Paul Makepeace ;-)

How to get and stay motivated

Latest news

[15 Nov 2003] My Mum takes part in her second UK national rowing time trial pulling a 9:30 2000m. The last one her team can top in the UK for women's half marathon.

[01 May 2003] At last, there's a photo of me lurking on the site here...

[04 Feb 2003] I've had several people contact me now and all are doing well. Like visibly well: I've seen the pics. I'm so stoked. Keep it up!


N.B. You are reading a DRAFT right now. Suggestions welcome!

This page describes how I figured out a way to not only consistently show up at the gym and work out but to develop a deep-seated and genuine enthusiasm for busting my ass for 45minutes most days of the week. What follows is obviously incredibly personal and specific to me but since explaining these ideas to a couple of other people they've told me it's helped them so I've been spurred on to write it up.

At worst, I can recommend a couple of really good books at the end. If it does help I'd love to hear about it!

An overview

The toughest bits I think are initially starting, and then keeping going for the first couple of months. After that, it's quite straightforward - you're in the pattern, enjoying it, seeing results, people flatter you, you feel wonderful, you bounce up stairs, sex is incredible, none of your software has bugs... OK, that last one's not necessarily true.

Of those two challenges, the first couple of months I think is the most difficult so most of what I'm about to say is focussed on getting through that initial period.

How it all started

I've been going to the gym since I was about thirteen years old. I don't think however I've ever managed to attend for more than about a month, if that, at any stretch. And the intervals between those momentary blips of effort have generally been of the order of years. You could quite reasonably call me "a slacker".

In June 1999 I started going to a local gym in Houston and didn't stop working out until I arrived back in England in Feb 2002. It was very nice of them to let me take the weights on the plane. But seriously though folks.

A seemingly innocent conversation

In February 1999 I was walking down Alvarado St in Monterey, California chatting with a friend of mine Jonathan Jaffe. We were discussing my imminent move to Houston and Jonathan's opinion (for he has many) on the effects it would have on my physique. Specifically, that I'd "turn into a fat pot-bellied Texan software developer." Naturally I laughed this off, although a sneaky voice in my head teased me about the fact I'd done no exercise for over a year since leaving university. We went back and forth and it escalated into a bet, to the tune of a ticket to Burning Man, which I think that year was around US$125. I happen to think the placing of a substantial wager is an excellent means of resolving an argument that is quantifiable. I really like it too because I always win.
Paul's Method #0: Place a bet. Applied more generally, create a scenario in which others are expecting you to fulfill some outcome.
This could be getting your family to cheer you on, or showing someone that looks up to you (son? daughter?) that you can succeed. This last one is extremely powerful. It's also rather daunting but that's OK as I'll show shortly.

Why are you doing this?

Decide and know why you're doing this. For me the key was the bet, but there were a bunch of other subsidiary reasons which collectively "did it" for me. At your lowest, suckiest point you need to pull out a barrage of rock-solid personal causes that you care about. Saying to yourself "I'll be healthy" doesn't mean squat – I think 99% of people not suffering from an illness care more about almost anything else. Be honest, you probably don't give a shit.

You can classify motivation in a couple of ways: "toward" and "away". Toward motivation is aiming for some outcome, away is recoiling, running ... away from some outcome. Here are some ideas for your "why". Again, be honest. If you want to train because you want to get laid more, that's a great reason for you, so use it. It is pointless making judgements on your motivation at this point. Besides, no-one has to know what a vain, shallow individual you really are...

I put Away first to leave the positive vibes in your thoughts.


(Incidently, I have nothing against fatness. In fact I think it's quite depressing this society is so bothered about it other than from a healthy standpoint. I just list those reasons as ideas and examples that motivate some people.)


