We’ve all been here: you know what you need to do but you just don’t want to do it. It doesn’t matter how you try to glam it up or whatever excuses you can come up with (and generally, we’re pretty good at coming up with those!):we know we shouldn’t eat the fast food, the chocolates, the pastries, etc, and that fresh whole foods are just all around healthier, but we just don’t want to do it. We’re tired of making that little extra effort; we’re tired of fighting with the urge to eat yummy junk food; we just want to take a break from ‘being good.’ Trying to out-think this urge to quit is just really annoying. We pull up the motivational messages we have saved: “how can our bodies need a break from healthy nutritious food/ activity? how is eating processed GMO foods a ‘break’ for your body? or lying around on the sofa all a day ‘healthy’ for your body?” Sometimes those motivational messages remind me of empty-headed enthusiastic cheerleaders: “go team go! go team go! you can do it! yay team!” I really hate enthusiastic cheerleaders. They bug me.
My idea of motivation (at least what works on me) is a good old-fashioned kick in the pants: “quit your whining, stop screwing around and get your butt in gear!” It’s definitely not the “carrot approach” with the lure of something good happening to you; it’s the “big stick upside the head approach” with the promise of another hearty whack if you don’t move quick enough! I know I always say that we should be kind to ourselves and that beating ourselves up is not a good habit to get into, but sometimes, for me, that’s what it takes. I often preach that we need to know ourselves in order to know what works and what doesn’t work, and I can be pretty dang stubborn (it’s genetic! really!) It’s why bribery has not worked for me in the past (you’d’ve thought my mom would have figured that out before now). Trying to buy me off with trinkets, baubles or gadgets doesn’t work. It’s like offering my dog a cookie- he’ll tell you no all day long! But you offer him a toy, and he’ll do as many cartwheels as you want!
For myself, when I hit the wall, bribes don’t work but threats usually do. Appealing to my pride definitely does! Frankly, a lot of times when I feel the urge to backslide, telling myself “if I lose another ten lbs, I can buy some new slacks, or blouse, or whatever” is the cookie to my dog: “meh, it’s a cookie… I’ll add it to my pile of stale cookies under the sofa.” But when I look at my weight loss chart or the scale says I’m up a couple of pounds, even if it’s just a normal fluctuation, the thought of gaining back more than a couple pounds is enough to get my butt in gear: “holy expletive! I don’t want to get back into the 270’s! OMG- I’m nearly there now!” More than anything else, the numbers motivate me. I was looking at my progress chart on MFP the other night and there was a steady rapid weight loss in my first year and then it slowed down, nearly leveling off for my second year. Even though the trend is mostly downward (there was a little hiccup in November 2015-yay, holidays…), the competitor in me, the do-it-now personality in me, wants to get back to losing as much weight as fast as possible. But…. (and it’s a big one, pun intended!) THAT TAKES WORK! And it’s not the kind of work you can hire out: hey, Tom, wanna lose 40 lbs for me? Yeah, right- I wish!! Nope, this is the getting-in-the-trenches-getting-dirty kind of work. One of the podcasters I listen to (40+ Fitness with Alan Misner) periodically makes a big pitch for commitment. Saying “I want X” isn’t enough to get it for you- you have to commit to it! “I want to run a 5k” isn’t enough to get you to run it; even if you show up and try, without the training, your body is going to give out on you. You have to train regularly for that race and that means practice- lovely boring grinding day in and day out practice. You can choose to look at it that way: yay….. I get to go run another mile…..whoopity doo…..Or you can look at it the rah-rah cheerleader way: I’m running another mile! That’s two miles this week and it’s only Tuesday! Yay me! (Yeah, I know I hate cheerleaders, but there’s something to be said for the positive approach. You don’t have to take the “so sweet I’m sending people into diabetic coma” approach, but giving yourself a well deserved pat on the back for being consistent with your practice isn’t out of line. No one wakes up one day and just qualifies to be an Olympic athlete. They train for a literal lifetime for the chance at a few minutes of competition against other athletes who’ve also trained for a lifetime. When they win those medals, they have worked for them! There’s very little luck involved!
