It’s funny… often times when you start writing these sort of articles, your own perspective grows. Originally, the idea for this series was initiated by a conservative old timer’s perspective. The conservative mindset was: “the good old days were good, and these days are not quite as good”. In reality, I remember that past times weren’t necessarily better. Rather, it was the predictability of past events, which made us feel comfortable and much safer than the uncertain future. Looking back, I spent too much time mastering unproductive tasks. While they did build some valuable habits and tough skin, over time they also depleted me of valuable energy and time that could have gone towards more productive tasks. Regardless… I made it. Unfortunately, plenty of my bodybuilding colleagues of that era didn’t. This point illustrates I was indeed wrong simply thinking the “good old days” were, without a doubt, much better. The “good old days” weren’t nearly as good as I imagined them to be. I forgot one major detail (which will be discussed below) and I apologize for that. By the end of this installment, I’ll have presented enough sound and ready-to-use advice, to hopefully help everyone who begins their week flipping through Instagram looking for #motivationmonday pictures to help make it through another week. Can you imagine being someone who’s ability to stick to a diet is depending on how motivating someone else’s social media posts are? What a fragile way to live, right?
So here I go with something that I believe the Internet needs… another piece relating to “Self-Determination Theory.” If you are one of the few people out there who have yet to stumble upon SDT while going through a book in the self-help section… here it is. If you have seen it before… well here it is again. My point is, like many others who are fantastic at staying on track with their goals, my actions leading to my success are simply just things I do. What I mean, is that you can trace my behavior back to the three pillars of SDT. Those three being: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. These three needs are the cornerstones of our motivation for all behaviors we engage in.
As a quick aside to learn more about SDT, watch this video where someone much more qualified to speak on the topic gives you an intro.
Autonomy means having a sense of choice. Knowing you are doing this for yourself and not being forced to by someone else. Are you bodybuilding because you feel pressured by others to do so? Maybe you found your way into the gym because you really disliked the way you looked. While you have improved your physique, there’s a strong possibility that you have yet to take the time to work on what might have been wrong on the inside. Are your goals really your goals? A key example here is one I see very often with physique athletes who never quite make it to the stage. They commit to the idea of taking the plunge and commit to a contest prep… not because it’s what they truly desire, but because it seemed like the cool thing to do from spectator’s perspective. It either lookeds fun or cool on “the gram”… or maybe they were the lone lifter in their respective #fitfam who had not made it to the stage and they felt left out. These folks may have an easy time making to the gym and working really hard, but they can’t seem to ever make it through a full contest prep diet. They blame their lack of willpower, of course. However, the truth is that this may just not be their goal. People can go a long while before they realize their goal is not exactly their goal. Go over your goals explicitly and throw out the stuff that isn’t really solely for you, or ones that don’t bring you any actual happiness. Your fitness goals should be very personal things. Progressing in any direction, whether it be strength, body fat loss, or muscle gain is not an easy task. Ensure your own version of bodybuilding is being met. Not somebody else’s.
Competence is the understanding of your abilities or potential abilities and being able to apply them to the desired goal. When this is threatened, we have a hard time moving forward with our goals. In my case… this need was met by spending countless hours researching “all things bodybuilding” in order to really bullet proof my methods. As you can recall from part one of this series, I wasn’t always doing things “right”, yet it kept me moving in search of the “truth.” Along the way, it helped that I didn’t have much doubt in my ability to grasp and execute concepts (for better or for worse sometimes), and my relentless drive to find better ways to keep getting better made me feel very competent.
Relatedness is the feeling of being connected. This can come by feeling accepted by someone or a group (or even some thing). It is not surprising that this is one of our core needs. As humans…we truly are social beings. Biologically speaking, we’re not wired to make it on our own. In my own personal case, I have always felt one with the sport of bodybuilding upon deciding that it was what I wanted it to be for me. Almost immediately, I searched far and wide for a sense of community. My initial home was the Bodybuilding.com message board where a “six-meal-a-day eating weirdo” would be seen as the norm, not a weirdo. Over time, I made some of my best friends through the bodybuilding community. These were all people, such as all the Team 3DMJ coaches, who truly loved and cared about me. Not because I was a bodybuilder, but they appreciated me for me at my core. Prior to that, I had my mother who supported me while bodybuilding. By my senior year of high school, she was sneaking protein bars into my lunch bag. A good support system, whether it includes people physically around you or in today’s internet world within “cyber proximity” to you, truly goes a long way. How can you feel connected to a “thing” you might ask? In my case, it all goes back to the fact that bodybuilding was the first thing I ever truly did for myself. I gave up sports that I had a much better natural knack for, simply because I loved bodybuilding that much. Before that, I had yet to find anything that let me express myself the way bodybuilding did.
