What causes one person to be very motivated but another not to be? It's an age-old question that many of us have asked ourselves when we lose our desire to eat right or go to the gym. After over 40 years in the weight management business, I've spent much time examining the answer to that question and have come up with several solutions to help you solidify your commitment. However, when someone says, "It's all in your head," you need to understand that's true. So if you want to change your motivation level, you first have to change the way you think and the thoughts you use to encourage yourself to do what you say you will do. Also, understand that the best type of motivation is internally based motivation. That means it comes from within you, not from outside, which also means you can create it.
Internal motivation is the strongest motivation there is, and it can also be the longest-lasting motivation you can ever experience; the question we need to ask ourselves here is how we can create our internal motivation toward the changes we desire to make. I will highlight the sentence below because it's super important to understand what people are doing to create internal motivation. Just keep in mind that motivation is fueled by the value you place upon the change. You'll never make it if you don't attach enough importance to your goal.
"When your brain is focused on what you get from making changes, you'll be highly motivated to change. Once your brain focuses on the work it takes to change, your motivation to change will disappear."
Understand the difference between the have-to's versus the want-to's and their impact on how you use them. How your brain perceives those two ways of speaking to yourself is a huge difference. Have-to's are perceived as work, and no one likes to do more work than they have to. So when your narrative constantly uses this phase on things you need to get done, it's unmotivating and pulls you down. For example, I have to go to the gym today. I have to cook my food. I have to do the dishes and make my bed. You just converted all those tasks into work by using the phrase I have to. And when a task feels like work, we resist doing it and, in most cases, dread doing it.
When you use the phrase, I want to; you tell your brain it's a pleasure to do something. It's an action you want, not one you must take. So by using this phrase, your brain is in a better place to complete your tasks. For example, I want to go to the gym. I want to cook my food. I want to go for a jog. When you use this phrase, you place your brain in a positive directional mode. You are confirming that it will get done, so you're far less likely not to do it.
Remember that all motivation is driven by the pain/pleasure principles we hear so much about in Psychology 101. The principle is that we will always move toward what we perceive as pleasure and move away from what we perceive as painful. Notice that the word perceive is being used here. I use that word because no two people perceive an action similarly. For example, I love to work out. But many will tell you they hate to work out. The key is your perception.
The next step is to change your perception of doing what you need to do to get what you say you want. In other words, you may not like to work out, but you sure would like how you look in that bikini if you did the workout, right? So change your perception from focusing on having to work out to wanting to wear the bikini. You might tell yourself you love sweets, and by keeping that narrative, you'll stay stuck in a body you don't want. So change your perception to something like, I don't like how those sweets make me look. I could wear those Oreos or a six-pack of abs; which matters more to me?
Never give your brain an “out.” One of the worse things you can do to instantly stop being motivated is to give your brain an excuse to quit. For example, when the alarm goes off in the morning and you say, “I can always make the workout up after work, yeah, that’s what I’ll do.” When you internally say that, you will hit the snooze button, and go back to sleep. The reason you are always on time for work is because it isn’t an option to show up late, you’ll be fired. And that very reason is why you always get out of bed every morning regardless of how late you stayed out. Since sleeping in isn’t an option, you never give your brain that option. With working out you have to do the same thing, convince yourself that it isn’t an option to sleep in. Give yourself the option and your brain will grab ahold of that excuse every time.
Avoid absolutes and extremes when changing something about yourself; make it a lifestyle. The key is that you're in this for the long haul because whatever you do to create the change is what you must keep doing to keep it. I started working out when I was 17; I'm now 65, and guess what? I still enjoy going to the gym and eating right… it's just part of who I am and what I do daily, like brushing my teeth. People that try to change with absolutes don't tend to do as well because there's no flexibility. Life requires flexibility because things change, and last-minute emergencies can pop up. If you start with the idea that you will work out seven days a week, what will happen when you miss a day? You'll be overcome with feelings of guilt and remorse. So be sure to understand that missed days can be made up the next day, and a missed workout isn't the end of the journey; it's just part of it.
This works with your food as much as with exercise, so understand what I call "The Psychology of Deprivation." This refers to when a person comes at change with an all-or-nothing mentality. Let's say to decide to cut out all your favorite foods, you'll do great for about 1-2 weeks, but then you'll start to get hit by all the cravings for the foods you haven't been allowed to eat. At some point, you'll encounter the stressor, someone yells at you, you experience work stress, or whatever; at that moment, your diet is over, and you binge on your favorite food. After the binge, you feel overwhelming guilt and remorse for eating something you said you wouldn't. After the guilt comes a renewed commitment to follow your program even stricter, to do better. And again, after a week or two, the same thing happens. So now you inwardly tell yourself, well, I've blown it now; I might as well really blow it! And off you go completely.
Think of it this way. If you drove down the road and got a flat tire, would you ever jump out of your car and slit the other tires? Of course not, so why would you do that with food or a missed workout? Again, change your perspective by looking at what you do differently.
Understand that small changes yield huge results over the course of time, so long as those changes are sustainable. A habit of small, achievable tasks can help build momentum and motivate you to achieve more meaningful goals. Additionally, having an accountability partner like a workout partner or a group like an exercise class can help you stay on track and be more motivated to achieve your goals and stay consistent. The underlying key is to adopt the narrative that you'll never quit or give up!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.