Jonathan Ross by Jonathan Ross

What do babies, cigarettes and exercise all have in common? Motivation. No one has babies, smokes cigarettes or exercises consistently unless motivation makes each of them appealing.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Not your alarm clock, the dog licking your face or the child tugging on your arm. Why do you get out of bed? What’s the deeper driving force behind your life?

When it comes to exercise and healthy eating, many people believe that change is hard. When it comes to hard changes, there is no harder change to make in your life than having a child. Yet this is something many people do multiple times! It occasionally happens by accident, but most of the time it’s intentional. No one ever enjoys his or her first cigarette, because inhaling smoke is unequivocally toxic to the human lung. So everyone’s first puff of a cigarette is a miserable experience. Yet many people wind up becoming smokers for much of their lives.

What’s Going on Here?

Emotion. People have babies because the emotional rewards of having them outweigh the challenges to schedules, finances and freedom. People become smokers because of the emotional rewards of identifying with a certain social group or type of person who smokes.
Emotion is the source of motivation. Emotion is thus the secret weapon to lifelong, life-changing modifications to lifestyle habits such as consistently exercising and eating healthfully.

What’s Your Why?

The early part of my fitness career was hard. It took me some time to figure out how to get comfortable selling fitness. I was really frustrated as I kept stumbling along in the early days. What kept me going? Why did I stick it out when I quit a steady salaried government job for the uncertain life of needing clients for income? My father’s death at 424 pounds gave me the drive to keep doing what I knew I was meant to be doing. Without that powerful emotional motivator, I may have not toughed it out during those early challenging days.

You need to know the powerful emotional reasons why someone cares about fitness in the first place before you can get to the how. I call this discovering the “emotional relevance of exercise.” Many people come to us seeking weight loss or more energy, or to get back in shape (whatever that means to them). These are all vague and emotionless. Even people who are deeply emotional about their weight are not seeking weight loss directly. They are really seeking the way they will feel when they are fitter…it just so happens they will most likely also be lighter or leaner.

What will be better in your clients’ lives when they are fit? What will they do? Who will they do those things with? Find out what your client values in life and is motivated by—only then can you begin to frame his or her progress in terms of how better fitness will make those things better.

Finding out the “why” of your clients’ fitness goals lets you connect with their personal stories and the powerful emotional drivers that motivate them to do anything and everything they do in life.

If you don’t uncover this information, you’re only as good as every other trainer who can successfully demonstrate a push-up and create a program. Find the “why” that drives your client and you can help motivate them and, even better, they will learn to more effectively motivate themselves.

There is something powerful inside each of us that can motivate us to live a healthy lifestyle. It might be graduating from college, playing a sport again or for the first time, seeing an adult child get married, taking a physically challenging vacation, getting the most out of a favorite activity and doing it with loved ones…the options go on and on.

Of course, we need to do everything we can to make the better choices in exercise and nutrition easier. But despite how easy we make it, some people continue to struggle. In these situations, the emotional relevance of exercise is often a mystery. If you don’t care about it, other “stuff” (i.e., obligations, distractions) will inevitably jump to the forefront. Make consistent exercise and great nutrition choices seem more appealing by attaching them to the emotional drivers of the people with whom we connect and teach.


Motivation goes where emotion tells it to go. We’ve all got motivation, we just may have it for different things. When we are drawn to the things that make life healthy and fulfilling, we do them easily without willpower. If we continually force ourselves to do things we don’t enjoy, we will never do them consistently and we will drain our willpower in the process.