MuscleMag - August 2001 / Issue 230
Part Three: Motivation
By Mark "Poppa" Lewis
Greetings and salutations! Welcome to the third installment of "Poppa's Principles," which is devoted to motivation. These principles will be listed in no particular order, 'cause although I'm organized, I'm not that organized! The information contained in this article, as well as in Part One on training and Part Two on nutrition, will serve as stepping stones in your training journey. These helpful hints will aid you over the many stumbling blocks that you are bound to encounter regularly throughout your training career. That said, let's just I jump right in with both feet!
Your body is not a destination. It is a journey. When you look at the pictures in this magazine, do you think you see bodybuilders who have reached the outer limits of their physical potential? Not so! As we learn more and more about training, nutrition and admittedly, pharmacology, we continue to see advancements in physique development. This progression works not only in the sport of bodybuilding as a whole, but also on an Individual level. You don't decide one day to start training and all of a sudden become totally knowledgeable about every aspect of training and nutrition. Your knowledge increases as you progress. Gradually you learn about the scientific principles involved and how to respond to certain training and nutritional practices. Since each of us is always changing to some degree in how we respond to different stimuli, you need to continue this learning process as long as you choose to train. I personally have been involved in bodybuilding for 20 years, and I am still amazed to this day at how much remains to be learned. There is always someone around to remind you of that fact. For example, I recently talked with Bob Gajda, a former Mr. America (1967) who is a genius when it comes to training. That conversation was undoubtedly a rehash of old information for him, but for me it was a delightful learning experience.
So you see, your body is not a final destination. It is an ongoing journey. If you are just a recreational bodybuilder, you may have a final physique goal in mind - better development than the average person possesses, but not taken to the extreme. That's fine. If, on the other hand, you are, or intend to be, a competitive bodybuilder, then you must have the desire to continue your quest for improvement until you quit training or until they nail your box shut.
Fear of failure prevents all-out effort.
If you think you are going to fail at any endeavor, can you even give it your best shot? I don't think so. I'd be willing to gamble that you can't name one person throughout history who has been successful at every enterprise he (or she) has ever put his (or her) hand to. Failure is part of growth. I'm referring to personal growth here, but failure is also part of muscular growth. In fact, if you're smart, you'll take nearly every set to failure in the gym.
I have a certain female client with competitive aspirations who cried the first time she bailed out of a squat. (For those not familiar with this term, it simply means she could not complete the final rep of the set and was forced to dump the bar on the pins of the power rack and crawl out from under it.) She was embarrassed that she had failed in front of everyone in the gym. She felt better after I explained to her that she had taken that set as far as she possibly could, and it was no doubt the most productive set of squats she had done to date. Nearly everyone present made a point of patting her on the back for her super effort. She squats more than most of the guys anyway.
Never let the fear of failure hold you back. Besides the fact that we can't always be a success at everything, failure has its place in our growth process. It builds character and can serve to strengthen our resolves, as well as building and strengthening our muscles.
Learn the positive benefits of failure.
The foregoing example illustrates that in the gym failure can be a positive experience. Often a client will do a sub par set, and once the realization sets in that he could have, and should have, done better, he asks if he can do an extra set to compensate. My reply is always the same: a resounding "no!" I tell him to remember that set, store it in his mind for the next session, and make it work for him on a psychological level. Guys never disappoint me in their next workout. Many sticking points are broken and many personal goals have been met this way.
But what about when you just plain, flat-out, screw something up? - that is, other than an individual set? How can that possibly be a positive experience? Let's say you mistime your peak for a competition. Fine, you screwed up. You can't fix it, but you can still turn it into a positive experience. Learn from it. Do better next time by not making the same mistakes. A close analysis of your final contest preparations should show you what you need to change . . . or at least what you need to rethink for next time. If you put your mind to it, you can turn any negative experience into a positive one. Positive thinking should be ingrained into every aspect of your life, not just your training.
Fear of success prevents all-out effort.
I really believe fear of success may actually be more common than fear of failure. Along with success comes a responsibility of sorts. People come to expect achievements from you, and for some that is simply too great a burden to bear.
How many times have you read in this very magazine that one bodybuilding champ or another needed only to beat himself/ herself to win a contest? (Good argument for the journey instead of a destination principle!) Responsibility is pretty heavy when you are expected to do better than your previous best.
Fear of success boils back down to the fear of failure. People tend to be afraid of failing after an initial success. They think it would make them look worse than if they'd never succeeded at all.
Well, I wish I had a brilliant answer to this dilemma, but I don't. (Gee, does that make me a failure?) All I can say is that even the most successful people experience failure from time to time. They also have the same fears about success and failure that you and I do. What sets them apart is the fact that they look beyond those fears, making their failures work for them. You can too. It's your decision.
Success comes from good judgment.
Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.
