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Order and Chaos: Discovering Your Intrinsic Motivation

It has been said that success occurs outside of your comfort zone, but how do you define where your comfort zone is? In attempting to discover this boundary, I have found a relationship between Order and Chaos. For this blog, think of Order as routine and Chaos as things that scare you. We will tie this concept into fitness for simplicity. (I’m not a philosopher, I just want to share with you what I have found.)

Think of Order and Chaos being on a spectrum as seen below.

Order ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Chaos

Order in Abundance

Order ------------|---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Chaos

When you sway more towards Order, you can describe your actions as being a very detail-oriented, carefully planned out routine. You have a timeline set. You know what is going to get done and when. You have MyFitnessPal dialed in the night before to eliminate any temptation when it comes to food because it’s planned and you don’t go outside of your plan. This is great. I would love to see my clients do this, so what could be wrong?

Scenario: You are in the gym hitting your training session hard. You have your training app or your notebook open and you are trying to bench just 5lb more than last week because this is what you were instructed to do. You load the bar, hit the weight, and it was too easy! The bar flew up. You put little effort into actually lifting that weight. So you keep the same weight on the bar and continue to hit it until your sets are complete. Done, on to the next one.

What is wrong with this scenario is that maybe you could have added more than that 5lb to the bar. Your body is telling you that it wanted more stimuli and that you could have handled it. Intensity is a very important principle to program design and if you aren’t sending the proper signals to your body to adapt to your training, your body simply won’t respond the way that you want it to.

Overwhelming Chaos

Order ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|--Chaos

When you sway more towards Chaos, you can describe your actions as animalistic. You hit the weights without properly warming up. You have your plan but it is quickly altered when you see a bigger, stronger guy walk into the gym. You aim to destroy him. You want to make him look weak. This is “your” gym, isn’t it?

Scenario: You want to be the very best you can. So you train… you train hard! You get up early, before work, to get a pump to impress people at work. You will hang out at the water cooler all day just to show off your guns. You will hit the gym again after work before going home to destroy your evening meal. You don’t do cardio because it will make you small and weak. You train, train, train, train, train. You’ll rest when you are dead, right? You load up the bar with 405 lbs to bench. You get pumped, your beat your chest, dive under the bar, lift, pull it down to your chest, then SNAP… like a overused rubber band, your bicep rips off and gets slingshotted into your chest. You should have rested a little and warmed up a lot…


I’m not here writing about how Order is silly and unnecessary and I’m not poking fun at the meathead that warms up for his bench press by doing exterior rotations with a dumbbell. These are simply illustrations to these ideas.

The balance is anywhere on the spectrum and can change at any point in time. So how do you know where to start?

Ever Felt Like Quitting?

The other day we did a 5-mile ruck (a road march with a heavy sack strapped to your body) with 80lbs on our back for Toys for Tots. Rucking has always been a way for me to remember why I do what I do. There is a lot of time to dive deep into your mind during a ruck. During this particular ruck is when I started to think about the relationship between Order and Chaos.

Around mile 3, we started hill repeats and I wanted nothing more than to quit. I wanted to quit so badly. This feeling, up until that day, annoyed me. I would think, “Why do I want to quit? Am I that weak of a person?” I would take a huge dive into my Ego. But on that day I thought, “I want to quit. That must mean I am outside my comfort zone. My body doesn’t want to be here, so here is where I’m going to stay.”

I wanted to quit but I didn’t and that speaks volumes. It shows my will to continue. It shows that I was in the right place because if you don’t want to quit at times, you don’t have enough chaos in your plan. If you don’t want to quit at times, you don’t have enough stimuli to produce training adaptations. If you don’t want to quit at times, you aren’t challenging yourself. I believe that looking inward and tackling stubborn tendencies IS THE BEST way to navigate through life. Look inward. Don’t look to be better than Joe Snuffy at the other squat rack. Be better than you were yesterday. If you continue to do this, you will find that you will begin to enjoy the process a hell-of-a-lot more.

Actionable Pill

I encourage you to make a list (I use a Post-It app on my phone). Write down a list of things that scare you when it comes to your fitness journey. Start small. Small changes are incremental changes towards your goals.

Meaning is not created – it is discovered. Once you find the right balance for you and start to invite chaos into your life you will start to unravel why it is that you want to complete your goal. Facing this opposition, head on, will allow you to look within yourself to find what motivates you.

Then you will start to see obstacles in your life as opportunities. These opportunities have a value. Their value is either great enough to make you want to pursue them or they aren’t. This way of checking yourself allows you to take actions that are in line with your goal. For example, if an opportunity pushes you away from your goal, it will produce a low value for you. Once you have identified it as providing little to no value, you will likely decline and stay on track.

Remember, small hinges swing big doors. Get after it.

If You Only Read One Section, Read:

Make a list of things that scare you

Aim to complete one of those per week

Continue to add to the list as new challenges reveal themselves

“Beat the you of yesterday”

Shane Jenne, CSCS, NSCA-CPT



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