Motivation is loosely defined as why people engage in certain behaviors. Anyone who has ever wanted to accomplish anything (and that’s pretty much everyone) is familiar with motivation – it’s what causes us to take action. It’s why we start swapping our fast food for real food and it’s why we do our squats each week. We are motivated to accomplish our goal – whether that be an elite powerlifting total, a new PR, or just simply to look and feel better. It’s that desire that lights the fire that gets us to take action.
BUT, just being motivated isn’t enough. Often times what gets us to take action isn’t the same as what gets us to sustain that action. A spark of motivation is important, but it’s just that – a spark. It should be accompanied by other important changes that keep the fire light and stoke that fire when it gets tough. (That sounds like a Pinterest quote, sorry).
How many times have you embarked on something, maybe a new nutrition plan or a new workout regimen, only to find yourself totally burnt out 2 weeks later? You started out incredibly motivated – you’re bounding out of bed on Monday morning eager to start something new. By Wednesday, you’re a little less enthused but still going strong. By Saturday, you’re not really so stoked about it. By the following Friday, you’ve scraped the whole thing and said you’ll start something else on Monday. I know I’ve done it countless times. Motivation is great at getting you started but it’s not so great at keeping you going.
That’s where persistence and intensity come into play.
Persistence is the ability to continue to do what needs to be done to reach a goal, despite obstacles that may exist. It’s getting up in the morning to train even though you may not feel like it. It’s sticking with the plan because you know it works. It’s the grind that you engage in to make forward progress. But persistence is hard. It takes a lot of mental energy to sustain. This where is habits become important. Habits allows us to engage in behaviors without expending a tremendous amount of mental resources and energy – we essentially can “autopilot” some elements and save our mental resources for other items. For example, if you have to get up at 5am to get to the gym, the first week is going to be rough. It’s early and cold and dark and your bed is pretty damn comfortable. As you make it through the first week, each week becomes subsequently easier because now, it’s just routine. You don’t have to really think about the fact that you have get up early because it’s now a habit. Forward motion is difficult to initiate but significantly easier to sustain. By creating new habits in a sustainable fashion, you’re able to keep that forward momentum without it consuming your thoughts and actions 24/7. Let me clarify though, that persistence is NOT getting injured and then going all out once you feel the slightest bit better only to find yourself injured again. That’s not persistence, that’s ego feeding. Persistence would be resting, doing what you need to do to heal said injury, and continuing to do that despite obstacles (i.e. your ego) that exist.
Creating habits that help you be consistent in your persistence (that’s fun to say!) allows you to use your mental resources elsewhere – like in regulating your intensity. Intensity refers to how vigorously you pursue those goals. It’s how hard you work to achieve whatever you want to achieve. It’s naive to think that we can work at 100% all the time – life doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, you can only give 50% on the intensity scale and that’s okay. If your life is full of stress, adding more stress to that equation (i.e. trying to go HARD in the gym) isn’t necessarily the answer. Instead, you’re persistent – you do what you need to do. Doing the bare minimum isn’t going to win you any awards but it’s also not going to destroy you if you have to coast along for a week. Again, creating habits and creating a habit of persistence frees up your energy reserves for bringing in the intensity.