Why do some people seem to have an easy time staying motivated while others lose their fire quickly? While I can’t say I’m a master of motivation in most areas of my life, I am the type of person who doesn’t lose motivation for staying fit. But that wasn’t always the case.
It wasn’t until my 20’s that I found the discipline to exercise on a regular basis and make it a priority. During high school and college, I was completely blown away by my friends who got up at 5 am to train with a coach or on a team at 6 am before school… and on weekend mornings too. Unfathomable! I did not have that kind of motivation then. But I knew I wanted to become one of those people.
What is motivation?
Motivation is simply the desire to do what is needed to move towards a goal.
If we had zero motivation, we wouldn’t get out of bed until we were literally starving to death or being evicted from our homes.
Where does it come from?
Motivation comes either from within us (intrinsic) because it’s something we actually enjoy doing. Or, from the outside (extrinsic) like friends, family or really good advertising making us believe we want to or need to do something.
Obviously, the best type of motivation to have is intrinsic. If everyone enjoyed eating healthy, whole foods, not overeating and exercising regularly, few people would be struggling to lose weight.
But there’s nothing wrong with having extrinsic motivation. Wanting to look your best on your wedding day, high school reunion or dream vacation are forms of extrinsic motivation. The only problem is, motivation for these goals may be short lived.
So how do we find the motivation to keep on keeping on when we really don’t feel like doing something we know we should?
The answer lies right in the definition of motivation itself… to take action to move towards a goal. That means the goal has to have deep meaning. If your goal isn’t meaningful enough, you’ll be hitting that snooze button every morning you plan on getting to the gym before work. Or, skipping the meal prep and grabbing less healthy choices when you’re on the go.
Is Your Goal Important Enough to Keep You Going?
Above all, maintaining your motivation comes down to comes down to how important your goal really is to you. For example, avoiding death and loss are both really good motivators. If your doctor says, “you need to lose at least 30 pounds this year or you won’t be around to see your grandchildren grow up,” is a pretty good extrinsic motivator. If your motivation is to trim down to a size 6 for your wedding, you may find it’s tough to keep your mojo going. However, if you reach that goal and decide you want to stay a size 6, that may be the motivation to keep you going… avoiding loss.
Being committed to your goals is key. But, if you can enjoy the process of getting there, that is the holy grail.
A 2016 Swedish study on adults found that people whose goals were more intrinsic were more likely to feel autonomously motivated.
When Your Motivation Flags
To think you’ll wake up every day with the same level of gumption to take action is naïve. Even people who don’t crave eating sweets or processed, fast foods have days they don’t feel like cooking. Even athletes who love to exercise have days they just don’t want to move.
This is where discipline becomes the secret weapon. Discipline is what we need on days our motivation flags. But that’s such a loaded word. It makes some of us cringe, thinking of militant die-hards. It makes others want to rebel and do the opposite. So, just re-frame the word and call it a “habit.” On the days our motivation fails, we can rely on habits.
You probably know what habits will help you get to your goals. For many people trying to lose weight or get healthier, good habits may be:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (or at least Monday – Friday).
- Working out before work.
- Putting more fresh veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats in your meals.
- Cutting out snacks between meals and eat less sugars.
- Meditating or doing other stress reducing activities
Just remember you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be consistent to make something a habit. Do something more often than you don’t and you’ll be creating a habit.
People who go to the gym like clockwork almost every morning don’t always have a perfect workout, but they show up. Think of the greatest authors. How are they so prolific? It’s not like they sit down and knock out a novel by writing a perfect chapter every day. They just sit down and write… every day. Some days there will be brilliance, other days there will be dreck. The same is true with fitness and weight loss. Some days you’ll kick crazy ass at the gym or eat 500 less calories with ease. Other days all you can do is get in a little movement or just barely get in a serving or two of fruits and veggies.
Habit building or having discipline are necessary strategies when you’re having a low motivation day, but staying focused on what exactly you want is crucial. Believing that these goals fulfill an important need in your life, will keep you going.
You may really need to do some deep searching to see if your goal is intrinsic, and has deep meaning for you, or extrinsic and superficial.
Ask yourself these important questions:
- What would achieving this goal mean to me?
- How would it change my life to reach this goal?
- What will my life be like 1 year, 5 years and 10 years from now if I don’t take action on moving towards these goals?
