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Do You Know How to Get and STAY in Shape?

By Phil Graham

Renowned competitive bodybuilder and performance nutritionist Phil Graham has established himself as one of the most respected fitness experts in the industry. He has helped and inspired a diverse range of clientele, from every day members…
Read more.

How to get in shape and STAY in shape.

Most people get into fitness simply because they want to look and feel better about themselves.

The reality is most people have a general idea of what to do, they just don’t know how to stick to it. When you mix a little bit of knowledge with an impatient ego - problems arise.

Ask yourself, how many people do you know have started a fitness or healthy eating program, done incredibly well but failed to sustain or improve upon their results? In fact, many end up worse than they started off!

Restriction, social anxiety, lack of knowledge and unhealthy relationships with food, are all common psychological hurdles many people face in their quest to building a better body.

But, how do some people overcome these obstacles and seemingly maintain their fitness efforts year round whilst most struggle to even get started?

On the other hand, there are also plenty of people in fitness who hate the process in spite of achieving good results. What’s the problem?

In this article I want to examine the process of motivation and highlight the necessities of a highly motivated mind-set that both enjoys and achieves what it set out to.

Although I am only scratching the surface of human psychology, there are plenty of key takeaways for you to consider…

What Motivates You?

You or something else?

When it comes to understanding motivation two factors are clear. An individual can be either intrinsically (self) or externally motivated towards achieving their particular goal.

A lot of what I’m about to talk about stems from Self Determination Theory. A psychological model concerned with the motivation behind the choices people make without any external influence.

Collectively known as intrinsic motivation.

motivation hierachy

Intrinsic motivation is grounded on three psychological needs:

  • Mastery or competence in doing what you do.
  • Relatedness - The ability to interact and connect with other individuals.
  • Autonomy (Self-sufficiency) – The ability to make your own decisions (which pay off).

In a nutshell intrinsic motivation refers to initiating an activity for its own sake because it’s incredibly interesting and enjoyable.

On the other hand, we have external motivation, which refers to initiating an activity for external goals or reward which may not be as satisfying and in some cases soul destroying.

The Ego Gets Us Started…

Man who has muscles

Most people’s fitness goals don’t start out with mastery, relatedness of self-sufficiency.

How could they?  They’ve only just started out.

All three key characteristics of intrinsic motivation take time to mature and develop.

This can create a problem… Reliance on extrinsic motivation…

When it comes to any fitness related goal, the ego is usually the first thing to get people started.  This could be the desire to have a 6 pack, win a trophy, or gain more attention from the opposite sex. These are prime examples of extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation drives us to do things for physical rewards or pressures, rather than for the enjoyment of it.

People don’t realise (at first) but focusing all your efforts on chasing an extrinsic goal is one sure way to burnout and use every last ounce of willpower.

No matter how superhuman you claim to be, Willpower has a limit – you will eventually use it up!

Don’t get me wrong extrinsic motivation is important, however it should never be relied upon as your main source of motivation - it simply won’t last! Use it tactfully for a kick up the ass especially when it comes time to getting in better shape (e.g. a wedding, holiday, photo-shoot or competition)

Just think, how many people have a full blow out once their allocated diet time is finished. This is a prime example of someone who’s been ruled by an extrinsic goal.

Long story short, if you want to ensure high quality, sustainable results with fitness your main focus should be on building high levels of intrinsic motivation.

How To Build Intrinsic Motivation


If you want to become self-motivated or determined you must look to develop Mastery, Relatedness and Autonomy with your fitness approach. If you do the process of staying motivated will be self-fulfilling and enjoyable, which translates into more sustainable behaviour patterns.

You are what you do on average at the end of the day.

Enjoyment Is More Important Than Progress

For the general individual who wants to look, feel and perform better it is imperative that the process of getting in shape is enjoyable.

The enjoyment and novelty of a diet and training approach plays a huge role in promoting positive long-term lifestyle change and thus results.

I’ll say again - You are what you do on average. If you can enjoy the process day in day out, you’ll be much more likely to stick to the plan and reap the rewards.

Sustainability and enjoyment are directly linked. This is why being intrinsically motivated is of paramount importance.

So How Do You Do It?

First of all, you need to realise that all the key elements take time to develop and such patience is a virtue.  The only exception to this would be if you’ve grown up in a family full of fitness fanatics.

Long-term exposure to the fitness lifestyle may give you a head start.

I’ve broken down each element and highlighted key things you can do to develop each.


woman working out

Positive feedback is essential when it comes to becoming self-sufficient.