So obviously away is negatively focussed and toward positively. Some say away motivation is unhealthy; I say: be pragmatic, if it works for you, use it. Away motivation can act as a useful kick up the butt to scale that first hill, and the toward as a longer-term, sustaining, and realistically more sound assistant. Regular gym attendance and your resultant gorgeous bod will fix those residual self-esteem issues anyway :-)

Framing your why

Bit of fun: instead of saying "I'm going to the gym because [...] and [...]" try saying "I'm on a freakin' mission, baby! Watch me [...]! This is an unstoppable crusade to [...]! YEAH!" If you know any military terminology you can go nuts here.

Life is way too short not to have fun with this stuff!

The next step: A Plan

Clearly, all you need to do now is spend money on a gym membership and some trackpants then watch those pounds just magically melt away!

No, what you need is a plan, both exercise and nutrition. This page isn't about that so I'll simply fob you off with a couple of good books on the subject (see later) and suggest finding a trainer. But! You absolutely must have a plan; you almost certainly will not succeed without one. Your plan does several things:

Paul's Method #1: Get an exercise plan and a nutrition plan. It'll tell you what to do.
One thing to note is that everyone is different as human beings. Multiplied by their different desired outcomes means you need a personalized plan. Anyone trying to shoe-horn you into a particular category or regime without a good deal of listening is doing you a disservice. Find someone else!

The shine wears off

January 1st. All these exciting resolutions made by those of us still naïve to think they mean anything. We sign up at the local gym, go a few times and then gradually, excuses and rationalizations abounding, it all peters out and stops. With nothing more than to show for it than a vague sense of guilt and those monthly debits on your bank account.

The "Health Club" business model

The essence of the "Health Club" business model is the idea that you, as business operator, allow and indeed rely on dramatic over-subscription to your service. How can this work? Quite simply because most of the subscribers won't use it.
Hi. My name's Paul Makepeace and I signed up for three years at the Q-Club in Houston.

Yup, they got me too.

(Incidentally, this is also I believe a big reason why health clubs put massive pressure on long contracts because they all know damn well statistically people will only show up for a few weeks, so better to sell those same few weeks at $1,000 than at $30.)

Make a choice, but only one

When I took up the bet with Jonathan I made a choice to get in shape and work-out. Thankfully I count myself amongst those in the right half of the bell curve that realize this will actually take some work. This is important - there are no instant remedies. Except possibly liposuction, but that is much more expensive and more importantly hugely less fun.

So I'd made a choice to work out. But every time I left for the gym I had the opportunity to make another choice. A choice not to go. I've got a headache; my stomach doesn't feel quite right; I'm deeply engrossed in this bit of software that obviously cannot possibly wait. I was lucky to realize at that point, probably since I'd acted out the scenario countless times already, that this is the big killer: Once you miss one session, you'll miss another, and another. Uh oh.

I did this: the very moment I even contemplated bailing on a session, despite having already made a pact and a promise with myself that I'd keep this whole shebang up, I would immediately go. This one idea is central to where I've reached so here it is again, framed in the second person: the moment the possibility of making some kind of cop-out decision enters your head, nix it immediately: you are going to the gym!

Oddly enough, once you give up the responsibility and torment of faffing over that one nasty laming-out choice, life is a whole lot easier!

Being male and susceptible to these cheesy ploys, I played macho mental games with myself like even if my car broke down I would call a taxi to get me the rest of the distance; if my hand got chopped up in a blender (I've done this) I would simply do a leg work-out. I was, in my head, some kind of unstoppable gym-attending machine. Rarrr!

Another "trick": I would also displace the thought of not going. The thought displacement technique is pretty effective. For example, try this: don't think about the color yellow. No, really, no yellow! It doesn't work; you have to replace or displace it. Some thoughts I used were "where is my gym bag?" (practical; moving in the direction I want to go), "What am I doing today?" (focuses me on the particular exercises; triggers gym-going psychological responses), "I wonder if there'll be any cute girls there..." ('nuff said ;-). All the time now moving inexorably towards the gym.

