You’re having that kind of day.
You know what I mean. You get to the gym, start your workout, and your legs just feel heavy and tired. It’s February, you’re cold, you forgot your headphones. That bad knee (or shoulder or back, it’s always something) is acting up. You do three reps of weights … have to check your texts. Send a couple emails. Forget the weights, you’ll do them tomorrow. Move over to cardio.
Damn, where are those headphones? More texting. Stumble off one machine and onto another. Forget it, this is impossible without music. Maybe you’re just hungry. Go over to the Smoothie Bar, watch a little TV. Mess around with your workout playlist in case you find the headphones. A steam might help that bad knee, head back to the locker room. Order a burger to go—workout over.
The only good news is you don’t have to wash your workout clothes because you never broke a sweat.
You spend the rest of the day wondering how to get motivated, and worry about why your body has betrayed you.
I can tell you this much: The issue isn’t your body, it’s your head.
You’ll never get better training advice than this: Get your mind strong so your body can follow.
Training isn’t only about physical ability; that’s the smallest part of achieving excellence. The truth is, you can’t train your body—or excel at anything—before you train your mind. You can’t commit to being successful until you’re mentally ready to go there.
You want the secret to mental toughness? I’ll give it to you in two words: END RESULT. In anything you do—training for a sport, advancing your career, succeeding in school, losing weight—either you want that result or you don’t, and there’s not a coach, trainer, teammate, boss, spouse, parent, or friend who can make you want it. It doesn’t have to be easy or fun, and you don’t have to love it. You just have to crave that end result so intensely that the work becomes irrelevant.
Your real work begins when your body says, “I can’t.” And your mind says, “We’re doing this.”
Mental toughness is knowing what you want and refusing to waver in your pursuit of achieving it. I wrote a book called RELENTLESS: From Good to Great to Unstoppable and since then I’ve done a lot of speaking for businesses and other non-sports folks who want to understand the mindset of champions and apply it to their own lives and careers. They introduce me as a “motivational speaker,” and the first thing I say is, “I’m not a motivational speaker.”
I assume if you’re sitting in the room, you’ve earned the right to be there by proving you’re already motivated. I’m the “next level” guy, because no matter how good you are, there’s always a next level, and it’s my job to show already-motivated people how to get there. It’s your job to be motivated, to determine what you want, and how hard you want to work for it. Hard work is not a skill, it’s a measure of how badly you want that end result. That’s how the best get better; they light their own fire and don’t ever allow it to burn out. It may flicker from time to time, but it never extinguishes. They don’t wait for others to push their buttons; they pull their own buttons out, and push them when they need to be pushed.
To me, motivation is entry level, for beginners who don’t know what they want, who feel like they’re being forced to do something, like school kids who have to read 100 pages every night. Motivation is for those who make impossible resolutions in January, the same resolutions they made last year and they’ll make again next year. Motivation and resolutions go hand-in-hand: It all sounds great until someone has to act on it. Motivation is for all the folks waiting for their digital fitness trackers to remind them to move, then shaking the bands madly to fool the bands into believing there was actual movement.
Nice try: You can fool a wristband, but your body knows better.
Look, we can all agree it’s not always a pleasure to drag yourself into the gym and put yourself through another workout. It’s not just you; this is true for the pros as well. Everyone starts the season with big hopes and promises; everyone’s going to have the best season ever. But with that promise comes a helluva lot of work, and by the 20th game or so, you can see who’s not willing to do it.
In the NBA, for example, players start fading after the All-Star break. They’re thinking about the playoffs, and the pressure starts taking a toll. Mental and physical fatigue becomes obvious, they stop putting in the extra work, and you can see they’ve checked out. Inevitably, those who quit first are rarely the leaders with all the pressure on them. Team leaders don’t have the luxury of checking out; even those who are injured and working their way back into the lineup still have to stay focused on the end result—playoffs, championships—and make sure their teammates remember no one has won anything yet. The mental work never stops. While everyone else is coasting along, they’re still battling to get to the next level. No additional motivation required.
Everyone has that inevitable bad day, and everyone has setbacks. Your ability to get to the next level depends on how you respond. Does a setback shut you down? How long does it take you to get back to work? A day? A week? One day is no big deal. One week is a habit. Everyone is motivated until the challenge becomes too hard; that's when a setback becomes a shutdown. Winners see the setbacks coming, they understand bad days are part of the process. They have the ability to say, “Yep, I stunk it up today,” and then they move on. But if you’ve been having that same bad day since January, it's time to reassess what you’re doing, and what you really want. If you can’t feel the relentless desire for that end result, you have zero chance of achieving it.
The truth is, you don’t have to be in that gym, you don’t have to stay late at work. You don’t have to train or work out or put in extra hours on the job to get to the next level. You can stay right where you are. You’re free to go.
Or you can choose to show up, to work hard, to achieve your goals. Not because you have to, but because you crave that end result—you’re comfortable being uncomfortable. “Have to” is driven by someone else. “Want to” can only be driven by you.
Tim S. Grover is the CEO of ATTACK Athletics, world-renowned for his work with championship and Hall of Fame athletes around the world. An international authority on elite sports performance and mental toughness, he appears as a keynote speaker for corporations and sports organizations, and is the best-selling author of Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable and Jump Attack. Follow Tim @ATTACKATHLETICS on Twitter and Instagram, and visit www.attackathletics.com for more.