Motivation Strategies to Build a Better Body
by Dr Elesa Argent, PhD

Motivation is, quite literally, the foundation of success. With it, no task seems too difficult, too daunting. Anything is possible. Without it, we shy away from challenges and follow the path of least resistance. When it comes to getting in shape, the combination of the physical stress from training and the emotional toil of dieting can seem to crack all but the toughest of individuals. In this feature, I'll present twelve strategies to help you stay focussed and motivated on achieving your physique and fitness goals, and in doing so, pave a path to success that is a lot less arduous than you might have originally thought.

1. Have a Goal
Have a goal to work towards and it’ll make you much more focused. This could be a holiday, a body building competition, a photo shoot, a wedding, a party… in fact, anything tangible that gives you a timescale and a deadline. Better still, make your plans public so people will be rooting for you and supporting you in your transformation. Keep triggers around you that remind you of your goal (photos, fitness magazines, etc) and work out exactly how you will achieve that goal.

2. Have a Plan
A goal is unlikely to be achieved without a decent plan of execution. Work out an exercise and diet schedule that suits your goals, then work out how to manage temptation when it is most likely to occur. If your work canteen does not serve healthy food, then make a packed lunch every day. If your work or social life requires a lot of eating out, be knowledgeable about the healthiest dishes on the menu. If you work very long hours and can’t log decent gym hours, buy some dumbbells and work out at home. Obstacles can be overcome, but it takes foresight and planning.

3. Monitor Results
You need to make sure that your dieting and training plan are coherent and consistent. Keep a food diary, monitor results and consistently re-evaluate progress. There is no myth to weight loss or muscle gain: it all comes down to straightforward science and the ‘calorie in/out’ balance. If you aren’t achieving the results that you need, it is simply a case of stepping back and saying: ‘what isn’t working here?’

4. Create a Stunning Workout Mix
High energy, inspirational music can transform a workout. Fill an MP3 player with your favourite tracks and play them on full volume before you’ve even arrived at the gym. This is an especially good strategy if you’re feeling tired and beaten down after a crappy day at work and you really need a boost.

5. Have a Recovery Strategy and Never Give Up
The mark of a true champion is the ability to get back up and come out fighting when you’ve been knocked down. When it comes to dieting and training, you might have seriously fallen off the wagon and hit the Chinese takeaway or the Haagen Dazs, then despaired at your mistake. If that happens – no wallowing in self pity or throwing in the towel – instead, work out a little harder the next day and just get on with it. Don’t let setbacks affect your focus and never give up on your goal.

6. Self Coach
Be your own coach. You might work best with a training partner, but working out alone can get you just as fired up if you learn to push yourself to perform beyond expectations. Do whatever you can to motivate and inspire yourself to stick to your goals, to achieve great results and generally be the best that you can be.

Some days you will feel pumped for the best work out you’ve ever had and you'll sail through your workout, but other days, getting to the gym can feel damn near impossible, especially after a bad day at work, and a miserable commute in bad weather. Sport psychology is full of strategies such as self-talk and visualisation, all designed to help you manage your mental state and perform to an elite level. Looking up some of these techniques might really help you in your approach to diet, training, and other areas of your life.

Any great coach will also look to other success stories for inspiration. These might be your favourite Muscle & Fitness athletes, bodybuilding legends like Bill Pearl and Flex Wheeler, other great athletes and coaches, or even friends and family. Great sports films such as Rocky, Remember the Titans, When We Were Kings, Ali, Invincible and Gridiron Gang offer endless inspiration, as do great books, such as the boxing epic Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. Find out what inspires you, and make a concerted effort to surround yourself with it.

7. Build a ‘Cheat’ into the Week
Denying yourself permanently is going to lead to misery, and, more importantly, is pointless. Have one wonderfully naughty meal a week, guilt free – and enjoy every mouthful. This will not set back your fitness goals in any way and should actually help you stick to your programme easier. Some successful athletes go for an entire cheat day – see what works best for you and stick with it.

8. Educate Yourself Constantly
The greatest enemy of a great body is a lack of knowledge. Empower yourself by reading as much as you can about the science behind successful nutrition and training, through bodybuilding forums, books and journals. Muhammad Ali once said that knowledge is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of an eternal fire, and there isn’t one bodybuilding or fitness champion out there who doesn’t feed their passion by constantly educating themselves about current scientific and fitness-related exercise, supplementation and nutritional theories.

9. Work your Mind as well as your Body
When it comes to motivation, a poor diet and lack of exercise can make a huge impact. This is because our emotions are hugely impacted by the levels of serotonin, endorphins and cortisol in the body, which are directly ruled by the diet, exercise and lifestyle regime that we choose to follow. Add in a crazy blend of stimulants such as caffeine, artificial foodstuffs such as monosodium glutamate, overconsumption of salt and sugar, depressants such as alcohol, and a serious lack of exercise, and you have a mix for emotional misery. Sadly... that pretty much represents the daily diet and exercise schedule of the average Briton. Additionally, many diet products contain a lot of sugar, salt and sweeteners – which is a great reason to opt for ‘healthy’ food choices as opposed to ‘diet’ products.

If you frequently feel down, emotional, or unable to motivate yourself, you might be in need of a major lifestyle rehaul. Interestingly, both diet and exercise are recognised medical interventions for depression because of the significant roles they play in the management of our emotions.

10. Stick to your Guns
And by this I don’t mean smokin’ guns, but that wouldn’t be a bad recommendation either! What I mean is... keep your focus, no matter what others around you are doing. It is still quite unusual in British society to eat extremely healthily. Say no to the after-work pint (or cocktail), pass on dessert and pack a gym kit every day. You might encounter friends, family, a partner or work colleagues that don’t fully understand your commitment to a healthy lifestyle. It is also common for others to feel threatened by the positive changes that you are making to your life. You need a strategy to deal with this; be tough and do not compromise on your goals. You know how much potential you have: if others aren’t going to help you get there, then you need to tune their negative opinions out.

11. Believe in Yourself
There really is no limit to how you can transform your mind and body, but the key is to actually believe in your own potential. Triumph over adversity is the hallmark of every great inspirational success story, but it is impossible to take risks and make big changes if you don’t believe in yourself.

Nobody expects to build killer pecs or washboard abs after one session in the gym, and it is the same with confidence. It takes time to build it. The greatest bodybuilding champions and athletes know this, and develop their self-belief the same way they develop their muscles; consistently and via the use of tried and trusted techniques, such as self-talk and visualisation.

12. Surround Yourself with Positive People
If you feel like crap, a great friend will lift you up. If you fall off the wagon, a great partner will tell you it’s not such a big deal, but they will kick your ass to get you back on track. Great people can really make the difference in your life, but so can bad ones. If there are people around you who can’t be supportive, then you shouldn’t be associating with them. Minimise the negativity and surround yourself with positive, healthy people who have your best interests at heart. If you have friends like that in your corner, then every time you come out fighting, you can’t help but win.