Have you ever asked any of the following questions:
- How do I stay motivated day after day?
- How do I commit to myself?
- How do I get past my own resistance?
- How do I find the time to work out?
- How do I stick to healthy eating and exercise routines with temptation everywhere?
- I know I’m supposed to exercise but when it’s time to hit the gym, I really don’t feel like going. What do I do?
- I get bored with exercise. How do I overcome that?
To me, motivation can come from two sources- internal and external. I can give you fifty external reasons why you should become fit and healthy-
- You’ll feel better
- You’ll look better
- You’ll live longer
- You’ll have more energy
- You’ll be able to join in the fun with your friends and family
- You’ll be able to keep up with your grand-kids
- You’ll have more confidence
- You’ll feel empowered
- You’ll be less stressed
- You won’t sick as often or at all
- You’ll reduce your blood pressure
- You’ll enhance your memory
- And on and on and on…
And you know what?
You know all of these. You’re an intelligent person. I’m not saying anything you haven’t heard before. Hopefully you’ll find these reasons are enough to get you motivated.
Maybe the external motivation needs to be a threat. Maybe if your doctor told you that you need to exercise and reduce your weight or you’ll have a stroke or get diabetes that would do it. Maybe you read a story or saw a movie that you found motivational and that does it for you.
The internal reasons are those that are part of or become part of your belief system about yourself. You just do it because you “know” this is what’s right for you and it doesn’t require any outside motivation.
Look, different things work for different people. What works for you may not work for others and vice versa.
Now, let me throw a monkey wrench into all of this by saying that relying on motivation to get yourself fit and healthy, may not be the best strategy. Again, it may work for some, but not for all.
Motivation is a “desire” to do something. You have a “desire” to become fit, but it’s not action. Action is the only thing that will make a difference.
Think about it. How many times have you been motivated by something, charged up, revved up, and gung ho. And then a few days go by or a few weeks, and your enthusiasm wanes.
Maybe it was an exercise program or a diet, and one day you can’t make it to the gym and you tell yourself you”ll go the next day, but the next day something else comes up and eventually you stop going altogether. I’ve done that. That’s happened to me.
The Problem With Motivation As A Strategy
And that’s the problem with motivation as a strategy. For a lot of us it doesn’t last. It does for some people and my hat’s off to them. But motivation is a difficult strategy to count on.
Here’s another problem with motivation as a strategy. If you need a stirring speech or some James Brown funk and soul to get you motivated each time you should be exercising or eating the right food, how are you gonna create a habit? Turning your desires into habits are what will help you succeed. And habits require repetition and consistency, while motivation is based on how you feel at the moment.
To be clear, I’m not in any way saying that motivation is a bad thing. There are definite benefits- since your desire is increased, you’re more likely to take action. But as a strategy, it’s not the most reliable.
What about will power you say? Well, what about it? Is that a better strategy than motivation? Let’s take a look.
Did you know that “will power” is a real thing? It’s not just a concept. In 1996 a psychologist named Roy Baumeister and some of his other colleagues did an experiment to examine the effect of a food challenge designed to deplete a person’s will power. This was truly an evil experiment because they used freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
How many of you are thinking about the chocolate chip cookies right now and couldn’t care less about the experiment? Come on, be honest.
The experiment was conducted in two parts. In the first part of the experiment they took 67 people and put them in a room with the freshly baked cookies. Everyone could see them and they could smell them.
Some of them got to eat the chocolate chip cookies, while others were asked to eat, check this out- radishes instead. OMG. And they weren’t happy about it either.
Then, in part 2, all 67 were asked to solve an unsolvable puzzle. They of course, had no idea that it was unsolvable.
Here’s what they found- those who ate the radishes made fewer attempts and devoted less than half the time solving the puzzle compared to those who got to eat the chocolate chip cookies.
Now at this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Well what the heck, Rick? What’s this have to do with anything?”
What it meant was that those who had to resist the cookies and eat the radishes instead, could no longer find the will to complete another difficult task.
It meant that self-control, “will power,” could be depleted. It’s like a muscle in the sense that with each succeeding task, it becomes weaker and weaker. They’ve since found out that it’s not only tasks of self-control that deplete our will power but also making decisions and choices. We make 1000’s of choices every day. We’re not aware of most and those we are aware of are usually the choices where things didn’t work out the way we expected. Think about driving. How many little steering adjustments do you make that you’re not even aware of?