Feedback could be from a coach, a close friend or random member of the public. It can also exist in the form of self-assessments such as beating a personal best in the gym, dropping a great deal of weight on the scales, fitting into clothes you never did before or inspiring others to get fit and healthy.

Positive feedback is incredibly powerful especially when it’s least expected.  A great coach knows the right time and place for such feedback.

An individual gains control once they receive such feedback and meet key benchmarks.

As a result this grows self-determination and confidence.


working out in the gym

You’re a product of your environment.

A lot of people struggle when they first begin their fitness journey. A big reason for this is the sudden change in their social behaviour, which can raise unwanted attention from close friends and family.

I’m sure you can relate to people asking “why are you eating that?” or those same old friends trying to pull you away from the gym and persuade you to go out for a night on the town.

Don’t bite to it. Build a support group.

Surround yourself with like-minded fitness people and feed of their energy, knowledge and support.

Choosing a great gym environment can be a godsend especially if it has a knowledgeable, highly experienced and welcoming community. Likewise going to major fitness related events or competitions could also serve as inspiration and provide opportunity to meet and befriend even more like-minded individuals.

Offline community is best in my opinion; however there are also some great online forums that provide plenty of opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals.

If your environment’s not growing you - it’s killing you!

Which is it?


Knowledge is everything.

The more you know the more efficient and effective your choices will be. In fact, you will have fewer choices to make. As a result, you’ll have plenty of time, mental energy and financial resourcesreserved for all the other fine experiences life has to offer.

Thus, your plan will much more sustainable and worthwhile.

Too many people are inefficient in their approach and as a result use up all their time, financial and mental reserves, leaving nothing to play with.

Diets Shouldnt be a ball and chain

These are the folk who end up having their diet and training serve as a large ball and chain. Over time they waste a lot of money, jeopardise their relationships and burn themselves out!

How can I prevent this?

Invest your time and money in resources and people who have proof behind their claims.

Knowledge allows for a more enjoyable process and faster higher quality results.

As my knowledge has increased over the years I’ve been able to:

  • Enjoy tastier food
  • Not burn myself into the ground out with the ‘No pain no gain’ approach that is so prevalent in fitness.
  • Follow a diet and training regime that fits my schedule, not the other way round.
  • Track and evaluate my approach more accurately
  • Make justifiable changes and not just for the sake of it.
  • Not freak out about missing a training session or meal.
  • Make quicker gains

Long story short - Fitness should improve you as a person. Advancing your knowledge helps you get the most out of it!

The Professional Athlete – An Exception To Enjoyment

The only exception to this would be the professional athlete who pushes the boundaries of human performance and body composition for a temporary period of time in the lead up to a specific event. Every athlete will be the first to tell you these times can get pretty tough.

These individuals are well aware of the trade-offs and that in order to achieve such a result will require them to work outside their comfort zone. 

muhammad ali

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion." - Muhammad Ali

They acknowledge their results are merely ‘peaks’ in their career that ultimately can’t/won’t be sustained year round. Psychologically speaking they trade of enjoyment in favour of a victory or respect from their peers/fans.

However, at the same time they have achieved remarkable levels of mastery, autonomy and relatedness in their given endeavour.


Take Home

For the average fitness enthusiast who wants to look, feel and perform well year round you mustunderstand enjoyment is more important than progress.

If you can sustain your approach year round, because you enjoy it, you are much more likely to stick with it! 

After all, the strongest motivation comes from within.

To shape it, focus on building knowledge (seeking mastery), meeting benchmarks (self-sufficiency) and making friends with like-minded individuals (relatedness).

Never rely on external goals that rely on willpower alone, no matter how motivated you are, it has a lifespan.

Phil Graham

About Phil

Renowned competitive body builder and Sports Nutritionist Phil Graham (BSc, CSSN) has established himself as one of UK’s leading fitness educators and coaches. He has helped and inspired a diverse range of clientele ranging from every day members of the public right through to professional athletes across a wide variety of sports.

Phil has written for a number of major fitness publications, speaks regularly at some of the world’s largest fitness exhibitions, hosts the very popularPodcast Elite Muscle Radio which is available on iTunes and also works as Genetic Supplements resident nutrition expert for product development.

He prides himself on empowering individuals with the exact knowledge they need to enhance their health, body composition and performance related goals. Phil also works closely helping other coaches and trainers develop their business and improve their service provision.

Phil’s coaching and personal training is based in Belfast Northern Ireland, he also offers online consultancy for those that cannot reach him locally.

You can visit Phil’s website or connect on FacebookTwitterYouTube and Instagram.

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