Motivation…Is It Overrated?

September 8, 2010

Its summer’s curfew, and where’s your motivation? We’re all headed back to work after the last long weekend of the summer and as if that isn’t bad enough, many of us feel like we’ve fallen off the wagon a bit with our nutrition and exercise habits.

Many of you started a weight loss plan at the New Year in attempt to make this year “the year”. Many started last spring with the dread of bathing suit season upon you. And still some of you started somewhere over the past few summer months because you were “ready”.

How are you feeling now? My guess is there are a couple of camps: those ready to hit the ground running, those wanting results but finding it hard to stick with a plan for more than a week and those of you wondering what’s the point? This article is for the latter two groups.

Most people find when they are ready for a new plan and really excited about their goal, motivation is easy. Those first few weeks are exciting, new and we often feel so much better – even if for no other reason that we are taking action. But it never lasts. I often tell my patients “motivation is overrated”. Motivation is awesome – when it’s around. But what about when it’s not? What will carry you through to your ultimate goal and what will help you maintain that goal? It isn’t motivation – its meaning.

What does your weight loss or health goal mean to you?

It better be something good – or it won’t be enough when that initial shine of optimism, hope and motivation wear off. Looking your very best, boosting your self esteem and feeling great are worthy goals – but what do they mean to you?  Take some time to write out why you want to be in better shape, lose weight or get healthy. The reasons you list need to move you in some way. They should be something worth getting up earlier to hit the gym for, something worth eating another salad for and definitely something worth passing up your favorite treat for.

Feeling comfortable in your body, loving your reflection in the mirror or setting a great example for those you love – those are reasons that will fuel you over the long haul.  Take the time to find your reasons.

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Enjoy The Journey

The other issue with relying on motivation for a big end goal is that we get so focused on the outcome – which is often a long ways away, for some of you with big goals it may be months or even a year away – and as we know, motivation has a shorter half life than most of our big aspirations.

When we focus on the outcome, whether it is a body fat percentage, a dress size or a number on the scale, the reward is simply the end goal and your hard work along the way doesn’t get much attention. No wonder we throw in the towel!  And what if you don’t make it to your final goal – does that mean all the good you did along the way, all the new healthy habits you have, and the weight you DID lose don’t count? Of course not! But we often feel like those things don’t matter if our sole focus is on success at the end of the journey.

While I do recommend that you set goals that are specific and measurable: this weight by this date for example, as it is the best way to asses, reassess and know when you’re done.  That said, your body doesn’t always have the same timeline.

As someone who often pushes themselves physically and emotionally, farther and quicker than is healthy – I know firsthand, as do many of you, that when we push a system that isn’t ready our body rebels.  We either end up injured and burnt out or we end up frustrated that we’ve put in all this time and effort and we’re STILL not there.

It’s understandable to be upset at these times, but it’s another example of how focusing solely on the outcome can leave us lacking the umph to keep on going. (Remember if you feel you’re doing all you can and struggling, something may be off in your  chemistry.  Seek help of a nutritional medicine practitioner when necessary.) And remember, it may simply take more time that we want it to – just keep working and enjoying the small benefits along the way.

What truly will help you not only achieve your goals but also not be miserable along the way is emphasizing the process as much – or more than – the destination.  If the ultimate goal is to get back into those favorite, skinny jeans or to see that optimal number when you step on the scale, focus on the process of being healthy and fit and take each healthy day – even each healthy activity – as a small victory.

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Set weekly lifestyle and exercise goals that will get you closer to your bigger goal – goals that focus on the process rather than the outcome. For example, focus on getting to the gym 5 times this week rather than “if I go to the gym 5 times this week I will lose more weight”. Really enjoy that feeling you get after a great workout. Stick with the process.

Examples of process based goals are

  • 5 servings of vegetables per day,
  • 3 liters of water,
  • or getting 8 hours of sleep per night.

These goals will help you find some satisfaction in your process rather than living as “I’ll be happy when…”  They also require you to do small things each week that get you closer to the bigger goal.  Eating 5 servings of veggies per day means you have to go grocery shopping, prep and pack those veggies – as well as order smart at a restaurant.  It may seem like a long to do list, but those are all things you know how to do and can accomplish in a matter of minutes (even seconds for some, like ordering in a restaurant!).

One final thing is focusing on your ultimate goal can seem totally overwhelming on those days when you are tired, bored, fed up or just can’t find the stamina to take on this big, daunting project.  Do the little things. Drink some water. Hit the gym – even if it’s for a light workout. Relax for a few minutes. And of course, shift your attention to all the healthy things you are doing each day – they will add up.

Remember, if you are sticking to any reasonable nutrition and exercise plan – you may not be at your goal but you are healthier and leaner that you were yesterday. And the day after that, and so on!

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