My point is that we all suffer from “decision fatigue.” When you start an exercise or diet program, the first thing you probably do is set rules for yourself: I can’t eat this, I can’t eat that, I’ll start eating this other food instead. I have to plan my meals. I have to find time to work out, which means I have to cut down on this other activity. I have to decide which are the best exercises for me, and on and on.
We’re overwhelmed by choices and as we just learned from the cookie/radish experiment, the more choices we face, the more we deplete our self-control and will power.
Which leads me to this conclusion- you have to have self-compassion. Make your life simple. Do everything you can to eliminate having to make choices. With respect to diets, just get rid of everything you shouldn’t be eating. Fill your fridge with healthy, natural foods. Wash them in advance so all you have to do is just reach in and grab something when you’re hungry.
Rather than focusing on how to make bad behavior more difficult, think about how to make good behavior easier.
Since we now know that our will power is depletable, is will power or self-control the best strategy to use to reach our fitness goals?
Let’s try something. If you’re in a situation where you can do this right now…take a moment and do one push-up. Didn’t require much thinking did it? Didn’t really have to weigh the pros and cons of your decision, did you? It really didn’t require any motivation or will power did it? In fact, I’ll bet you can do it again right now, and even add one more push-up.
Did you do it? Congratulations, you just took the first step toward a healthier, fitter, you.
I said earlier that action is the only thing that will make a difference.
Maybe you’ve heard this idea- “logic will not change an emotion, but action will.” Think about some time when maybe you were down in the dumps or angry at something, and no one could talk you out of it. They could use all the rational, logical reasons possible why you shouldn’t feel that way, but it didn’t change your mood.
But then maybe a certain song came on the radio and you started to sing to it or move to it, or maybe you were outside and you helped an elderly person with their bags (uh, oh, that’s gonna be us soon), but the end result was that your mood changed, because you took some sort of action.
I watched a TED talk given by Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy. It’s actually the 2nd most popular TED talk. She spoke about “power posing” and how it can actually change our biochemistry. In one of her experiments she had some students hold a “high power pose” for two minutes- arms outstretched, chest out, looking up, making themselves look big, while other students held a “low power pose- hunched shoulders, looking down, making themselves look small. And in less than two minutes, in those holding the “high power pose,” their testosterone levels increased, building confidence, and their cortisol levels (the stress hormone) decreased.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I know I’m supposed to exercise but when it’s time to hit the gym, I really don’t feel like going. How do I get myself there?
At this point, going to the gym is a habit with me. But believe me, there are still days when I just don’t feel like working out. I live about 20 minutes from Gold’s Gym Hollywood, that’s where I work out. I work out three times a week on alternate days. It’s every other day because you need at least 48 hours for your muscles to repair themselves from the previous workout.
Sometimes when I get up I’m still sleepy or it’s cold outside or it’s raining, and I just don’t feel like going. In those cases, sometimes I do wait until the next day. But I always go the next day. Like I said, it’s become a habit, so I’m not in danger of letting that one day turn into many days or weeks of not going back to the gym.
Also, there are times when I get to the gym, warm up, and just don’t feel the energy to work out. In those cases, my motivation is that if I don’t work out now while I’m here, I’m gonna have to come back out tomorrow and do it. And I’d much rather sleep a little later the next day.
All of this goes right back to the idea that logic won’t change an emotion, but action will. Once I start exercising, I no longer feel unenergetic. It changes my mood and I’m glad when I’m finished.
My point is that action can change any emotion which leads me to this conclusion regarding the motivation or will power to exercise and eat right:
Just Show Up And Do It!
That’s all you have to do. Just show up and do it. Like the push-ups you did before, don’t think about it, just do it. The people who just show up and do it are the ones who succeed. That’s the big secret. That’s the real answer to the questions at the beginning of this post. Just show up and do it!
And if that’s not enough for you, here’s what my buddy Shia LaBeouf has to say about it:
Photo Credit: © 5secondstudio | Dreamstime.com – Just Do It Photo
Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think… Give me a thumbs up, a thumbs, down, whatever, just leave a comment, like my page, but most important of all, be the exception.