Motivation vs Inspiration in Fitness - By Henry ToraƱo

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Motivation vs Inspiration in Fitness - By Henry Toraño

Motivation vs Inspiration in Fitness

By Henry Toraño


One of the most frequently asked questions that I get asked from clients and non-clients alike has to do with finding the drive to be consistent with training and nutrition. This is usually within the context of recent experience or bouts with lack of understanding what it is that they are working towards. I’ve found that very commonly this feeling is misinterpreted with lack of a clear cut goal. I say this is a misinterpretation because I believe it goes a little deeper. 


Goals are destinations, milestones, places that allow delineation of a path that leads to it. They provide measurability in that it’s possible to tell whether you’re moving towards it or not. But goals also represent an end point. 

I want to lose 15 pounds…

I want six pack abs…

I want to compete in a particular fitness event…

I want to finish a marathon…

I want to be able to do a pullup…


There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of these, I’m not judging. Quite the contrary, I think goal setting is a practice that is highly underrated and people need more of, not only within fitness, but in all aspects of life. When one sets a goal, two questions need to be answered: What do you want to accomplish and by when do you want to accomplish it? I’m suggesting that another question is required but seldom asked or thought of: What happens AFTER you’ve accomplished it?


I bring this up because all too often I see people be successful reaching their goals yet still come out with a feeling of emptiness. Perhaps the way you look when you’ve lost 15 pounds is not what you expected. Or maybe now that you have your six pack abs you’ve realized that you have no intention whatsoever to do what’s required to maintain them. Once you have done your first pullup, you instantly shift interest to wanting to be able to do two consecutive pullups. This happens because, like I said before, a goal is a destination, not and endpoint. We need them for direction, but unless there’s ongoing progression for these goals or opportunity for growth, seldom do they provide fulfillment. There’s something bigger than goals, that is called PURPOSE. This concept has gained popularity recently in the form of “why”. 

Find your why…

What’s your why???


Identifying and understanding your why is the key to finding drive to take action. While the process of finding your why may take some time, it’s by no means difficult. It’s simply a matter of questioning your “wants”. So:

I want to lose 15 pounds…. WHY???

I want to finish a marathon… WHY???


I’m talking about finding underlying reasons for the goals that you’ve set. Now, hold on to this thought while I discuss another concept.

A big part of the problem with both figuring out purpose and setting goals is that many people struggle to find what they refer to as motivation. We look to find motivation in different ways. This may be a date for an event, participation of another person or people, or a trainer who needs to constantly provide words of encouragement, among others. To this, I’ll say that the main issue is that we’re looking in the wrong place. 


I recently performed a search for the word “motivation” and this is what came up:

Motivation is the word derived from the word 'motive' which means needs, desires, wants or drives within the individuals.

The last three words are key here, as they hit the nail on the head. Motivation comes from WITHIN THE INDIVIDUAL. If you’re looking for motivation in an external source, like all of the ones I mentioned above, you will find yourself constantly living up to others’ expectations. It will mean that your behaviors will be highly dependent on that outer source.  So if the event is canceled, your friend doesn’t show up, or your trainer doesn’t say anything….well, things won’t get done. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we cannot be stimulated by external sources, I’m merely suggesting that we need to better understand and process the stimulus to make it work to our advantage.


In contrast to “motivation” there’s another concept that we need to grasp. I searched for that too…

Inspiration - the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

As you can see, the very definition of the term “inspiration” refers to a stimulus that provokes certain feelings. Inspiration usually does come from an external source. This what we can hope to transmit as coaches or absorb from the experiences of others. This is the force that triggers a level of interest that will put actions and behaviors in place. Inspirations come from the outside, but motivation comes from the inside. Inspiration is the idea, motivation is sparked by one’s personal interpretation of a potential scenario. So let’s circle back to some of the scenarios I’ve proposed.


Why do you want to lose 15 pounds? Maybe your friend lost 15 pounds and it completely changed her life. Maybe you read a chart that indicates your ideal weight. Maybe losing that weight will allow you to fit into a particular set of clothes. The problem with all these scenarios is that they’re derived exclusively from those external ideals or experiences. These can all be used as inspiration, but to truly motivate your decisions and consequently your actions, the goal needs to be attached to your being. It’s about how it will change YOUR life, not about how it changed someone else’s.


