There are so many reasons why we want to lose weight and get fit, but why can it be so hard to find that motivation to achieve our goals?
What motivates you? Who are you doing it for? Why are you doing it?
These questions may seem obvious, but the secret to your success lays within the answers to these questions.
There are two key types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic:
Extrinsic – you are motivated to do the activity in order to gain an external reward, the goal is based on an outcome. You are doing something for external gain or to avoid a consequence.
Intrinsic – You are motivated to do an activity because you find it internally rewarding, its fun, enjoyable or satisfying.
A helpful way to look at this is to think back to your days at school (however long ago that may be!). Think about those subjects you really hated, the ones that brought you very little joy. Compare this to the subjects you loved, the ones you were excited to learn about. Which of these did you find easier to get good grades in? Which ones did we put ourselves through hell, cramming revision in the week before? For most people, the subjects we loved, were the ones we found easier to excel in. It is likely that this comes down to us being intrinsically motivated to learn about them, as opposed to forcing ourselves to study, in the hope of gaining an external reward (a good grade). That is not to say extrinsic motivations cannot lead to success. They can often help us work through situations we aren’t thrilled to be in because the reward at the end is worth it. For example, knuckling down on your algebra (through gritted teeth) because you need that grade in maths, in order to get the place on your college course you have always wanted.
So how can we apply this thinking to our health?
Are we trying to lose weight to see a reduction on the scale? You could see this in a similar way to achieving a good grade. Putting ourselves through hell, by trying super restrictive diets, suffering through 5 gym sessions a week, all to hopefully see a reduction in our weight at the next weigh in. You may stick at this for a while, hating every waking minute, putting our body and mind through extreme stress just to achieve that extrinsic goal of the scales showing you have achieved something. Great, you have achieved your goal! This could allow you to fit into that dress you love for your best friend’s wedding, or attending your next group weigh in and standing proud with your certificate. For some, this is what we aim for, but what now? Let’s think back to our school days again. Nobody left school after getting their grade in maths and decided ‘you know what, I love algebra, I’m going to continue doing equations in my spare time!’. Your motivation to excel in that exam has gone. The extrinsic motivations have played their role and helped you achieve your goal, but in order to continue your success in a long term sustainable way, we need to call on our intrinsic motivations. How many times have you achieved a weight you are happy with, through hard work and determination, only for it to creep back on and leave you back at square one, feeling dejected, like it was all a waste of time? Without the motivation to continue making better choices (or studying), we find it very difficult to maintain the position we have got ourselves into.
So how do we find motivations that will help us make long term sustainable change?
The key to this is to start small. Are there any healthy activities that we find joy in? Things that we are not doing purely in the hope of losing weight, but because we get some internal happiness or satisfaction from doing them. Or at the very least, things we don’t absolutely hate doing! It could be spending some time outside with family, going out for a walk or dancing around your living room to your favourite song, like nobody is watching.
The more reasons we can find to do healthier activities, that come from inside us, the better chance we have of achieving and maintaining our goals. Extrinsic motivations can often have a vital role to play and help give us the kick up the backside to get started, however in the absence of those intrinsic motivations, it is incredibly difficult to achieve those long term goals of ours.