Lacking Motivation in Isolation? Your Systems Suck!

James Clear wrote in his book Atomic Habits – “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems… The problem isn’t you. The problem is your systems.”

Often, we think that massive success in fitness requires massive action. It’s just the opposite. Strength and fitness take time. No matter how hard you train for a 1 week, you haven’t gotten fitter. The accumulation of sessions, over years… yes, YEARS! Is what leads to ‘success’.

It’s easy to be disappointed after working hard for a few weeks without seeing progress. But remember our current TRAJECTORY is more important than our current RESULTS.

We’ve harped on the importance of consistency in the past. Just showing up to the gym or throwing your runners on is half the battle.  When it comes to consistency, it’s important to focus on systems over outcomes.

Winners and losers have the same goals. And because winners eventually succeed, they suffer from survivorship bias. They’ll tell you that the big audacious goal they set for themselves is the reason they’re successful.  


The reason they’ve gotten to that level isn’t because of the goal they set, it’s because of the systems they put in place.

That’s why a lot of these 6 week challenges and other things don’t work for the majority, over the long term. They view their goal (weight loss, strength, endurance) as an end point.

Well guess what? There is no end.

This ‘short-term window’ or goal-oriented training usually leads to the yo-yo effect. Once you cross the finish line, you’ve got nothing left to motivate you.

James put’s it well – “Goals create an ‘either-or’ conflict: either you achieve your goal and are successful or you fail and you are a disappointment… A systems-first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy.”

You’re not going to reach a place you can finally relax. So stop chasing it.

We should never rely on motivation to train. Motivation is fleeting. And lack of motivation is a cop out. What we need to do is build better habits... we need to build better systems.

So if you’ve lost all ‘motivation’ because your gym has shut down and your personal trainer isn’t there to hold your hand anymore. Then it’s time to put some processes in place and take your fitness into your own hands.

We can do this by playing with the 4 steps of the ‘Habit Loop’. These are:

1) Cue: the trigger that predicts a reward.

2) Craving: motivation to act.

3) Response: the habit or action.

4) Reward: the goal of the habit.

To build a new habit (training is isolation) we need to hit one or more levels of the habit loop by…

1) Making it obvious (Cue)

2) Making it attractive (Craving)

3) Making it easy (Response)

4) Making it satisfying (Reward)

By following this process you can create a system where good habits emerge naturally.

So how do we actually go about this?

1) Make it obvious:

This comes down to leaving clues or reminders in your environment that you’ll see constantly. If you want to train in isolation, leave your workout gear and runners in the middle of your kitchen table or leave a note on your mirror. Something that sparks you to train. You could also set ‘implementation intentions’ – instead of just saying ‘I’m going to run more’ – say ‘I’m going to run at 8 am, before breakfast on Monday, Wednesday and Friday’ and leave your shoes on the table as a reminder. That way you’ve got an obvious clue and a clear action plan.

2) Make it attractive:

Humans seek short-term satisfaction over long-term growth. So what we want to do is something called ‘temptation bundling’ – pair up something you SHOULD do, with something you LOVE to do. You could say “after I do my 30-minute workout, I’ll… watch the next episode of my show… drink my morning latte… play the PS4 etc.” Over time you get a dump of ‘feel-good’ hormones in anticipation for doing the thing you SHOULD be doing. You’ll actually start to enjoy the ‘once-unattractive’ task.

3) Make it easy:

This is all about reducing the friction. This kind of goes back to the first step. Having all your clothes and runners lined up on your kitchen table the night before, so when you wake up in the morning, all you have to do is throw them on and go. Another thing you can do is break what you want to do down into a 2-minute drill. If you want to workout at home, then throw on your gear and workout for 2 minutes. If at the end of the 2 minutes you want to keep going, great! If not, then stop. But at least you reinforced that behaviour. You’ll most likely continue because the hardest part is always starting.

4) Make it satisfying:

We live in a ‘delayed-return environment’ i.e. you work then get paid at the end of the week, you go to the gym but don’t get stronger for months… But as humans we are designed to chase ‘immediate-return environments’ i.e. eating high-calorie foods to fight off starvation, relax and avoid spending unnecessary energy… Usually, bad habits like smoking and eating shitty food provide you with immediate returns. But we’re not fighting off starvation anymore. Thousands of years of human adaptation for survival have been fixed within a few hundred years and our body hasn’t caught up yet.

So when we try to implement a new behaviour that leads to delayed return, it’s important to add in some sort of instant gratification. You can do this by putting a big red X on the calendar and watch the days pile up. You could throw $5 into an overseas trip account and enjoy seeing the money grow. Or you could simply watch your favourite show on Netflix afterwards.

Remember that you’re not the problem. Your systems are. Using ‘lack-of-motivation’ as an excuse to avoid training is a cop-out. Use the steps we’ve gone through to build better habits. If you need any more help with this, then send us a message or read Atomic Habits. #one22 #atomichabits


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