Paul's Method #2: Don't give yourself the opportunity to break your own agreement. If you do, shoo it away with another useful thought. Go to the gym right now. No question.
DRAFT: something about being aware of mind games and psychosomatic responses but also paying attention to genuine problems/illnesses. If you've been up and about all day and then mysteriously "feel ill", guess what. On the other hand, if you've been laid up in bed with a thermometer dangling from your mouth the last nine hours, guess what.

Training partners

I said this was a personal account which is why this section is short. I don't train with other people generally. Working out is somewhat meditative in a bizarre way and my motivation comes from a fire within me rather than without. That all said, I think having a training partner people is incredibly beneficial for some. And if you're that type of person don't hesitate to get one, ideally someone who's at about the same level so there is a greater shared experience. The same thing applies to a personal trainer, especially if you're struggling with some of the frankly overwhelming literature, need a boost, progress overview, different perspective, a shapely body to remind yourself why you're doing this or whatever. From talking with other people it's clear to me for some a personal trainer is a worthwhile investment. If you don't know how to do the exercises you must find someone to show you. This is, or should be, included in the otherwise scam that is the gym membership "set up" fee.

Keep on truckin'

Within a couple of weeks you will feel different. Depending on your physique you will probably start seeing changes too. After a month you will see a change if you have been following a decent plan. It's starting to pay off! And how about those work-outs where you left the gym and were buzzing for hours afterwards? Or someone says, "wow, you been at the gym or something?" All of those are positive reinforcements and are fantastic both for immediate gratification (nothing wrong with that!) but more importantly for long-term motivational fuel. Seize that feeling and consciously associate it with your work-outs. Imagine and mentally walk through getting ready to go to the gym, then being in the gym, then doing your exercise and now see what the result of that is, that result you've just right now been made aware of.

OK, great, but what does that get you? You have effectively just programmed yourself with a positive emotional response to something you regularly do, i.e. working out. So that activity is now tied to a good feeling, and real, live results. It has also partially displaced some of the negative aspects of going to the gym you may've had. I have since learnt the field of psychology has figured this out already and called it "anchoring".

This anchoring is also a gift for when you're really not feeling like hitting the weights. You can draw on those positive vibes you had earlier and say "So I feel crappy right now but just think what the pay-off is!" Just recently (October 2002) I had a couple of sessions preceded by some of the most powerful feelings ever to stay at home, and this got me through that.

Incidentally, both those work outs turned out pretty well. Who'd a thunk?

Paul's Method #3: Associate the "highs" with the every phase of working out by walking through those phases and feeling the activity and your buzz. Associate the highs with your original goal.

Other thoughts

So that's pretty much how I do it! Here are some other ideas and general tips that have helped in concert with the above.

Don't flay yourself

In retrospect in my early days this tendency to over-do it undermined my long term success. I would be chill for the first couple of workouts and then in a teenage testosterone-driven frenzy completely destroy myself, several times in a row each time coming away partly buzzed but also mentally drained, exhausted by my own over-exertion. The aim is not to come within a physiological hair's breadth of collapse but to progressively stress muscles, a little extra each time. I didn't have a chance to see the benefit before the dread and fear of these self-imposed torture sessions took their toll.

Realize your body takes time to learn and respond

If you've never been in a gym, your muscles don't yet understand what you're doing with them. No-one learns to skate backwards the first time they put wheels on their feet -- you have to train the whole apparatus to operate in synch. It's the same with weights. Despite the apparent simplicity of hauling a chunk of iron into the air it does require muscular coordination. Even though the primary mover, the main muscle or set of muscles doing the work, can figure it out the supporting and synergistic muscles need training. Take it easy! Have fun!

If you're bored, you're not doing it right

With what I know now the idea of the gym being tedious is so far-fetched and ridiculous I'm actually laughing out loud thinking about it! There is nothing mind-numbing about challenging yourself, seeing if you can better yourself, locking into your own psyche and seeing what your own self is made of. By corollary if you're finding it boring then you aren't challenging yourself.

Hopefully you have a plan that is well-designed for you so this issue should never come up since you'll never be idling in the gym but I put this in here since I quite often hear this objection, typically from people who sit on their butts all day and like to give themselves excuses. Ha! You know better!

