Creating Alignment and Sustainability

  1. Align your initial goal or objective with what you truly want. Is it a great body you want or to feel good about yourself? The path to both may be identical but the WHY will make a radical difference in sustainability.
  2. Find a way to connect your anti-aging fitness objectives with as many of the other important things in your life as you can. Make the success of those other things contingent on your fitness success not in opposition to them.

Tom Terwilliger is the Author of the #1 bestsellers ‘7 Rules of Achievement’ and ‘Why Smart Goals May Be Dumb’ a  former National Body Building Champion and IFBB pro athlete, motivational speaker,  achievement strategist, and Ageless Mind Body Performance Coach. Tom and his wife Dawn produce the massively popular Ageless Mind Body Performance video series on M&F+ online at

For Performance Coaching, Tom and Dawn can be reached at (Use Headline AGELESS).

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