It’s the same process with losing weight or getting fit or running a 5k: it may not be a lifetime of work, but there’s a significant investment of time and energy required! If you want the results, you have to make the effort. It’s this effort that Alan Misner is talking about when he talks about committing to your goals: you can’t just wish for them; you need to do the work. This is also why the average lifespan of a New Year’s Resolution in about 6-8 weeks: it takes work to make significant changes! If it were easy, everyone would do it! It would be nice if we could change our habits like we change our socks, but no such luck. Making a new habit takes practice and commitment and consistency. You have to make a promise to yourself that you will change the habit and then you have to do it, and you have to do it again and again and again and again and again… yeah, you get the picture! You can’t have the attitude that I’ll do it when it’s convenient, because that isn’t going to get you anything. If you wait for a convenient time, it’s never going to happen. This is a pretty common excuse: I’ll start when the holidays are over; I’ll do it when tax season is done; I’ll do it when I’ve got more time/ money/ whatever. NEVER HAPPENS! There is always something going in everyone’s life: it’s called ‘living.’ I don’t want to tell you to try starting a new habit when things are tough, but truly, if you can manage to get consistent when you have kids that need to get to practice, a spouse with a car in the shop and a big project at work demanding a lot of your time and attention, then, honey, YOU ARE GOLDEN!
Most of us are obviously not that together (count me out!) but there’s something to be said for choosing your battles. There are always going to be projects at work and the kids are always going to have some kind of activity going on, so waiting until your spouse’s car is fixed would be a good compromise. You aren’t waiting for the ‘perfect time,’ but choosing a time that’s completely chaotic is just setting yourself up for failure: you need to give yourself the best option available. There’s a difference.
That’s one of the the other problems people have with motivation: constant failure. If you are repeatedly setting yourself up to fail, it’s a wasted effort. This is the self-fulfilling prophecy that many people use to reinforce the idea that they can’t lose weight, they can’t work out and they are destined to be ‘unhealthy’ all their lives. If you tell me you are going to give up chocolate right before Valentine’s Day, my response would be “really? when the stores are full of the stuff?” It’s like saying you are giving up fried foods and then going to the State Fair, where there’s a booth of deep-fried something every ten feet! You are setting yourself up for a very difficult time, if not for outright failure. This is why I tell people to 1) take baby steps; 2) be as specific as possible in choosing their goals; and 3) aim for improvement and not perfection. Number 3 is probably the most important. In fact my gym has that on their app: Progress, Not Perfection! No one is perfect and certainly not the first time out of the gate. All those wonderful Olympic gymnasts who nail a 10 on the pommel horse flopped it about a million times before they hit the 10, and the only reason they hit the 10 is because they flopped it a million times! This is how we learn to do anything. There used to be a commercial with kids and adults flubbing something like riding a bike or catching a football and the point was that before we got it right, we got it wrong a million times. But each time we got something wrong, we learned how to get better at it. A popular quote from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That’s why there’s a lightbulb over my desk right now: #10,001 worked!
Motivation isn’t about feeling like a rah-rah cheerleader or even the mad mama with the big stick: it’s about committing to be better (stealing a bit of Alan Misner’s thunder here). Every chance is an opportunity to be better at making good food choices, about keeping your workout schedule and getting better at your workouts. My favorite quote from Edison is one not seen so much: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” This one is printed on my cubicle wall to remind me that we make our own luck, we make our opportunities and most importantly, we make our own motivation. We build motivation by building momentum: each time we choose the broccoli over the pasta or the lunch we brought instead of the fast food at the office, we make the next choice a little easier. We are practicing our new habits- we are improving! Yes, it can be boring at times; yes, there are days I really want garlic bread and yes, there are days I really don’t want to work out. But I do it anyway partly, because I want to succeed and partly because I’m too dang stubborn to give up. There’s a fair bit of vanity involved: I want the big number on the pounds lost chart, but mostly I think I stay motivated (despite myself) because I know how good it feels to be healthier and frankly, I’m greedy for more of that feeling.
You know yourself best and you know what really motivates you, whether it’s a carrot or a stick. The motivation has to come from inside: no one else can give you the impetus to get better but you. That’s what makes it hard: we’ve got to do it ourselves. Yes, there are a lot of apps and programs and podcasts that are designed to motivate us. There’s an entire industry of “motivational speakers” whose sole aim in life is to get you moving! All they can do is give you a shove in the right direction (hopefully), but your reaching your destination is entirely up to you.