This is another way of saying some failure is not only good, since it tends to fuel motivation, but it is also necessary for personal growth and advancement. The fact is, you can't get around making mistakes.
Athletes in particular are often very hard on themselves when events don't go just as they plan, especially if the glitch in the plan was their fault. The mindset of a bodybuilder is likely to be even more intense and self-critical than that of most other athletes. If you think I'm dwelling on this issue, that's why. Learn to accentuate the positive with everything.
Progress, not perfection, is your goal.
As long as you strive to continue to progress in your bodybuilding endeavors, you are on the right track. Of course you will never reach perfection, but to me the idea is never to remain stagnant. Surely you will hit plateaus and sticking points in your training. Everyone does. But don't give up on your never-ending journey. Arnold calls this attitude "staying hungry." If you train smart, the bad times will pass.
Make haste slowly.
Make progress steadily. Unfortunately you can't rush bodybuilding progress if you want to keep moving steadily ahead. You have to take your time and follow the rules. The only shortcuts are heavily frowned upon by most people. They are also potentially detrimental to your health, besides being illegal.
Take charge of your own destiny.
Bodybuilding is a very singular activity. That fact in itself sets us apart from most other athletes. A good support system of family and friends can be a big boost, but the bottom line is that you have to take the I appropriate course for your own progress. Take charge of your own destiny. Listen to any and all advice people have to offer. Then weigh it, use what is useful, and throw the rest away. Don't fall into the trap of trying every new diet fad to come along or every scheme some well-meaning armchair trainer has to offer.
Just this morning I had to give a little pep talk to a client who is having trouble with his eating regimen. He seems to like to blame his wife for buying the types of food he needs to avoid. Not that she pins him to the floor and shoves this stuff into his mouth. Being in the same building with some foods is a challenge. He just has to eat it! Regardless of what others are doing around you, you need to be responsible for yourself. That precept leads to the next principle.
Let your inside world determine your success of failure.
Your inside world consists of your thoughts, your dreams and your plans to make those dreams into reality. If you let outside forces influence you, you'll never get anywhere near where you want to go in the sport. Believe me, there are going to be more people telling you that you can't make it than telling you that you can. For starters, most folks can't even begin to understand why you want muscles in the first place. Many will feel threatened by your desire to excel, and even more feel threatened by a superior physique. Some of your best allies in bodybuilding will be those with like goals, but some of them will not appreciate your progress at all. They don't want to be outshone, so in the end you can depend only on your own dreams to carry you through. Let your inside world determine your success or failure.
One of the big problems in society today is people's unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions. (I think sometimes people should be made to take responsibility, but that's an entirely different topic.) The kind of responsibility we're concerned with here leads us right back to the fears of success and failure. (Not again!) Despite your fears you absolutely must take responsibility for your own actions.
That's easy to do when plans work out well. We call that taking credit. For instance, if you win a competition, you can easily say: "I trained hard, I dieted strictly, and I hit my peak right on the money. I did everything right." When we fall short, however, the line is likely to be more like "I was given some bad advice in regard to my diet, and it messed me all up." Or "several sources indicated I needed to be more ripped for this show and I lost size and fullness as a result of that bad advice." If you took responsibility for your actions, that last statement would be "After talking with some people, I chose to come into this show more ripped. Unfortunately I sacrificed size and fullness, and that proved to be a mistake." To sum this issue up, you can't take charge of your bodybuilding destiny unless you are willing to take responsibility for it.
Dwell on the positive.
How many people, do you come into contact with on a daily basis who have a crappy attitude? I deal with crappy attitudes every day. I'm sure that even if you don't have to put up with these people frequently, you still know the type. Some people seem to pick the worst-case scenario in any situation and dwell on that aspect of it. If you ask them how they are, they tell you how they are-and it's never good. I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. If you talk failure, you will fail. I prefer being around those who are up about life and life's prospects. I train one young lady who happens to be a personal trainer herself. She has a very upbeat personality and is always positive and outgoing. This attitude has made a tremendous impact on her personal success as well as that of her clients.
Dwelling on the positive is only one way to take charge of your destiny. It will also go a long way in helping you to take responsibility for your actions. Those same people who always have a negative attitude and habitually look at the down side are usually very willing to blame their woes on someone other than themselves. Don't join that group. Dwell on the positive.
The only people who fail are those who do not try.
I believe so strongly in this axiom that it appears on my business card.
You've heard the old saying "nothing ventured, nothing gained"? Well, it's the same idea. You have to go out on a limb now and then. Make a commitment.
