Tough Love to Motivate

Marine earns Motivator of the Week honor.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Sloan Barron, a radio operator with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division (MARDIV), poses for a photo at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, April 16, 2020. Barron was selected as 2d MARDIV’s Motivator of the Week for his strong work ethic and pride in what he does. (Lance Cpl. Reine Whitaker/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Stew, "I've been reading your articles and you have some great tips on how to lose weight. I am a 34-year-old mother of two, am 5'8" and have been fighting an extra 30-40 lbs. for the past two years. It seems that everything I try ends up in failure. I am afraid I am locked in an infinite cycle of Phase 1. I can't seem to get out of this phase. I need some tough words to motivate me, with no option of failure. I am sick of the "you can do it" mentality, said with a smile. Maybe if someone told me I can't do it, it would make me mad enough to prove them wrong. What do you say to people who need that kind of no-nonsense push?"

There is very little difference between getting motivated to exercise and losing weight, and getting healthy and having the self-motivation to do the same. Even if it requires one outside voice to motivate you to do something, it is really you who accomplishes the task at hand in the end. So I tell people when I receive a success story - that sure, I wrote a workout that worked for you, but you did the workouts daily and took control of your eating or other unhealthy habits, not me. So you have to be self-motivated.

But sometimes people need a kick in the butt to stop feeling sorry for themselves and could use some "self-motivation." Not everyone needs this type of motivation, but I will say from personal experience, it does work. Here is a story that explains how it works:

When I was 18 years old after spending 2½ years of my high school days trying to qualify for the Naval Academy, I got accepted. I was pretty pumped. Before I left, I actually had an adult teacher actually say to me, "Well, if we see you back here in six months, we'll know you didn't make it." Needless to say, this shocked me, but when the days got long and difficult during the next four years, I always thought of that jack-@## and it helped me stay motivated.  

Here are some examples to try on yourself if you need that extra push:

Even though these will not apply to everyone, we all may have one or two that we could do better on. I usually start out with: Don't tell me ... (I learned this one from military spouse Erin O'Neill.)

Don't tell me you want to lose weight, yet you spend all day playing video games, watching TV ... (_________ fill in the blank with any lazy activity)

Don't tell me you want to lose weight, yet you eat extra large portions/high-calorie snacks/desserts. (You also could use the phrase "stuffing your pie hole with ...")

Don't tell me you want to get healthy and still smoke, drink to excess or have a high fat diet.

Don't tell me you want to be an example to your kids and you eat at fast-food restaurants when most convenient. (Just get them the toy in the kids meal; that is all they really want.)

Don't tell me you want to serve your country in the military, law enforcement or be a firefighter, yet you cannot even take care of yourself. How are you supposed to have the ability to save your partner or a victim needing help?

Don't tell me you want to be in Special Forces one day, but you do not know what it means to push yourself physically or mentally and fail -- but still get back up and succeed.

So I tell people: Don't tell me; just do it. Then tell me you did it.

Sorry about the tough love, but the email I got motivated me to share. Thanks and good luck staying motivated. 

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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