Keep learning

Reading and talking with people about physiology, psychology, protein metabolism, exercise regimes, lifting techniques, effects of nutrition, supplementation and so on provides me with perspective, knowledge and a sense of control. The more I know the more I can understand what's going on and how to steer my course. Beware though, speaking from personal experience it's easy to get overloaded and, paradoxically, even use it as an excuse to procrastinate: "I'm not prepared enough, I need to read some more." (This is an ongoing battle in other parts of my life too especially when confronting big jobs.)

This leads conveniently onto...

Further reading

First of all I should preface this by saying that my recommendation of these books and websites is based partly on my own experience with weights and also having studied to become a Certified Fitness Trainer while I was in California. There's a stereotype of trainers as affable but generally brainless muscle-heads rapping on your front-door dancing about in lycra at six in the morning, nauseatingly chipper and smiley all the while. Believe me though being a CFT is no joke. I enrolled with the International Sports Science Association (ISSA) who duly furnished me with a 550-page dense training manual the size of a metropolitan phonebook. And a five hour video. There is a seriously large amount of material to learn. Maybe just being a brainless muscle-head I'm easily overwhelmed.

Aside from all this fascinating information one thing I discovered indirectly is the staggering quantity of utter horseshit that is touted by diet companies, training magazines, supplement manufacturers, and other purportedly trustworthy sources. So when you occasionally stumble on something that is full of quality material it does rather stand out.

So my hot picks are... (and if you buy through these links I get some tiny kickback from Amazon which helps me pay to keep this site online; wah wah, can you hear those wailing violin strings? :-)

Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength (Bill Phillips)

Bill Phillips is probably the most famous advocate of weight training besides Joe Weider and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He prescribes a regime of weights and what he calls aerobics which is actually more like interval training (multiple peak or close to peak efforts). One of his key ideas is the High Point: intensity of mental and physical focus. This is in contrast to inordinately long, drawn-out, vague and exhausting sessions which we tend to for some reason instinctively suppose is the right thing. His work-outs he suggests are 45 minutes.

One of the most valuable aspects of Bill Phillips's work I think is his yearly contests he runs which have generated an enormous collection of motivational stories with "before and after" pictures. If you have any doubt at all that anyone can achieve their goals this book will banish them. Check out the Champion Tips. Great stuff!

Definition: Shape Without Bulk in 15 Minutes a Day! (Joyce Vedral)

Joyce Vedral's guide is aimed squarely at women and is cheerful and to the point. Joyce Vedral is in her late fifties and hot (tantalizingly with the suggestion of being unmarried, hmmm...). Plenty of relevant info and refreshingly not full of ra-ra. It's the first book I read that really aligns with what I've learnt from the ISSA literature. Like Bill Phillips's, her work-outs are characterized by intensity and surprisingly short duration. She also debunks the myth that automatically weights = bulky muscles, something that seemingly large numbers of women are quite concerned about. (There are all us guys thinking "jeez, if only it was that easy!"). She also explains that doing only cardio -- or more and more of it -- isn't the answer.

She also has videos which she recommends over the books, if you're only able to get one. (I haven't seen the videos myself.) And of course, Joyce

Ask me!

In case you couldn't tell, I love talking about this! I'd be more than happy to chat so drop me an email, even quick one-liners. Hope this helps, lemme know how you get on!


I have to thank my parents for whatever they did bringing me up and whatever genes they passed on to provide me with the resources and drive I've developed to work at this. To my Dad whose own weight-training seeded my interest at a young age, and more recently my Mum to whom I think I blurted my first approaching-coherent summary of what I've now expounded on, and for subsequently unwittingly becoming a guinea pig. Note to parents: remind me to sit down with you and figure out what you actually were doing all those years, 'cos I think it worked out pretty well. Also to Karen for asking me questions about training and making me think. And obviously to Jonathan for losing such a great bet!