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HARP: A Post About Motivation & Onions

You Should Read This Post If You:

  • Ever have trouble staying motivated to eat right and exercise consistently
  • Like the movie Shrek
  • Enjoy onions
  • Are interested in the psychology of motivation
  • Are a personal trainer or strength coach that regularly interviews and assesses clients

If you’re ever seen the movie Shrek, then you know that ogres are like onions.

Well, people are like onions too. Specifically, people that find an interest in exercise and nutrition are like onions. Trainers, clients, coaches, general gym-goers, everyone. We’re all like onions.

No, we don’t smell or make you cry (okay, maybe we do smell).

But we do have layers.

And just like peeling an onion, it is our responsibility to peel back the layers of ourselves to find the core wants, desires, and motivations that are driving us.

It’s up to all of us to be honest with ourselves when we tackle a new diet or exercise program. The only way to stay consistently motivated is to find the things that are truly inspiring us.

It’s effortless to throw around marketing buzzwords like mobility, strength, six-pack, or weight loss. But it’s substantially more difficult to peel back the layers of the figurative onion to find out what’s truly pushing somebody forward.


This is where The HARP Pyramid of Exercise & Nutrition Motivation was developed (by me, of course). Anecdotally, I’ve found that there are four primary components to fitness motivation and that each piece seems to build on the ones preceding it.

HARP stands for Health, Ability, Relationships, and Psychology.

Even just months ago, I thought that finding somebody’s true motivation was simple. If I could get them to say “build confidence” or “increase my self-esteem,” I felt accomplished. I felt that I was getting a sincere idea of what was compelling my clients to exercise and eat better.

The problem with this thought process was that any time I didn’t hear one of those phrases, something felt incomplete. I felt as if I hadn’t dug deep enough.

But the solution wasn’t to dig deeper. I had been overlooking pivotal remarks from my clients that should have led me to a better answer.


Health forms the base of the fitness motivation pyramid.

Cholesterol. Blood pressure. Diabetes. Heart disease. Obesity. Injuries. Chronic pain. Musculoskeletal issues.

These are all health-related motivations. The reason health motivates us is because when we’re healthier, we live a longer life and spend a greater percentage of that long life outside, not confined to a hospital bed or wheelchair.

And when we live a longer life, we have time to do more cool shit before we have to die.


Once you have your general health taken care of, it’s time to look at your abilities. Are you capable of performing the tasks that are required of you so that you can actually do the cool shit you talk about?

Ability comes in layers, too. But more like cake layers. Not like onion layers.

The first layer is Activities of Daily Living. This is a popular term thrown around when we consider mature wellness. As we age, the most important thing we can do is maintain our ability to get out of bed, drive our cars, walk up and down the stairs, and get up and down off the ground to wrestle with our 27 cats.

The next layer is what I call Work Activities. Since most of us will probably be working well past today’s retirement age, it’s important that we’re able to maintain a level of fitness that allows us to perform our jobs. This could mean carrying heavy things, picking things up and placing them overhead, or being on our feet all day.

The last layer is what I call Recreational Activities. This is the layer where most of the “cool shit” in our life falls. Maybe fitness is your recreational activity. Maybe it’s hiking. Or maybe it’s dwarf-tossing. Whatever you enjoy doing, your motivation in fitness is most likely somehow connected to maintaining the ability to do that thing.


Every guy wants to be #jacked, #ripped, #shredded, or #beastmode. But not because it makes for good Instagram posts. (Okay, maybe a little because it makes for good Instagram posts.)

But because guys that are in-shape are more attractive to potential romantic partners.

(Remember that thing about dad-bods? Yeah, nobody else does either.)

And males aren’t the only ones who are motivated by romance. It’s a female thing, too.

The fact that we are able to change our appearance so readily is inspiring and encouraging. Of course, attractiveness is completely subjective so this isn’t to say that everyone is striving to look Brad Pitt from Fight Club. But everything from losing some weight to correcting your posture a bit can help you become a more physically attractive version of yourself. It might sound shallow, but it’s human nature and there’s nothing wrong with it.


Psychology encompasses confidence, self-esteem, and positive self-image.

A positive psychological state helps us perform better not only in the gym, but at work, as a family member, as a friend, and in the dating world.

Challenging ourselves through fitness and subsequently pushing our physical and mental limits helps us develop a confidence and positive self-image that we can carry with us throughout all aspects of life.

This is the pinnacle of the motivation pyramid. But it is built on satisfying the other three tenets of fitness motivation first.

Putting It All Together

Have you ever struggled to stay motivated in the gym?

Keeping your motivation is less about motivational memes on Facebook and more about being honest with yourself. I know that sounds fluffy, but it’s true.

Is your health taken care of? If not, that should motivate you. When you’re healthier, you’ll live a longer life and be able to fit more cool shit in before you have to die.

How about your abilities? Are you able to do everything from walk up the stairs to climb mountains? Maybe you love playing golf. Did you have the requisite mobility, strength, and endurance to play 18 holes this summer? If not, that should motivate you! Don’t settle for 9 holes because you didn’t have a cart. Build a stronger you.

What about your relationships? Are you able to participate in recreational activities with your family, friends, and significant other? Can you demonstrate movements when you coach your child’s sports teams? Are you as attractive as you’d like to be? If not, this should all motivate you.

Even if you think your relationships are the only motivation, your problems might be linked back to a different part of the pyramid.

And what about your psychology? Are you as confident as you want to be? If not, this should motivate you. Exercise and nutrition are great ways to challenge yourself and break out of your comfort zone, giving you a chance to build your self-esteem.

I’m motivated by each and every piece of this pyramid. What motivates you?


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