I truly believe that motivation is a skill; something you can learn and practice to get better at. Though we speak of it more as an abstract quality, something inherent that we are either born with or not and subsequently unable to cultivate.

The same line of thought is used when people say things like they aren’t artistically inclined. All it is, is practice, a deep focused practice, but nonetheless, just practice. Has your friends’ kid ever drawn you a picture and you put it on your fridge because its sweet and you’re just happy that someone made you something out of love and without you asking for it? Me too! But did the drawing kinda suck? Of course it did! Because they’re like 3 years old and they just started drawing and they haven’t learned concepts of perspective and dimensions and how to translate that onto paper. And….they haven’t practiced enough yet. But because they are 3 and its adorable, we give them some slack and we don’t criticize them, in fact we encourage them and tell them how great it is.  If you are struggling with motivation, that’s where you are with it…the concepts, strategies and perspective hasn’t been practiced enough for you to be good at it – for it to look so natural that we call it inherent. So give yourself some slack, start slow, begin to practice and learn self encouragement. I promise, it will come.

So where do you begin? Do you have a big goal? Something that may take months or even years? Is it so lofty and vague that it causes anxiety because there is no specific pinnacle that defines your achievement? That’s fine, all we need to define are the steps that get you there or on the right path. Everything is in flux so sometimes its best to keep the big goals vague but define the means to the general end.

Visualization is a tool often talked about by successful people. You hear them describe how they visualized a championship bout, holding the belt or trophy, or doing a victory lap before having it happen. There seems to be a correlation between visualizing victory and achieved it.

One day. a broke and depressed Jim Carey sat in his car daydreaming of success. He thought about what success would meant to him at the time and he wrote himself a cheque for 10 million dollars, post dated it for 10 years from that day and put it in his wallet. He visualized something that symbolized his future achievement (though somewhat vague), put it in writing and with a lot of hard work (practice) he eventually made it a reality. This is a great story, one that inspires us and goes to show what belief in oneself, even when in the midst of struggle, can accomplish. But the story does a slight disservice in that it glosses over the actual work that was necessary for the achievement and how belief in oneself is actually harnessed.

Belief in oneself can start with visualization and is reinforced through repetition. Visualizing your big goal is great because it can reignite the spark that got us excited to begin with. But it can be a bit overwhelming when it seems so far away. I like to think that success comes in increments rather than being defined by the big splash moments. The same goes for confidence and motivation. You have to practice the path and not just the goal.

Take some time out of your day and envision yourself going through the simplest of tasks, the things you need to do to achieve the loftier goals. Want to have an exhibit of your artwork? Visualize the path. Go through the steps you need to take, see yourself setting time aside to sign up for painting lessons, see yourself buying supplies and making room in your house for a little art space/studio, see yourself practicing, painting the pieces, prepare yourself for setbacks, envision the struggle but know that each of these simple steps is achievable. Use visualization to break the path up to its smallest challenges and see yourself getting past each one. This is how you can use visualization to help build self belief and it is backed by science!

In 1999, research by psychologists Lien Pham and Shelley Taylor showed that visualization of the process of studying made for better grades compared to students who visualized simply getting a good grade or not visualizing anything at all. Not only did it reduce anxiety linked to studying for exams it also improved organization and increased time spent studying. Since then, more research has shown similar results for athletes who spent time visualizing training more so than those who visualized winning.

There is a lot to be said about visualizing the struggle and set backs. It makes things slightly more visceral.  Research has also shown that those who imagining possible problems in a positive manner has more benefits than visualizing everything just going well, or simply focusing on the negative. Thinking the path is going to be a smooth one, is a recipe for being overwhelmed.

Visualization exercise

You can start really small by using visualization to help yourself accomplish a simple physical exercise, like a plank.

Begin by kneeling on the floor. Focus in on your breath, try to elongate each breath just by a little bit, prolong your inhalation and exhalation so that it becomes purposeful rather than just reflexive. This in itself is great practice, it brings attention inwards and allows you to focus on a single goal. To make this slightly more complex, run through the following steps to visualize each component of the plank, once you’ve visualized each step, follow through with the action

1 – Draw in your abdomen to create a brace

2 – Place your hands on the floor and walk out until your body is extended, but you are still on your knees. Hands directly under your shoulders.

3 – Brace your core as much as you can to prepare for lifting your knees off of the floor.

4 – Activate your shoulder blades so that they are not collapsed.

5 – Stretch out one leg and squeeze your quad and glute.

6 – Stretch out your other leg and squeeze that side.

7 – Tuck in your pelvis slightly as to not put pressure on your lower back.

8 – Hold for as long as you can maintain this perfect position, Go back to focusing on your breathing but stay aware of your body.

This simple exercise of visualization and execution can do wonders. You can then take it to another level and try and use it for an exercise that you can’t complete just yet. The progress will be surprising. You may just need some guidance for the proper steps to use.

The next part is to recognize each successful moment. As I do with clients who have been struggling with a certain movement pattern (which is just a step in the path to reach a bigger goal of higher fitness or weight loss or rehabilitation) I try and take the time to point out the effort it took to get there. We go over the progressions we used, the time it took and most importantly the effort they exerted. Each session is a challenge overcome. If you get in the habit of recognizing all the mini successes, you begin to cultivate self belief, you build on motivation and perpetuate good habits. So take the time to reinforce your effort and then visualize the next steps. Practice the path and it will all come together into something you are proud enough to put on your fridge.

Joey Reid

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Looking for help with your own customized workout and/or meal plan? Contact Joey. Online coaching available for everyone and personal training/coaching available to Montreal residents.

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