I’m going to let you in on a big secret to motivation…
You don’t need to get motivated – you’re already motivated.
It’s just that sometimes we can be more motivated to eat desserts than vegetables or watch a TV show than exercise.
The issue isn’t getting motivated, it’s figuring out how to redirect where our current motivation lies.
What motivates us are three basic things. Pain, pleasure, and love. While having an unhealthy body can cause physical pain and being in great shape can cause physical pleasure, for the most part with health and fitness, it’s more about psychological pain and pleasure.
Everything you do, healthy or not, stems from the fact that psychologically it is meeting one of your six human needs. Those needs are certainty/security, variety/excitement, love/connection, significance/control, growth, and contribution. Meet these needs and feel pleasure. Don’t meet them and feel pain.
The reason why it’s hard for people to give up their favorite foods and old habits is because those habits meet one or more of those six human needs. That means if you want to get more motivated to do something else like eat healthier and exercise, you’ll need to mentally connect the dots of how those new behaviors (and the outcomes like a more fit body) will also satisfy those emotional needs to an equal or greater extent.
You don’t need an in-depth understanding of your psychology to know how to redirect your motivation. You already do this whether you’re conscious of it or not. But if you want to have conscious control over it, here’s an exercise.
- Write down all the short term and long term problems (pains) with continuing to engage in an undesired behavior. (Eating junk food, not exercising, etc.)
Examples of these problems could be lacking energy, disease and sickness, weight gain, etc. It’s also critical to ask why those things would be a problem. This could mean not being there for one’s family, not being able to pursue a passion, feeling out of control of one’s life, etc.
- Write down all the short term and long term benefits (pleasures) with engaging in a desired behavior. (Eating healthier, exercising, etc.)
Examples of these benefits could be more energy, a sexy body, less aches and pains, not having to take prescription drugs, etc.
It’s also critical to ask why you want those things until youtap into how they meet your needs for more certainty, variety, connection, significance, contribution, and/or growth.
For instance, a person that is very family oriented may connect eating healthier with being a better spouse and parent by improving their health, living longer, and setting a good example. This would meet their connection, certainty, and contribution needs.
It’s important to keep asking “why?” for every reason you can come up with for wanting your goals until you hit upon a reason that truly moves you and fills you with passion.
For instance, if someone is considering why they want to eat better, they may say: “To be healthier” “Why do I want to be healthier?” “So I don’t die an early death.” “Why am I worried about an early death?” “Because if I don’t eat healthier, my doctor says I’m on a fast track to heart disease and that means I won’t get to see my kids graduate and get married. I can’t stand the thought of not being there for my family.”
People who make great changes to their body and their lives don’t do so because they just “kind of felt like it.” They make great changes because they reached a tipping point where they realized it was too painful, or would be too painful to remain the same.
They had a huge reason why, and you must keep asking yourself why you want to be more healthy and fit until you come up with reasons that inspire a burning passion to take control of your habits.
Doing this exercise is powerful in itself, but I’ve found a way that helps me remember my motivations day in and day out when various temptations pop up.
That is by asking myself an empowering question in the form of “would I rather…”
Let’s say I see some ice cream (my favorite snack) at the store and am tempted to buy it. I would simply ask myself “would I rather eat this ice cream and feel like crap by depressing my immune system with massive amounts of sugar and adding fat to my body OR would I rather buy some fruit to satisfy my sweet tooth and feel good about myself knowing that I am giving my body the nutrients it needs while maintaining a lean physique?”
The most powerful force for more motivation is hardest to teach, but will provide guaranteed success. That is the force of genuine love for others and yourself. I’m not talking about a “touchy feely” sort of love nor is the egotistical self-love of narcissim. This is genuine care and concern for the wellbeing of others as well as yourself. When one has emotionally connected how being more healthy and fit will allow them to better express love for themselves and others, there is no other emotional force strong enough to stop it when it’s at its strongest.
Some things you can ask yourself to tap into this feeling are “How will being in better shape help me better care for others?” “What will happen to those that I care about if I’m not as healthy as I could be?” “Can I allow myself to feel as much love as possible right now and to experience how taking better care of my body will let me express this love to myself and others even more?”