Let’s run the exercise again. Why do you want to finish a marathon? Perhaps you’ve seen the face of joy on people as they cross the finish line. Perhaps you’ve heard that steady aerobic activity has many health benefits. Perhaps you see the body that seasoned marathon runners have and figure that if you do what they do, you too will have that body. Again, these factors can inspire the idea, but it will be very hard to find fulfillment in these activities and the motivation to do what’s required of they don’t touch that very personal fiber inside you. How will YOU feel when you cross the finish line? 

You may have heard me say that fitness is a multifaceted concept. It pulls from three different places: exercise, nutrition, lifestyle. Fast tracked programs, trendy plans, and bio hacks may provide limited short term results, but ongoing success requires time, patience, and consistency. You have to be willing to play the long game. Many people fail to realize that fitness is a lifelong journey. It may drastically change as we mature within the continuum and eventually begin to age but at every single point in our lives our level of fitness will dictate health, our ability to move, independence in performance of physical tasks, mental acuity, and emotional state. There’s no one thing you can do now for a few months or even years that will unlock special powers that will yield benefits for a lifetime. People need to get over this fact. If the entire driving force behind your exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle behaviors is dependent on one particular event, how do you possibly expect to maintain these behaviors the minute you’ve achieved on of the milestones?


So back to the original question, the one where somebody asks me: “How do you it? How do you find the drive to keep working out, day after day, month after month, year after year?”. It all go back to why I do it in the first place. I won’t even get into my particular reasons, will just leave at the fact that I 100% know how fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle aligns with the things that I want in life. And that is the key to making it happen. That’s what you will never be able to achieve by seeking out external motivators. What’s important to YOU? Be honest in your reply. There’s no possible way for you to be wrong (or right) in this analysis. There’s only truth and lies. Most people will respond with the things they believe we’re expected to say: my kids, my wife, God…. I call bullshit. These are responsibilities that we have, not necessarily the things that we value most. Acknowledging your highest values does not make you a shitty parent or spouse. You can still excel at these roles and make good on your responsibilities. But once you understand your highest values you will be in a much better place to organize everything around it. Then, it’s just a matter of realizing that fitness is a medium to help you live up to these values. It doesn’t matter what they are. The fitter version of you will absolutely make you better at whatever you want to be. Then, when it’s time to work out, food prep, or leave the restaurant to get to bed before 10:00pm, you will not be doing it as a sacrifice. You will not be doing it because your coach told you. You will not be doing because you’re “supposed to”. You’ll be doing it because it aligns with the things that matter most to you.


This is a HUGE part of coaching. I’ll take that back. This IS coaching. Coaches, if you’re not having these talks with your clients, you’re only guessing at exercise and nutrition prescriptions. For the rest of you, if your coach is not having these conversations with you, you’re not working with a coach. You’re working with a programmer or fitness conductor. This is unfortunate for both parties. Client will never buy in to the program and feel fulfilled. Coach will be losing the client in just a matter of time.


Folks, this is the key to incorporate fitness into your life, forever. You are convinced that you need to eat every day. You know that when you wake up, you have to brush your teeth. You go to work. You take your kids to school, help them with their homework, tolerate the temper tantrums. You don’t necessarily like some (or any) of these things but you do them on the daily and accept them as part of your life. Do you not see that fitness, whatever that means to your purpose, is exactly the same? I think that everyone reading this will agree that exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle habits are important to your health. Perhaps you’re not convinced to what extent, but I’m certain you’ll all agree that exercising is healthier than not exercising. Making good nutrition choice is better than making bad nutrition choices. Practicing good lifestyle/rhythm practices is better than practicing bad ones. This is true now and will be true every single day for the rest of human kind. Do you see yourself one day sitting down and deciding that you are done exercising and trying to eat well? I’ll let you come up with your own answer but I will most definitely never come to that. Yes, I happen to enjoy exercise. Same as anyone else enjoys certain things in life. Perhaps that does give me a leg up. But I don’t pasta, pastries, and cheesecake every day not because I don’t like the taste. I avoid these foods because I know they don’t take me closer to where I want to be relative to things that are important to me. 


I implore each and every one of you to go down this path of introspect. Make an effort to establish your core values. If you need help getting started down this path the coaches at OPEX San Juan will be more than happy to get you started, challenge your thinking in this area, and guide you through the rest of the process. If you’re able to accomplish this you will never again feel like you have to “sacrifice” anything for exercise, food, or behaviors. These choices will become as routine as brushing your teeth.

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