Lifelong Fitness: A Path to Sustainable Motivation for 40+ Guys

“I need to get motivated.” I’ve said this a thousand times over the years.

Once or twice in a big-picture sense, when I wasn’t exercising enough. Many, many times in a next-five-minutes sense as in, “If I don’t change clothes and start my workout in the next five minutes, I’ll lose my available time window today.”

But it’s been years since I’ve had any big-picture motivation challenge, and I don’t even feel the next-five-minutes version that much anymore.

So what changed for me, motivation-wise?

I hope what I’ve learned helps you refine your own view of motivation, brother, and how to make it work for you.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Defining “Motivation”

First, “motivation” isn’t a single, uniform feeling. There are different types.

“Motivation” can mean incentive to…

1. Avoid negative long-term outcomes. This fear- or threat-based motivation is to avoid things like weight-related diseases and conditions, heart issues, etc.

Said starkly, it’s “exercise and eat well so you don’t develop life-limiting health issues, or die before your time.”

2. Achieve positive, non-immediate outcomes. Examples: be active enough to enjoy being a parent or grandparent; or, have your physical appearance become / stay “good enough” to serve romantic goals.

Experts call these positively-oriented incentives “developmental” motivations.

3. Achieve positive, immediate outcomes. This is the feeling of a workout being refreshing in a clear-your-mind way, or of a walk or run outside letting you appreciate nature and feel happy you’re part of it.

This is referred to as “intrinsic” motivation.

The Best Kind of Motivation

Experts agree negative-avoidance is the weakest form of motivation.

As in “yeah, I need to start getting in shape and eating better to avoid a bunch of long-term negative health consequences…but I can start on that tomorrow.” Or next week, or month, or year. This is the New Year’s Resolution dynamic.

By contrast, positive “developmental” motivation is much better.

Research show positive goal-seeking is a much more powerful incentive than negative-outcome-avoidance.

The best kind of motivation? It’s the intrinsic kind. People joke about being “addicted” to exercise. I don’t want to make light of a serious word, but in one sense, this is in fact what we’re trying to reach or sustain: the feeling that we “need” physical movement on a daily basis.

The secret to “getting more motivated” isn’t only teeth-gritting resolve. Rather, it’s charting a path to change how you feel an initial incentive to behave certain ways, and how you feel rewards that reinforce those behaviors.

That’s powerful motivation, man.

How to Get to the Better Kinds of Motivation

The big question is:

How to move ourselves along this motivation spectrum, toward the more powerful and sustainable kinds?

Hopefully one or more of these tactics will help…

⇒ Think explicitly about positive goals you’ll achieve by getting, or staying, in tip-top shape. This can span the self-less (“be there for my family”) to the self-oriented (“keep on looking my best”). The more positive reasons, the better!

⇒ Use “grit the teeth resolve” short-term to force new behaviors. These can, over time, create appreciation of intrinsic benefits you didn’t feel before. This is at least a three or four-month endeavor…not a “30-day miracle” thing, dude. You’ll be literally re-wiring your brain to associate positives with exercise.

⇒ Create accountability. Commit to a fitness program with friends or family, or pay for something (fear of having wasted money is a motivator). Plan an adventure that requires getting into better shape.

⇒ Take small steps first. Try a new “tiny habit” you can get into without big motivational hurdles. This can then snowball in a positive way. I wrote about these types of small steps here.

⇒ Experiment with new forms of exercise. One or more of them might “grab you” with immediate positive rewards, in a way that other activities haven’t.

⇒ Make exercise a respite from the world’s craziness…a “you time” source of mental relief and refreshment. This, together with the physical “endorphin release” effects of exercise, is a big part of creating a “positive addiction” for yourself. This likely means sometimes getting yourself out of the gym, man.

⇒ Use good nutrition to help reinforce an exercise habit. As in “I’ve been eating so well…I can’t ‘waste’ that benefit by not exercising, too.” Or the reverse: “I can’t let my good exercise get undermined by eating poorly!”

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Gents, I hope this helps you think about how to best motivate and manage yourself as the second half of your life rolls slowly by.

One last idea for “extra credit” readers: we tend to use “motivation” and “inspiration” interchangeably, but they mean subtly different things.

“Inspiration” is literally related to the idea of “in spirit.” So really, the ultimate OlderBeast goal isn’t motivation at all…it’s inspiration. This is where fitness, nutrition and Wellness are vital to you at the “soul” level, at the foundation of who you are and why you’re here.

Take Care of Yourself, with More Perspectives Like This

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“Still I look to find a reason to believe.” (Rod Steward, Reason to Believe — click to listen)