Motivation & Weight Loss: Getting Through the Background Noise

I know a lot of people who always want to know the “why” behind your or my weight loss.  On one level, I think it’s a stupid question, especially when the person who’s losing weight is as big or bigger than I am.  I once saw a dietician ask one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients “why do you want to lose weight?” Ahem– the woman had been bedridden for at least a couple of years and weighed around 500 lbs! While I really think this patient did herself no favors by not following the doctor’s treatment plan, I also think this question was pretty stupid.  The obvious response– for me anyway– would have been “Because I don’t want to die!”

For those of you who don’t weight more than double your ideal weight, the Why behind the weight loss might seem a little vague and it’s probably a viable question even if it doesn’t feel like it to you, because it’s really about your motivation.  Keeping your Why foremost in your thoughts is one way to keep yourself motivated.

The problem is that once that Why gets buried in every day minutiae it gets harder for you to stay connected to it.  Some people post their Why in a prominent location so they can see it daily, like the wallpaper of their phone or on the mirror in their bedroom or on the dash in their car.  The idea is that if you are reminded of Why you want to lose weight, you will stay motivated!

It’s a good idea and for some of us, it probably works! For a lot of us,  though, it becomes background noise. It’s like that bus bench ad that we see on the way to work each morning when we stop at the light by the Starbucks.  We see it but we don’t really look at it anymore. This is the problem with motivation: unless we keep ourselves motivated, our motivation evaporates. It’s like trying to hang onto the smoke slipping through our fingers!

We naturally look outside ourselves to keep our motivational motor revving.  We’re used to finding inspiration outside ourselves, so why not motivation? Inspiration by definition comes from outside ourselves, but motivation is something different.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines Inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”  It defines Motivation as “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.”  It’s a subtle but important difference. When I go to PetSmart, they almost always have cats or dogs available for adoption and looking at those adorable little faces, I really want to bring one home with me.  So why don’t I?  Because I don’t have a reason to do it beyond ‘they’re so cute!’

I had a reason a couple of years ago: my old cat Belle passed away and her buddy Yzma was not getting over the loss.  Then I took an impromptu trip with my dog so Yzma was left at home for the weekend by herself, which was a little scary for her (she’d never been alone in the house).  Once I got back, I started looking for a cat to adopt! My reason for bringing home Ursula was that Yzma needed another cat for companionship.  Although I always wanted to bring home a new kitty (the inspiration), there wasn’t any reason (motivation) until the situation with Yzma arose.

This is the problem so many of us run into when we want to lose weight.  We see something or someone who inspires us and so we really want to do it, but what’s our reason for doing it?  This is our motivation or, as others call it, our Why.  What makes us get up off the sofa and do something about being 20, 40 or 50 lbs overweight? It may be that our health is being affected by our weight or that we have an upcoming event or it may be something more personal, but odds are until we have an actual reason that smacks us in the face, we are just ‘inspired’ and once that inspiration evaporates, we’re back in our same old lifestyle.

Even with a legitimate reason, such as “my knees hurt so much I can hardly walk,” unless we pay attention we can lose motivation.  Think about it: the first time we realized our weight was hurting our knees, did we make positive changes to lose weight? Or did we take some Advil instead? When they kept hurting, did we make positive changes then? Or did we take more Advil? We probably figured we’d take the Advil until we lost the weight and our knees stopped hurting, but once the pain went away, so did our motivation. The Advil took care of the reason for losing weight, or at least the reason that got our attention (painful knees).

Before too long, even though we may have great reasons to lose weight, they get buried in that background noise of every day living.  We aren’t bad people! We’re just busy people! We’re going to look up some healthy recipes just as soon as we get off this phone call. We brought a healthy weight loss friendly lunch but our client is taking us out to eat today.  We have a healthy dinner planned but suddenly you’ve got to take the kids to basketball practice so there goes that! We want to make weight loss a priority, but somehow it keeps getting pushed farther down the list until it’s ultimately forgotten.  At least until something brings it back to the forefront again, like the Advil stops working on your knees or your jeans are getting too tight to zip or– horrors!– you see a picture of yourself from your friend’s birthday party last week: OMG!! That’s what I look like?!

Most of us know our failings pretty well and try to find work arounds.  When I go over to my friend’s house and she has things for me, she puts them on the table by the door so we don’t forget.  I put my stuff for her (or for the office or wherever) in a bag by the front door. I use a reminders app on my phone for other things (like a list of errands) because I know I’ll get home and– danggit! I still didn’t pick up the stupid dry cleaning!  Staying motivated is a constant battle to keep your reason from slipping into the background noise.  That might mean changing things up every couple of weeks or months so that your reason keeps getting your attention.  Once it becomes ‘every day,’ it’s background noise. It’s like driving home every day thinking about every thing you still need to do and–WHAM– pot hole! That brought your attention back to the road!

My latest work-around for motivation sits on the end table next to my recliner.  It’s a photo of me from my ill-fated Disney trip in 2012– the one where I weighed about 440 lbs! It avoids becoming ‘background noise’ because #1) I really hate photos of myself!; and #2) my face and body are so fat and puffy, it’s scary.  Seriously. Scary. Every time I look over at the table where I keep the remotes, my drink, my pens and all the other stuff I use just about every evening, I see that awful photo. It got shoved behind a stack of books for a couple days and tempted though I was to leave it there, I moved it back out where I can see the ugly thing. It’s not that I’m trying to beat myself up mentally or emotionally, but I don’t want to forget how miserable I was at that time, even though I’m smiling in the picture. It was a painful and embarrassing trip because my weight made it that way. This photo serves as the jarringly piercing smoke alarm that breaks through the background noise of my daily life. It reminds me of my reason for losing weight. (Oh, yeah, I was totally miserable the whole trip!) Nothing is as motivating as NOT looking and feeling like that ever again!


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