Then work your butt off to reach your goal. I've met countless people who, when talking about their life's dreams, said, "If only I had . . ." Believe me, you don't want to fall into this category. Too many people who didn't act on their dreams, who didn't try, wind up thinking they can live their dreams vicariously through their children. In trying to turn their kids into what they didn't have the guts to become, they inadvertently make a mess of the kids' lives. There are all sorts of prices to pay for not trying. Cut your kids a break. Be all you can be, as they say in those ads for the Army, but first you've got to be willing to try. Define your purpose. Set your goals. You'll no doubt recognize this principle, as well as several others, from both of the previous articles, but it applies here too. You need to set up a series of goals and stay focused on them. That way, as you meet your objectives, you won't lose sight of your purpose since you formed each individual goal with your overall purpose in mind. That almost sounds like so much double-talk, but it isn't. Go back to the first two articles and look under this heading for more detail. This is just one area where psychology meets training and nutrition, and I had to mention it here.
If you define something as being real, it is real.
Do you really see yourself as a winner? Or are you just an also-ran in the deep recesses of your mind? Whichever is real to you will determine your level of success. If also-ran is the image you have of yourself, change that image. Start right now . . . this minute! The mental adjustment will be hard at first, but the more you concentrate on your success, the more you imagine it, the more real it will become in your mind.
If you can conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it.
To achieve any goal, you first have to conceive it, or think it up in your own mind. Then you must believe you can achieve that goal. Otherwise, you would make no attempt to achieve anything. This process works in concert with having a purpose and setting goals. That which does not kill you makes you stronger. Just how hard are you willing to work to meet your goals? How much are you willing to sacrifice? My feeling is that if I can do something to further my progress toward a goal, I have to do it. Anything less would constitute a needless failure on my part. Think about it. Now you take it from here.
The only way to get to the highest peak is to dig deep.
A full 100 percent of what you've got is what is required in this sport.
Sure, you'll hear some guys claim to put 110 percent into their training, but that is, of course, impossible. One hundred percent represents everything that is available. If you think you put 110 percent into a given workout, it's time to reevaluate your training. You have undoubtedly been giving less than 100 percent.
You have to dig deep and find that full-tilt 100 percent every time you go into the gym. As far as nutrition is concerned, training at 100-percent intensity may be easier than eating 100 percent clean. You'll really have to dig for that kind of intestinal fortitude.
Take calculated chances. To gain something, you have to risk something.
I don't mean you should risk the side effects and the legal problems involved with steroid use. I simply mean your path is not so clear-cut that no guesswork is involved. You're going to be doing plenty of experimenting in both your training and nutrition. Each time you try a new idea, you risk slowing your progress, but you also will increase your base of knowledge. That know-how will speed your progress down the road. The two factors will even out in the long run.
Make informed decisions.
If you run east to find the sunset, you won't fare too well. Just because so-and-so says to train a certain way, don't change your battle plan. First consider where you are right now in your training journey. If you are progressing nicely, no changes are called for. Second, even if you do need a change, consider whether this new training program has any merit. (A lot of them don't.) Make sure everything you try at least looks good on paper in light of scientific training principles. The same goes for diet.
Know the difference between inspiration and desperation.
Too many trainees grasp at straws when progress seems too slow. Training then becomes a hitand-miss proposition, and progress is even slower. That's bad enough, but when your nutrition takes the same turn you'll really be in trouble.
Do what you have to do.
Nobody's going to do it for you. For the mental aspect of your sport your main motivation has to come from within. I can pep talk a client till the cows come home, but any individual will sacrifice only in proportion to his of her own inner drive. (Did I mention before that your success or failure depends totally on you?)
Aim for the stars one step at a time.
Don't be afraid to set yourself some lofty goals. The most progressive people in history were viewed as nuts by those around them. Your long-term goals may seem impossible to reach, but if you take your time and progress slowly, they'll seem more realistic with each passing day - especially if you use some of these suggestions.
Don't set limits. Set standards.
You need to realize that a seemingly impossible goal requires more than average effort. If you're putting out your full 1OO percent, believe me, you will set some new standards for yourself. If you find you are not setting new standards, you must be slacking off and it's time to review and make appropriate changes.
Look at the long-term view. Whatever you do in life has both long-term and short-term effects. You need to view everything in the long term. Sometimes what we do will produce an immediate desired result, but in the long run can have devastating effects. Bulking up may make you bigger and stronger for a while, but in the long run you will no doubt lose muscle as well as fat during the pre contest diet. Always consider the long-term effects.
Use delayed gratification.
It's going to have to be a way of life if you plan to succeed in bodybuilding. Heck, that's just one of the little differences between bodybuilding and most other sports. You are in this journey 24 hours a day. You have to weigh all decisions about daily activities against your bodybuilding goals. That's not always easy to do, but you have to do it. Luckily it gets a bit easier with time. You might not think a little cheating on your diet will hurt when you're still several weeks away from your contest, but that one piece of pizza could set you off on a binge from which you won't have time to recover. Each man or woman is different in this respect, but you are better off sticking to the program. Just keep your goals in mind and delay that gratification. Even if you don't win the whole shebang, or even place, the satisfaction of knowing you did your best, right down to the last crumb, is more gratifying than any piece of pizza!
