Motivation vs. Discipline

feeling down

Every now and then I get questions or statements from a friend or acquaintance new to fitness or from someone starting over hoping, this time, to make the routine stick. It’s a question that somehow comes across with anything from mild panic to near hysteria, even when typed as a text or social media post.

The questions are always something along these lines: I don’t have any motivation for the gym tonight! How do I stay motivated?

feeling downIt’s a serious question. Especially when, just days ago, a new fitness journey was so exciting and motivating all on its own. It was, mere moments ago, that golden time when absolutely nothing could stand in the way of the workout.

In answering the question, the issue is always this: how to phrase, in a way that won’t incite more panic, that the initial gung ho Let’s-Do-This feeling won’t come breaking down their door every day around gym time. Or worse, that sometimes the feeling won’t even venture into their neighborhood; maybe it’s been held up in traffic somewhere. Who knows? What is the best way to let them know that the point is to not to even expect the feeling, and more than that, convey that there is freedom in not even needing it?

It’s always mildly troubling for a new client to say, “I need someone to motivate me and keep me accountable.” Because, while it falls under the duties of a personal trainer to motivate and help foster accountability, the trainer is present for only the workout phase of the day. The real discipline, all the times when no one else is watching, is all on the client, and they have to be ready for it.

The whole point of seeking to motivate is to ultimately lead the client to something deeper and better: self-responsibility. The whole truth is that trainers can’t facilitate the gung-ho feeling every single time any more than anyone else can.

I think that behind the lament of lacking motivation, is the echo of disappointment that the excitement has momentarily dwindled. The fun of starting something new, and then suddenly the realization hits that exercise, fitness, and working out is work. So, what can trainers do to prevent the panic and keep clients or friends going?  Well, honesty goes a long way.

Honesty can include talking about setbacks and sharing personal stories and journeys. Also, encouraging reasonable expectations and focusing on milestones on the way to the major goal can help keep focus. It also underscores the fact that fitness is a journey, and journeys take time.

Also, immediately handing some of the responsibility back to the client, or alerting friends that the responsibility is theirs to keep going when the going gets tough, can set expectations on the right path right off the bat. And of course letting someone know that, hey, sometimes you won’t feel like doing this, but we all go through it, can certainly take the shock-level down when it does eventually happen.

Let us know in the comments how you go about keeping clients, friends, and family on their fitness game if the initial excitement wanes.


Tanisha Rule has a BA in English and is a former Mad Dogg-certified Spinning instructor. She taught indoor cycle and boot camp and has now combined her passions as a full-time writer for the health and fitness industries, check out her site at If she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found happily training for an endurance event, likely after having said, “This is my last one for a while,” because there is no finish line; there is only progress.
Get 35% off certification packages

Celebrating 35 years

We’re celebrating 35 years with 35% off!

Our biggest discount EVER!

Get 35% off certification packages.