Author: Michael Mantell Source: Lifehacker
When it comes to motivation—especially for health and fitness goals—being an “inny” or an “outy” can make all the difference. The “inny” I’m talking about is “intrinsic motivation,” or a drive to achieve that comes from inside a person and isn’t motivated by external rewards. This is the kind of motivation that can lead to life-changing improvements and well-being.
External rewards (like compliments, fitting into a smaller size, or winning a race) might get a person started but long-term motivation depends on a person’s values and processes for achieving goals.
When it comes to health and wellness, internal motivation involves emphasizing current health and happiness instead of ideas about future health, fitness, and positive body image. In order to be sustained, exercise and healthy habits need to be relevant to a person’s life today, not “off in the distance” goals. Vague warnings about future health are less motivating than the tangible, post-workout feeling of “Ahhh, I’m so relaxed right now. I need to do this again!”
This kind of current, internal drive might not come naturally to all of us, but the good news is it can be learned.
Self-Sabotaging Beliefs—The Challenge
Many people who don’t work out regularly can rattle off a list of reasons why they’re not motivated to exercise, from not understanding the benefits of activity to thoughts like “I’m too busy,” “I’m embarrassed by how I look,” “exercise is boring,” and so on.
The folks who hold these (false) self-sabotaging beliefs often believe exercise doesn’t matter; they don’t enjoy it, or they simply have no interest in doing it. And, really, who could blame them? Who would be inspired to start a physical activity with negative thoughts running through their head? A person has to believe exercise is of value in order to build motivation to do it.
Building Sustainable Motivation—Four Strategies
In my experience working with families, athletes, fitness professionals and enthusiasts, and corporate executives and teams, I’ve learned there are four strategies people can use to create sustainable motivation: Self-Efficacy, FIT/Rational Thinking, SMARTER Goals, and Commitment Contracts. Let’s walk through them one by one.
A person with high self-efficacy believes in their ability to perform a task and achieve goals. Such a person might have thought patterns that look like this: “I’m sure of my ability to achieve the goals I set for myself;” “I believe that if I work hard, I’ll be successful;” and “I can move in another direction to achieve my goal, if an obstacle blocks my my path.” These beliefs are the strongest and most consistent predictors of exercise behavior. A person won’t pick up a 35-pound dumbbell—or even a five-pound one—as long as they believe they can’t. In contrast, the greater a person’s self-efficacy, the more likely they are to stick with an exercise program and make it a habit for life. There are three ways to build self-efficacy:
Ensure early success. When first starting out, choose activities you’re certain you can do successfully. If new to exercise, start with a fifteen-minute walk, one set of strength training exercises with a weight you can lift comfortably eight to ten times, or some gentle stretching. Similarly, if you’re looking to take an exercise routine to the next level, start small—say, by adding three more reps to a lifting routine or a few minutes of high intensity interval training to a cardio session. Gradually up the intensity level as you’re able, achieving more and more.
Watch others succeed in the activity you want to try. This is particularly effective if the person you’re observing is similar to you—neighbors, friends, co-workers, and gym mates are all good options. Witnessing their successes can boost your own self-efficacy level.
Find a supportive voice. Personal trainers and coaches are skilled in giving appropriate encouragement, as are good friends (usually). Just be sure the feedback is realistic and focused on the progress you’re making instead of comparing you to others.