Take nothing for granted. Celebrate after the victory.
(Don't stop running until you're on the elevator.) Taking anything for granted in bodybuilding can be downright dangerous. You have to pay attention to every detail until the last minute and leave no stone unturned in your efforts to be the best you can be. Just one small example would be eating out. When you are on a pre contest diet and you find yourself in a position where you have to eat out, don't make any assumptions about the food on the menu. Ask questions. If you don't know exactly what you are eating, you lose all control over your preparations. That's just one example, but this principle has countless applications.
Confidence grows on a foundation of achievement.
As you see yourself getting bigger and better, your motivation should increase. Your resolve to stay on track will intensify, and you will more easily be able to follow your plan to meet your goals.
Use visualization. One of the best ways to put some steam behind your efforts is to use visualization. See yourself, as you want to look. Let that image be the last picture in your mind as you drift off to sleep at night. As you see it, feel it too. Feel the heaviness that comes with muscle density. Soon this vision will become so vivid to you that making it reality will just be a matter of going through the motions. You will be defining your vision in concrete terms.
Never underestimate mental momentum. This visualization, defining your own reality, and building a foundation of achievement may be the most important steps you can take to meet your bodybuilding goals. The whole process is a mind game. It isn't just a game where you play along, but one where you make the rules and to a very large degree decide the outcome. Make no mistake about it. You and only you determine the results of your bodybuilding efforts, and it all starts and ends between your ears.
Illigitimi non carbarundum:
Don't let the bastards wear you down! Over the last 20 years I've heard every detrimental comment ever thought up about bodybuilding and weight training.
Some of them can be pretty hard to argue in light of the characters you see in gyms these days, but if you fall prey to those who have no appreciation for a great physique, try to remember you may just make them a bit uncomfortable. Being built better than they are tends to put some folks at odds with you right away. When they see your level of dedication to the sport they can be taken off guard, too. Not too many people have that level of commitment. Just remember, you are an ambassador of bodybuilding. Don't get into a useless shouting match over it. Be humble, and let those negative comments fuel your desire to excel. I once worked in a factory where several of my co-workers told me I'd be stuck for the rest of my life and never amount to anything. I now realize they were voicing personal fears about their own lives. I may not be rich from bodybuilding (yet), but I'm not in that factory any more either! They are!
Don't talk the talk if you can't walk the walk.
In bodybuilding circles Mike Quinn is known for being big on this attitude.
Quinn is quite a talker, but he doesn't just walk the walk. He stomps the walk! After his humiliating showing at the last WBF show he said he'd come back, and come back he did. His IFBB placings were proof of that.
Nonetheless, this sport is rife with competitors who go around telling everyone how they are going to destroy the competition in this or that contest. Then they don't even place in the top five. (I don't know about you, but I don't like looking like a fool, and this sure would make you look like one!) These guys need to concentrate on the business at hand. That means putting in the gym time and doing all that needs to be done to obtain the physique and the contest condition that speak for themselves. Nobody likes a bragger, but everyone respects a person who quietly and humbly gets the job done. Come on, kids. Do your homework and then let your physique do the talking.
Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man given. Be thankful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.
If you've been blessed with great bodybuilding genetics, more power to you.
But you can't ride on potential. You have to make the best of it and make it work for you. If you do that, great. My hat is off to you. Just always be aware that you did nothing to put yourself into that advantaged starting position. You know it, and everyone else knows it. I am a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due. I'll give someone all the praise he deserves, but no more than that. Don't try to take credit for a personal attribute you aren't responsible for.
If your bodybuilding (or any other endeavor) puts you in a position of recognition, that's wonderful. Learn to wear that crown with humility and thankfulness. I know too many bodybuilders who are rude to their fans, the very people who put them in the position they now abuse. They need to be reminded that those who gave can also take away. Never bite the hand that feeds you. Although relatively few trainees will ever achieve a position in bodybuilding where this advice is pertinent, it is still very useful on a smaller scale. We've all seen the "strutters." You know the type. They lift weights for a month or two and all of a sudden think they are God's gift to the opposite sex. Don't they give bodybuilding a great name? Why can't they see everyone is laughing at them? Whether you reach the top of the professional heap or only the bottom of the local gym heap, make humility a top priority in your life.
Who are you?
This will be our final thought for this series. I've observed three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who are always asking, "What happened?" If you want to succeed at bodybuilding, or anything else in life for that matter, you must be the first type of person. You simply have to be the type that makes things happen in your own life. Each of the principles in this three-part series is specifically geared to help you, the reader, to make all your bodybuilding endeavors more productive. The ball is in your court. You can just stand there and dribble, or you can score some points with it. The choice is yours.