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Inspiration vs. Motivation

So as I often like to do, I’ll end with a question. Are you simply inspired to have the physique of your dreams, or are you truly and deeply motivated?

Recently I have been thinking about the difference between inspiration and motivation.

I’m not going to go to the dictionary on this one. I’d prefer to give my own definitions. To me, inspiration comes from outside you, and it can come in a number of forms: the written word, speech, photographs, moving images or music. For instance, many of us were inspired to become bodybuilders by photos and films of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know I was. Before I ever saw a photo of Arnold from his Mr. Olympia days, I saw him in “Pumping Iron” and action movies like “Conan the Barbarian,” “The Terminator” and “Predator.” Seeing the incredible physical specimen that was Arnold in his prime, larger than life on the big screen, was a tremendous source of inspiration. From there I was motivated to transform my own body into something exceptional and was resolved that nothing would stop me in that pursuit.

Motivation comes from within, and the essence of it is a burning desire to achieve a goal. The stronger your desire, the more powerful your motivation. So if people are fiercely determined to build their muscles, own a successful business or whatever else they want to do, motivation is never a question. There will be moments of doubt and despair, to be sure, but the motivation will always be strong enough to get past them and continue on the path toward the goal. It’s a fire that may need extra fuel from time to time, but it never stops burning.

Sometimes I’m asked by people as various as complete strangers and close family members to meet up for a onetime workout or become a steady training partner because they feel I would “motivate” them and thus help them reach the goals they have in mind. While I understand what they mean, their thought process is somewhat flawed. If you require someone else to sustain your motivation, then you aren’t very motivated in the first place. Without that outside source your efforts are doomed to failure.

There’s nothing wrong with the model. In fact, without it the personal-training industry couldn’t exist. The fact is, many people would love to have a body they can be proud of, but they don’t want it badly enough to relentlessly pursue that goal. Recognizing that, they enlist the services of a trainer. They have an appointment with someone at the gym several times a week, when otherwise it would be easy to skip a workout or put it off. They’re paying for a professional to take them through a structured workout. That person will demand a certain degree of effort, ensuring that the workout is productive. The trainer gets paid for providing a service, and the client receives a valuable service. If the trainer is a good one and the client works hard and also follows a good diet outside the gym, the results should be quite satisfactory. Wonderful!

Truly motivated people don’t need a trainer. Before I go on, let me clarify that. An excellent trainer can put you through a better workout than you’d get on your own: men like Charles Glass, Hany Rambod, Dorian Yates and Oscar Ardon (only Glass is a full-time trainer). That’s because of their years of experience and vast knowledge of exercises and training techniques. The athletes they train, however, don’t need them to work hard in the gym. They do that on their own and have for years because they’re self-motivated. By definition, my definition at any rate, motivation and self-motivation are the same thing.

So for anyone I may have inspired through my writings or by example to strive for the benefits of long-term dedication to training and nutrition, I’m very glad to have been able to do that. For anyone looking to me for motivation, though, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. I can’t motivate you or anyone else. Nobody can. Peple may be able to help increase your motivation or sustain it in moments of doubt, but motivation comes from inside you.

What do you want to change about your body? How badly do you want to change it? If the answers to those questions are compelling enough, you’ll never lack for motivation. Getting to the gym and working hard and eating plenty of nutritious meals every day will seem as natural as breathing. Nobody will have to force you, prod you, nag you, remind you or give you a pep talk. You’ll want to do those things because they’re what it takes to achieve the goals that you must achieve. Yes, I said must. If your goals aren’t too important to you, there’s no way you’ll be dedicated enough to work consistently toward them over months and years and in the face of obstacles, setbacks, injuries and, of course, the disdain, attempts at discouragement and general lack of support that most of us who chose to be bodybuilders know all too well.

So as I often like to do, I’ll end with a question. Are you simply inspired to have the physique of your dreams, or are you truly and deeply motivated?

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at


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