Write these down because if you don’t have a strong enough reason, you’ll fall back into your old habits and beat yourself up for having no discipline.
Examples of intrinsic and extrinsic goals:
- Social networks: You enjoy exercise because it’s part of your social life. You have friends at the gym, an accountability partner you enjoy spending time with or a group you do physical activities with.
- Health and vitality. Exercise and nutrition are important to you because you want to be in good health for yourself and your loved one.
- Developing skills: You like practicing athletic skills that will make you better at your favorite sports.
- Social significance: You like the status of being the one of the fastest, strongest people in your gym. Or you love being known as the nimblest person in your yoga class. Or you have the most defined 6-pack of your friends.
- Image: You wear your Alo Yoga gear around town because you want to have the image of someone who lives a fitness lifestyle. You think it’s cool to workout
Have you figured out which ones are intrinsic? Those are goals 1 thru 3. The extrinsic goals are 4 and 5. According to research, if 4 and 5 are your top reasons, you will be less likely to stay motivated to exercise.
I always say, there’s no such thing as a bad goal if it makes you healthier and feel better.
Finding your motivation and maintaining it, especially when it comes to health and fitness goals, is primarily a matter of meaning. With some self-introspection, it should become clear to you how important achieving your goals really are. Then, if you can find a way to make the journey somewhat enjoyable, you’ll be unstoppable!
I asked my followers on Facebook to chime in on how they stay motivated. Here is what some of them had to say (I edited some of them down for sake of space):
Angela D.: An accountability partner!
Catherine W.: Hi Jill! … I’ve lost 150 pounds and have stopped counting on motivation to make it happen (and to keep it off).
Motivation is like waiting for a bus that doesn’t have a schedule…. you could stand there waiting for days or even months for it to come… going nowhere…or…. you can just start walking in the direction you want to get and see how far you can go without the bus. If the bus comes along for a few days, AWESOME…. but be prepared to just do the work on your own without motivation.
For me, boring, sustainable habits are second nature now, and they’re the steps I take toward my goal every day… bus or no bus… just consistency of habits without the emotional ties of that rush you get from motivation.
All through my 20s and 30s, I relied on motivation to take me where I wanted to go….. I spent 20 years waiting for buses. At 41, I realized I’d spent 2 decades relying on something fleeting instead of just doing the work.
I’m grateful at age 44 to have the perspective, wisdom and body I’d always dreamed of for 20 years, instead of worked for with boring, un-sexy habits. Motivation isn’t the driver… I am.
Thanks for posing the question!!!
Terri C.: I have kept some favorite clothes that I liked my size…..
NEVER GET ON SCALES….THEY’RE EVIL ! I’m now one size away…..but I WILL MAKE IT !! LOL !
Nancy Z.: I know if I don’t get myself to the gym 3 to 4 times a week my clothes will not fit the same. So I always plan to get to the gym as soon as I drop off my kids in the morning. After the gym my errands start ……
I get that done ✅
Bobbi N.: Reminding myself how much better I will feel when I’m done!
Maxime F.: Have a great, long, sleep the evening before.
Nery G.: I think a lot of people think motivation is a one way street – “When I feel motivated, I’ll act.” This is a recipe for staying stuck. The American psychologist William James said (essentially) motivation & action goes both ways. When you act first, the feeling & motivation are created as a result. You then realize you’re in control. You act & become motivated, you’re motivated so you continue to act. This feels good & you start to see results. This motivates you further. Pretty soon this cycle becomes self-sustaining & a way of life.
Michael M.: Pack your tunes. See all those people with headphones on in the gym or running around the park? That’s called body-brain-music interaction and it’s motivating! Let your body respond to a welcoming beat, and your heart rate and breathing increase and suddenly you are a biochemical machine moving faster and with less noticeable effort. Just pick the right beats from iTunes or other on-line sources.
Sol S.: make your bed every day… it sets up a discipline… the other part is to know your passion and that the well is always there to draw from
Daniele C: You wake up, it’s dark, it’s cold, you jump and gggggo – The stay in bed alternative will follow you all day and it will be dark and cold all day! Just do it!
Larry N: Motivation can be short lived. Inspiration can last a lifetime
Got some tips to share? Tell me how you stay motivated below.