I’ve been hearing a lot about motivation lately. As one podcaster pointed out, there is an entire motivational industry and motivational speakers command some hefty fees for revving up their listeners. Frankly, I have never been a fan of motivational speakers; one of my first bosses was always throwing Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie around and, no offense to those gentlemen, but it got really old really fast (FYI: that boss got fired).
Motivational speeches and books are good starting points. They get the blood pumping and the creative juices flowing, but they are really just the match. When you light a match, it flares up, burns for a few seconds and then it burns out (for you millenials who may not have ever used a match). The point of the match is to use that flame to light your own fire. If you don’t touch the match to the kindling, then you are back in the cold darkness. The speakers and books will get the ball rolling, but it’s up to you to keep it going and I’ve noticed that a lot of the speakers and books seem to gloss over this fact. Most people either forget this or have never been taught that idea and as a result, they spend a lot of time looking for something or someone to motivate them. The irony is that the energy they are spending searching for outside motivation could be more beneficial in motivating themselves.
I really can’t fault them for looking for outside motivation, because keeping yourself motivated is a constant task. Every day you have to get up and find a reason to keep yourself ‘fired up’ and enthusiastic about your goals, whatever they might be. It’s hard work and if you can find someone else to do it for you, then you can use their fire to stoke your own. But too many of us let our own fires burn out and then literally have to ‘re-light the flame.’ This is why inspirational/ motivational apps and sites are so popular: people are looking for that outside impetus to keep going.
Outside motivation can be a good thing, if it really does keep you moving forward and better yet if gives you tools and practices you can use to keep yourself going, but the best tool for staying motivated is the forward movement itself. Movement builds momentum and the more momentum you build up, the easier and faster you keep moving.
If any of you have seen the movie Unstoppable about a runaway train, they try to stop the train with a device called a portable derailer (it’s supposed to knock it off the tracks) and when it doesn’t work, the boss is mystified; the derailer was “barely a bump” for the train, and the yardmaster Connie snaps at him “it’s a million pounds of train going 70 miles an hour!” She is not wrong: it takes about 5 miles for a train going 55 miles to stop. (FYI: the movie is based on a real incident.) Trains start moving slowly and to a lot of people they seem awkward and cumbersome, but once they are at speed, they are nearly impossible to stop. (PSA here: Trying to beat a train is a death sentence because by the time the engineer sees you, IT IS TOO LATE TO STOP THE TRAIN! A MILLION POUNDS OF TRAIN WILL DEMOLISH YOU AND YOUR CAR!) [Side note here: the law firm where I work handles a lot of railroad cases and I deal with train v vehicle accidents all the time. The pictures are very unsettling.]
This is pretty much my point about momentum: it’s okay if you start slowly as long as you keep going because, like the train, you will build both speed and momentum. It’s harder to derail you and a whole lot easier for you to keep going forward. It becomes easier for you to incorporate new routines because you are already at speed and you are already on track. (This is where these expressions come from.) It’s the getting started that bogs down most people: they get frustrated because the diet industry is all about “quick results” but actual permanent weight loss is about the long term, as in “the rest of your life.”
Next time you see a weight loss/ diet plan/ fitness commercial, notice how many of them stress the quick results: ‘six weeks;’ ’30 days;’ ’14 days.’ As usual, in the small print under the pictures there is the “Results Not Typical” disclaimer. How many of these commercials stress keeping the weight off or permanent weight loss? I can only think of one and it’s for an exercise machine, because if you keep with your exercise, yes, you will most likely keep the weight off as long as you don’t eat too much of the wrong foods.
I have tried a lot of diet plans and meal services: they are very good at motivating you, especially once you see the weight coming off, but the catch is after a while, you lose the motivation. Honestly, eating the same packaged foods over and over again gets old pretty quickly, and it’s the same with drinking the diet shakes and eating the same cardboard-y meal bars. “I’m losing weight but I’m pretty miserable in the process”; that’s not exactly motivating. The thought of eating like that permanently is absurd, especially since after a while, our bodies get used to the lower calorie intake and start slowing down the metabolism. This is why Biggest Loser ‘winners’ end up eating 800 calories a day to maintain their weight loss: the metabolic damage is insane. The thought of eating only 800 calories a day is pretty de-motivating to me!
What does keep us motivated? Results keep us motivated, yes, but enjoying what we are doing also keeps us motivated. But we have to remember that building a new habit begins slowly, like the train. We need to build up speed but it’s not going to be quick. This is how the diet & fitness industry makes its money: by giving us the quick results we want. We burn hot like the match, but we burn out just as quickly. We see the weight coming off and “yay! it’s working!” but three weeks later, as we are facing the prospect of yet another pre-packaged meal, cardboard-y bar or chalky shake, we have pretty much lost our enthusiasm. The gilt has worn off that lily, and choking down another one of those while everyone around us is eating something they enjoy just gets more and more daunting. There are some who will just ‘toughen up’ and keep with it for a couple more weeks or so, but the more this rigid diet plan goes on, the harder it gets, because these weight loss plans were designed to be quick but not sustainable.
Sustainable weight loss takes time: it will be slow and cumbersome as it gets started but over time, it will build up speed. The problem is staying motivated while it builds up that speed and starts showing us the results we are impatiently waiting for, and again this is why the diet & fitness industry rakes in billions each year: we are not patient! One of my favorite lines from the movie Postcards from the Edge illustrates this idea perfectly: “Instant gratification takes too long!” We are accustomed to instant results and pretty much everything we deal with all day long encourages us to move faster and faster. We have entire industries built around getting our purchases the next day or in two days. When I was kid, 6-8 weeks was pretty normal; now it seems like forever! Fast might be fun, but it’s rarely healthy, and it’s definitely not healthy for weight loss!
It’s the Fast-is-Better mindset that knocks us off our rails. We might be set up perfectly for weight loss, but when two weeks goes by and we aren’t getting the ‘instant results’ we were hoping for, we drop off that ‘loser program’ and move on to something promising us ’14 lbs in 14 Days!’ We sabotage ourselves by looking for ‘fast’ rather than ‘forever.’ Fast is motivating: it makes us feel like we are actually doing something and making progress, while waiting and working for a couple weeks or longer before we start showing appreciable results feels like we are doing something wrong or worse, doing nothing at all. When we are expecting fast, slow is de-motivating to say the least.
Getting away from the Instant Gratification Mindset is the first step to staying motivated. We need to change the ‘mile markers’ by which we gauge our progress. Weight loss and healthy living are our destinations, not our mile markers. The more we stay on our healthy living track by making healthy food choices and being active, the closer we get to our destinations, and the easier it gets to keep making them. Think about it: which would you rather have for breakfast: a cheese omelet or a meal replacement bar? Would you rather have roasted chicken and zucchini for dinner or a pre-packaged diet lasagna? It’s easy to say yes to the real food, and yes, those are whole foods which will get you to your weight loss destination. You won’t get there as fast as the diet industry’s ‘bullet-train fast foods’ but you’ll enjoy the journey more, and better yet, there is no ‘return trip.’ It’s easier to stay on track when you enjoy what you are eating and doing, and the more you make the healthy choices, the easier it is to stay on track. Count your healthy choices as your mile markers: how many can you make in a day? How many did you make last week? Can you set a new personal best for activity or food choices? The longer you stay on track, the easier it becomes and after a while (NOT a couple of days), you will find you are feeling better, looking better and losing weight. The farther down that track you go, the better look and feel, and the more momentum you build until you really do become unstoppable.