Know Your Motivation

TAGS: think big, think strong, ben pollack, training motivation, mental training, strength athlete


I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who have no time under the bar, no idea of why they’re training, and no vision for their future powerlifting career. They don’t give a fuck, and they’re not going anywhere. Don’t make their mistakes: know your motivation.

Staci and I were talking yesterday about working with clients, and why some people seem to have it easy. My clients are typically highly-motivated, goal-oriented individuals who already have a working knowledge of the powerlifts, of nutrition, and of their bodies — otherwise, I wouldn’t work with them! But her clients are usually new to physical culture, and that presents a new set of challenges. Some are overly anxious to jump into a new routine — risking burnout or injury — and others don’t seem to really know why they want to train at all.

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Even if you’re in the former group, you might not understand your motivation as well as you might. For a long time, I didn’t. I knew I loved to train, and I had a vague idea of the kind of lifter I wanted to be (an elite one!) but that was it. Once I started thinking about my motivation, and started to understand why I lift, I became a better lifter overnight.

What Motivation Is Not

True motivation doesn’t come from lifting to get a six pack and pick up Crossfit chicks. It doesn’t come from lifting to win championships and money, either. Goals like those are great to have, but they’re short-lived — and what happens after you achieve or give up on them?

I’m getting at the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you’re extrinsically motivated, then you go to the gym to either get some type of external reward, or to avoid some type of external consequence. On the other hand, if you’re intrinsically motivated, you lift because you love to lift — you need to lift. It’s part of who you are. To me, that — and only that — is true motivation.

There’s nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation, really. Most people are extrinsically motivated to some degree, and you can exceed at lifting without any deep sense of motivation. But chances are you will never reach your ultimate potential if you’re only lifting to achieve some goal.

The good news? Over time, you can find, develop, and benefit from motivation.

Motivation Versus Discipline

It’s important to recognize that it’s okay to feel unmotivated. Oftentimes, that just means your motivation is being overshadowed by other things going on in your life — or by negative habits that you’ve allowed to build up over time. In either case, recognize that, to some degree, you can compensate for motivation with discipline.

It’s an easy idea. Force yourself to go through the motions, regardless of whether you feel like it. You’ll still get the same benefits out of your training, even if you’re not into it. The downside: you’re not going to keep doing something you’re not into. Discipline is a short-term solution.

Understanding Your Motivation

So how do you find your true motivation? First, you accept the need for discipline, patience, and consistency. This should be an easy commit: you need those habits to become a great strength athlete regardless of your motivation. With very few exceptions, it takes at least 8-10 years to build the strength and muscle necessary to compete at the top levels of powerlifting, bodybuilding, and strongman.

Discipline, patience and consistency might be enough for many people to develop motivation, but you don’t have to take a passive role in the process.


Reflection is a great practice to incorporate into your life, independent of any goals you might have. Reflection helps you to understand yourself, and to live a more genuine life. When it comes to motivation, reflection is easy. You just need to ask yourself one question: “Why do you lift?”

You don’t need to answer that question! The answer isn’t important. It’s the process of asking the question that opens your mind up to understanding and benefitting from your intrinsic motivation.

Of course, asking yourself a question in a genuine way, without expectation of a response, is difficult in itself. If you’re struggling, I strongly recommend incorporating reflection into some type of regular meditation practice.

Have a Vision

I just said that goals aren’t going to help with your intrinsic motivation. So why is a vision any better?

A goal is a specific, measurable, achievable target for the future. A vision is different: it’s an aspirational image that might not be measurable and should not be achievable. It’s something you’re constantly striving towards, but never reaching. Seems weird, but it’s an idea that goes as far back as the ancient Greeks, who believed that a good life involved the constant pursuit of arete, or excellence, in all its forms.

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So your vision, your desire for future excellence, is actually very much a part of your true motivation. My vision involves helping people -- whether as a professor, a coach, or a friend — and being able to offer that help because I’m confident in myself and my abilities, and jacked as fuck. Don’t stress about nailing down your vision, but do make sure that your vision reflects your personal values, whatever those are.


Obviously, after you start to understand your motivation, you need to put it into practice. That’s the easy part — success breeds success, and once you see the benefits of incorporating motivation into your mental training, you’ll want to practice it as often as possible!

Thinking About the Future

I really enjoy mental training, and so I’m happy to write more about it — but only if that’s something that interests you. If so, let me know what other mental training topics that you struggle with or are interested in, and I’ll try to incorporate them into future blog posts and articles.

In the meantime: GIVE A FUCK. Put aside some time to think about why you train. You’ll benefit from it.


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