Let’s tie this up by explaining how not meeting any of the three needs of SDT can negatively affect your ability to pursue your bodybuilding goals. First, I’m going to assume your goals are explicitly your goals (autonomy). In all honesty, what is the likelihood you will be successful in achieving a goal that is not even yours to begin with? Even if you did achieve it, how sad would it be to spend time and energy slaving away, only to reach a goal that was consciously or subconsciously not your own to begin with. I cannot stress this one enough: you must ensure that your goals are YOUR goals. We must never stop asking questions, and this includes questions directed at ourselves and our motivation behind what we do. Check and re-check the line on the rope before you spend any of your valuable and limited time going up that side of the mountain. Wait… why am I checking this rope, when I don’t even want to climb this dang mountain? That last bit was my attempt at humor in case you are wondering.
How about a lack of competence? How can that affect your ability to achieve your goals? This is a common problem I see frequently with my athletes who have a hard time staying on track. Being competent can make you feel more focused and in control of the task at hand. While it seems like such a long time ago, I still remember the first day I decided to venture into the free weight area of my first gym. I felt like all eyes were on me and I had a hard time working as hard I knew I could. I wasn’t confident that I was doing DB chest press the right way, or that the “squat” I was doing looked the way it was supposed to. I hired a trainer for a few sessions and soon enough, my man Otto taught me how to fend for myself in the free weight section. He was the second most jacked guy in the gym so learning from him made me feel way more competent. Once I felt a base-level of competence, I felt free to work as hard as I could while believing that I was getting as much as I could from those new exercises. I finally felt that I was doing everything within my power to progress. In case you are wondering, Otto was a wonderful personal trainer. In hindsight… I realize that I was lucky that the technique I was taught was actually correct. Thank you Otto.
Regarding how you can make your need for relatedness work for you, it’s quite simple. In fact, you might already have a few people in your life who supply you with plenty. You don’t need your best friends to understand why you are eating so much protein during the day. However, having a best friend who supports you regardless of their understanding because they support you for being you, can go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. When I was a teen, my mother didn’t understand why I needed to take the yolk out of so many perfectly good eggs. Yet, she was there to support me. Keep the people in your life who love you for you, even if they don’t fully understand why you shave your legs or wear leggings with cut off t-shirts. These are the ones who will play a vital role in your personal success. Outside of that inner circle, with the Internet, it’s never been easier time to find people within your specific community to relate to. Whether it be through a Facebook group, or having the ability to Google a gym across town with a work environment that fits your goals, the internet can help you achieve relatedness. It may even prove beneficial to hire a coach who you can relate to when it comes to understanding and navigating bodybuilding… especially if you feel the people in your everyday life don’t “get it”. While a good source of your relatedness should come from those closest to you, it’s a good idea to look for some supplementary relatedness from bodybuilding specific sources.
This is where I would like to thank all of you out there for being instrumental to my success as a bodybuilder. Firstly, a bodybuilder is what I wanted to be a long time ago. Now, 18 years of bodybuilding later, it’s safe to say that the skinny little 16-year-old back in 1999 truly found his first true love… and he went for it. After almost two decades of training, his progress has slowed down tremendously, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get just as giddy when his body does something it’s never done before. The amount of time he invests into his craft when compared to what he gets in return might seem disproportionate to those on the outside, but he truly loves what he does. Through years of refinement and continuously learning his craft, he is pretty confident that he is getting close to everything he can expect to get from his body at this point. He feels as competent as ever these days, and knows that as times goes he will only grow more competent. Finally… he has never felt so connected and accepted by so many people… yes I’m talking about you guys. To those who have been following me since I decided to make my adventures in bodybuilding a bit more public… you may have noticed that every year I manage to get a little better at what I do. This isn’t by chance, but by dedicated and intentional pursuit of continued education and self-betterment. You guys are a big reason for that, and I feel so fortunate to have a support system eager to see me succeed and find happiness through bodybuilding. As I mentioned previously, a lot of the things that I do to progress as a bodybuilder have become automatic. The biggest thing I attribute this to, was simply going for things I really wanted. Along the way, I built myself a solid working environment that catered to all of my basic needs as a human so that I was free to pursue something that makes me very happy. Thank you so much, as it’s been an instrumental part of my success and happiness.