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Motivation and the Mind: How to Think Yourself Thin, Healthy, and Happy

8/26 10:29:55

“it doesn’t take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.”

–Elbert Hubbard.

A friend recently sent me this quote and it struck me as very true, especially when it comes to figuring out the big things–like love, life purpose, family….oh yeah, and taking care of ourselves. Let’s face it–with over 60% of us overweight and almost twenty percent on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs (a three fold increase in just ten years)–it’s obvious that we don’t know how to care for ourselves very well. We learn a lot in school growing up but there isn’t a class in how to be happy, how to love ourselves and others, how to figure out what we really want from life, or how to nourish and accept our bodies. So it’s up to us, as adults who want to be fit and lead full lives and pass that on to our children, to begin to learn how to nurture ourselves. And we can’t do that until we know one thing–what makes us tick, what is the spark that pushes us toward health. We have to know what motivates us or we will never truly be able to reach our goals.

I am a quitter. It’s true. Almost everything I have ever done I have quit, and often it is just when I am getting good, getting comfortable. I come so close to figuring it out, mastering it and then ‘poof’! For some mysterious reason my fire just goes out. Suddenly the excuses are flying–it’s too cold to run, I’m just not in the mood to write, I love that yoga class but it’s too late at night…you see where I am going. Only recently have I been able to really sit down and start to figure out why this is the case. Motivation is different for all of us, but there are definitely patterns that we fall into. So read on and find out where your motivation lies and how to harness your spark to truly reach your goals:

Look Ma, No Hands!–Now our ego loves to ‘become’. It wants the characteristics but not so much the verbs. It readily clings to ‘I am a runner’ and not so much the act of running. It also loves to brag. For some of us, the ego has become a trap. When we are praised for what we ‘do’ outwardly and not for who we ‘are’ internally, we often learn that the praise from others is worth more than our own feelings. I often fell into this trap. Instead of getting motivation from myself, I got it from telling others about what I was doing and getting their praise or even acknowledgment. The problem with this is that, once everyone knows, it is no longer new and there is less gratification. Less gratification equals less motivation. And so then you are on to the next new thing….always hoping for that quick fix from others. The same thing happens when you are losing weight. You might start having people comment on how good you look and you lose the motivation…suddenly it’s okay to eat junk again or slack on exercise because others have rewarded you–despite the fact that you haven’t reached your goal. Our egos aren’t going to go away, they are part of us. So we have to outsmart them by acknowledging that they are there, that they want the approval of others, and then engage our friends and family into making us accountable to ourselves. How do we do this?

* Pair up with a friend or loved one and exercise with them. This will help keep you from slacking when the going gets tough. Just make sure that they are not motivated in the same way you are or you might end up eating ice cream instead of exercising!
* With those closest to you, explain how you are motivated and expressly ask them to (gently!) keep after you. Have them ask you often if you are still meeting your goals and press you (gently!) to increase those goals.
* Ultimately, lasting motivation is going to have to come from within because at the end of the day, we are left with ourselves. So explore shifting motivation. Try thinking and writing about why you are trying to eat better or exercise, what it is about that particular fitness regimen you like etc. You just might find that it is more about yourself than you think.
* Keep some goals secret. Many business and motivation coaches say that the most vulnerable time for a new business is in the beginning stages, when it is pretty much just an idea. When we tell others about it then it can weaken the idea, dilute it. The same goes for any life change. So try not talking about what you are practicing so much. It is good to get support, but if that is the only way you know how to keep motivated, you risk becoming addicted to outside praise. So make a deal with yourself that you will only talk about your goals once a week–the rest of the week it is up to you to motivate yourself. Like the tip above, you might be surprised by what you find.

The Kitchen Sink– Here’s another one that many of us fall pray to. You’ve been doing so well, eating right, exercising every day and then something happens, something to stress you out. A fight with a loved one, a sick child, a bill you forgot to pay…the stress pushes you and you push back-at yourself. You take a couple of days off, eat junk or stop exercising. And then you say ‘well I’ve already blown it so I might as well blow it some more’ and off you go…coming up to the surface only when you feel bad enough again to want to make it right. I call this the kitchen sink mentality, and unfortunately, it often hits the most intelligent of us out there, those of us that think globally and creatively.

The thing is, when you have a hard time thinking in steps, but instead are a ‘big picture’ person, it is easy to psych ourselves in or out of doing something. We often miss the small things that can make or break our goals. I once had a friend describe it like this: Imagine your life is like driving at night. You can only see that small area in front of your car that is illuminated by your headlights but you don’t freak out at the darkness out there, at all that space you can’t see. You have faith that the road and that your destination is there and that by paying attention to what you can see, that you will get there in the end. Life is like that. We have to have faith that the small things we do will add up into big goals, that the two pounds we lose this month will equal twenty pounds by the end of the year; that by walking those two miles now, we will eventually be able to run them. Some good ways to keep to the small goals:

* Know that slipping up is part of the process. What we ultimately want is balance. So instead of feeling that all of our goals are lost if we do something we don’t want to, instead try to see it as natural. Then we are less likely to sap motivation. Life isn’t about perfection, it is about balance.
* Make a dream board. Take a journal or a piece of poster board and cut out images that represent your goals–what you want in all areas of your life. Keep it where you can see it. This helps allow our subconscious to recognize what we want and frees up our conscious minds to be able to focus on how to get there.
* Write lists. Those of us who think globally tend to dislike lists, but by adopting them it helps keep the small goals out there where we can see them. So break your goals down into monthly, weekly, and daily acts and then post these lists where you can see them. Check in on them in the morning and at the beginning of the day and week so that you know exactly what it is you want to do. Again, this helps keep us focused.

Show Me the Money– We live in a culture that is expressly materialistic and many of us have learned to reward ourselves with material objects. This is one of the reasons that so many of us struggle with our weight–we use food as emotional support and succor. Some of us also fall into the pattern of needing material rewards as a motivating factor. This can be great when being used to reach short-term fitness and diet goals–making a bet with someone not to eat junk food or to exercise every day for a week–but in the long-term this type of motivation always falls flat. There has to be some kind of deeper, behavioral motivation in order to make lasting changes and reach long term goals. Figuring that out is complicated but can be done:

* Join a support group or try counseling. Understanding how and why you eat is important, as is knowing what your trigger points are–do you eat when you are bored or stressed or sad or excited?–being aware of the situations that make you vulnerable can really help in becoming more mindful and in the moment and increase the ability to control eating and exercise. Likewise, talking through patterns and problems can help remove the emotional components of eating and help us want what is best for ourselves.

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