First I'd like to take a moment to say that I've been following you for a while and I wanted say thank you for the wisdom that you choose to share with us (those who follow you.) I really appreciate and utilize a lot of knowledge you share. I have a question. I lift regularly with the intention to gain as much mass and lean muscle that I can. I eat clean and stay away from foods and drinks that won't benefit me and my goals. My question is this. What are some of the things you do to maintain your focus? I find that I go strong for weeks and wake up one morning with a lack of motivation. Those days are particularly hard because then a beer and/or a pizza sounds good. I am often tempted but usually refrain. I have the heart and drive but grow weary at times. Any suggestions?
Eris, my first suggestion is - have a beer and some pizza every once in a while! If you were dieting for a contest, it would make sense to eat very strictly and deprive yourself of the wrong foods until the show was over. But in your case where you are more or less in a 'permanent off-season,' it makes no sense to be eat perfectly clean all the time. No wonder you feel torn and tempted every few weeks. I have only known of a few bodybuilders ever who refused to ever indulge themselves and have a treat now and then in the off-season. You're treating this like it's your job, when it should be fun and enjoyable. So first order of business; stop feeling compelled to avoid the things you enjoy eating and drinking all the time. Some people have this absurd notion that I eat clean all the time. Oh no, no, no. When I diet for contests, sure I do. I don't even have cheat meals. Last year I dieted a total of 18 weeks for the NPC Team Universe and Masters Nationals contests, and in that time I had no junk food, fast food, desserts, or alcohol. But when I am not dieting, I hardly restrict myself. If I want something, I eat it. Most of my meals are clean, so I see no harm in having the occasional pizza or bowl of ice cream. As for alcohol, I don't drink very often, but I confess that a few times a year I will have a drink or six.
But back to the real question. How do you maintain focus and motivation? That all comes down to having clear goals with a timeline/deadline. Wanting to get as big as possible is a fine goal to have, but it's too vague to have any real power over you. How do you define getting bigger? You need to set a goal of reaching x bodyweight by a specific day, or increasing some bodypart measurement like the arms or legs. For example, I had the goal of exceeding my previous top bodyweight of 240 by the end of February; and actually achieved that well in advance. But with only a nebulous goal of 'getting bigger,' I doubt I would have been as focused in my training and eating over the last three months.
That being said, motivation will wane in all of us for any number of reasons. Often it's the first symptom of being overtrained, and the only remedy needed is to take a few days off from the gym to fully rest and recover. Injuries can also be demoralizing and take a big bite out of our motivation. In cases of injury, it's critical to focus on the positive. Work hard on the bodyparts and exercises that you safely can, while seeking treatment/therapy for the injury so it heals as quickly as possible.
A very common motivation and focus drainer are personal problems. We all live in the real world, and we all have our share of real problems at times. Maybe you're in a very rough spot in your relationship with your spouse or significant other, and things aren't looking good for your future together - or maybe you even are going through or recently experienced a breakup or divorce. I know that when I have had problems with my wife, training and eating were hardly the first thing on my mind. Money problems are often a big distraction, as are job-related problems or trouble with school, family members (especially health problems), and any number of issues that you and I will all have to deal with at times. You can do your best to avoid any and all problems, but sometimes things just happen. And when they do, this passion of ours might have to take a backseat for a little while.
But generally speaking, unless you have a very clear goal and deadline, of which a competition is probably the most obvious example, maintaining motivation and focus won't be easy all the time. For those of us who love bodybuilding but will certainly never make a living from our physiques, the challenge to keep that fire burning strong at all times is significant. Do your best. If you're ever at a loss as to how to get the fire back, often the easiest and most reliable solution is to simply take 4-7 days off from the gym. If bodybuilding is what you truly love doing, by the end of that break you will be recharged and ready to rock!