It’s a new year. Reliably, the first three months of the year are filled with people making resolutions, promises, and vows. You know—what they plan on doing differently and all the ways they will change.

Also reliably, those of us who train at commercial gyms know this is the time of year when the gym is flooded with new members, and this leads to a condition that can properly be summarized into a single expletive-filled sentence:

“Fuck, the gym is crowded.”

Within the fitness culture, this time of year is always a source of humor centered around the fact that almost all of these people will be gone in two months. While it's popular to make fun of these people, I do find it hypocritical at times. Think about it. Everyone in life has made some sort of half-hearted promise to himself or herself that he or she, in the end, just wasn't motivated enough to reach. It might not have been in the realm of training, but it was in regards to something else no doubt.

Why does the motivation run out on these things? There is an omniscient recurring theme this time of year about “motivation.” We've all heard these kinds of declarations, and I’m sure you have said them to yourself at times.

“I’m motivated to change this year”

I’m motivated to go the gym!”

“This year is different because I’m finally motivated to insert-generic-goal-that-isn't-going-to-happen!”

Everyone has either said one of these things or heard someone else say it, right? Well, while there are those people who see their goals through, more often than not, none of these things ever come to pass.

Specific to the gym, this phenomenon has a distinct cycle to it. There’s a rush at the beginning of the year when people make New Year's resolutions. January can be utterly ridiculous, so much so that I often change my own training to off hours like 6 a.m. or close to midnight. Then, there is a plateau as the new members stabilize around the third or fourth week of January. From weeks four to eight, however, there is a drop in consistency after the novel initial peak in performance. Somewhere around the six-week mark, the performance really degrades, and past the eight-week mark, most of them are gone from the gym and performance has returned to baseline. March tends to be a restoration to order, with only a few new consistent faces.

In terms of a programming comparison, it tends to look like a poorly planned, over-reaching phase with an enormous increase in volume, a very fast rise in performance as adaptation takes hold, and then a sharp drop as training volume outpaces recovery capacity, followed by a small realization period that nets a relatively minor increase in actual performance capabilities.

What does that have to do with motivation? Honestly, this is what most people's “motivation goals” tend to look like. Super excited at the beginning—a short term high of feeling like you are changing when little has really happened, and then a drop as motivation expires...and you are back where you started. Consequently, this leaves you questioning why you just aren't motivated anymore.

However, this is where the fallacy lies. Motivation is not an inherent reason for doing something. Motivation is nothing but a want to do something, and a want is not a reason.

The core of why anyone is driven to continue with a pursuit has little to do with want, but everything to do with why. How badly you want something means nothing if you are not willing to put forth the work and endure the sacrifice to achieve it.

There is nothing wrong with expressing how much you want something, but that motivation won’t last if there isn't a concrete reason behind it.

When I was younger, I was a bit of a pyro. As a disclaimer, I will say that I was never destructive in setting anything on fire. I grew up in a rural area and there was a lot of open land and not much to igniting discarded junk was always fun. For anyone who shares this passion, getting a new light or matchbook is always exciting. You light a few matches, you flick the light on and off, you think about the bottle rocks you saved from the fourth of July that you are going to set off in the sandy creek bed by the park...

This is what motivation is in my mind. Motivation is simply that spark. It's those matches you ignite that burn for a short while, making the world suddenly seem full of possibilities...but then the light goes out. Matches aren’t much fun if there is nothing to burn. Motivation doesn’t mean much if there isn't a reason behind it.

I've outgrown the pyro phase, but I see the same short-term mentality in people, especially at the beginning of a new year. People are fixated on their newfound “motivation.” Unfortunately, though, they are the same people from last year. They haven’t found real reasons to take action. They are just more aware of their wants. So, they make promises that they are never going to uphold.

Fire analogies are always ridiculously simple to make. Motivation without reasons is like matches with nothing to burn, and lacking a serious “why” won’t give you much of a fire. Newspaper doesn’t burn for very long, and neither do half-hearted rationales and promises. And these promises inevitably come crashing down, and the complaint is the every-so-common, “I don’t know what happened, I’m just not motivated anymore.” This might turn into abandonment of the goal and prompt a search for more motivation from a different source. Oftentimes, one thing people seem to turn to is the positive “self-talk” or inspirational speech. While this certainly can be helpful in the short-term, it doesn’t work in the long-term.

A simple example of this is of a video I recently watched of my teammate Clint Darden box squatting 702 pounds by 10. Clint is a professional strongman and is an immensely strong person, and he is always rabidly intense when he trains. I had yet to train that day, and the video got me motivated to go train.