The Motivation Myth: Why you keep breaking promises to yourself, and what you can do about it.
Cast your mind back a few years, and you may remember a time where you were on top of your health. You were as fit as you’ve ever been. Happy with your body, full of energy and full of confidence.
But then something happened. Perhaps a stressful family event, increased pressure at work, or an injury left you side-lined for a while.
As the weight went back on, you may have started to feel low in energy and embarrassed about what you saw in the mirror. And above anything else, perhaps you felt like you couldn’t, and perhaps still can’t, find the motivation to get going again.
Does that sound familiar? It may well do as it’s incredibly common.
But here’s the good news - there is a solution.
What is motivation anyway?
Before we get into what you can do to break the continuous cycle of bad health and low motivation, it’s worth considering what exactly motivation is and where it comes from.
Motivation can’t be relied upon to drive us towards our goals every day. Some days it just doesn't show up.
Motivation is our enthusiasm for doing something. There are two forms of motivation - intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do something without the promise of an external reward. In other words, the doing itself is the reward. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand is the desire to do something that promises an external reward of some form.
In the case of physical health, we may be intrinsically motivated to do exercise, eat well, get plenty of sleep because of the way that makes us feel about ourselves. Extrinsically we may want to do all of the above because of the way we will be perceived by others, for example.
Usually we will all feel a combination of these two distinct motivators, so having defined them I will now just refer to motivation more broadly.
The common view of motivation is that it is something that appears out of nowhere to give you the energy and drive required to carry out a task. We’ve all been there: “On Monday, I’m going to bounce out of bed and run 10km, then eat like an athlete for the whole day, get 9 hours of solid sleep every night this week and feel the best I’ve felt in years”.
But here’s the thing. Motivation can’t be relied upon to drive us towards our goals every day. Some days (usually on those famous Mondays when we’re about to start our herculean health practices) it just doesn't show up.
That can be frustrating, because the longer this goes on - the cycle of making and breaking promises to ourselves - the more likely we are to feel like there is something wrong with us. Something unique to us that is preventing us from achieving our health related goals.
Here’s the good news though, this is a complete misconception. An error on our part. All you need to do is adjust a few things, and you'll be on your way.
This is no quick fix
Now, this isn’t a hack, a quick fix, or anything of the sort. If you’re looking for that, it doesn’t exist, but by all means go ahead and continue searching for it. Real change takes a combination of effort, time and a willingness to try something new.
If you’re still reading, I’m going to assume you’re ready to do just that.
There are three steps I’m going to teach you today, all of which will have a profound impact on your life when it comes to your health. Think weight loss, more energy, more confidence - the whole shebang.
Start with why
In order to start manipulating motivation to achieve your goals, you really need to know exactly what those goals are. And most importantly, why you want to achieve them.
I’m not talking about the reason you tell other people that you want to achieve them, I’m talking about the real reason you want to achieve them. I definitely can’t tell you what that is, because it’s going to be unique to each person. However what I can do is suggest a quick exercise called the 5 whys.
The longer this goes on - the cycle of making and breaking promises to ourselves - the more likely we are to feel like there is something wrong with us.
It goes a little something like this. Take your health goal, let’s say you want to lose 20lbs of fat. Now ask yourself why you want to do that. Take that reason and ask why again. And then ask why another 3 times. The fifth why is likely to be much closer to the real reason you’re doing this. That is the reason you need to find, and that is the reason that will drive you forward every day.
The order of play
So now we know what your underlying motivation is, it’ll just turn up right?
Whilst we definitely need to use this motivating factor as your driving force, if you just expect motivation to turn up and propel you forward then you’re going to be waiting a while.
You see the thing is motivation and action don’t work as we think they do. Quite the opposite in fact. Instead of preceding action, motivation actually follows action. In other words, as you act towards your goal, you get more motivated to achieve it.
This is crucial to understand if you want to stop wondering why you’re never motivated to start something. The reason you’re not motivated is precisely because you haven’t started yet.
Ok. So you’ve worked out why you want to achieve your goal of losing 20lbs. You’ve also switched your perspective to realising that action follows motivation, and not the other way around.
Now you’re probably thinking: “that’s not very helpful Jon, I’ve been waiting for the motivation to come along, and now you’re telling me that it hasn’t even got showered and dressed yet?” Correct. That is what I’m telling you.
So what can be done here. We seem to find ourselves in a chicken and egg type scenario.
Actually, not quite.
What we can do at this stage is break down the actions required to achieve our goal into the smallest possible steps. In fact, I’d say make it just about as un-sexy as you can. You almost want to be embarrassed at how petty your actions seem to be.
Let’s go back to our example. You want to lose 20lbs. Can you walk 5,000 steps a day? I realise it’s not quite the hallowed 10,000, but let’s start with 5,000? If that seems pretty easy then start there. How about drinking a couple less beers this week? Does that seem pretty manageable? If the answer is yes, then that’s it. That’s your first week. 5,000 steps a day and cutting out a couple of bottles of Heineken.
It really is as simple as that.
Instead of preceding action, motivation actually follows action. In other words, as you act towards your goal, you get more motivated to achieve it.
It’s not very sexy is it. Probably won’t sell many copies of Men’s Health. Nor will it sound that great to your mates down the pub (read: Zoom Covid-catch up on a Friday).
But given these actions are so small, and the changes to your lifestyle so minor, isn’t it possible that you might just do them? And then isn’t it possible that you might just feel a bit of motivation for having done them? Which then makes you want to take more action, which leads to more motivation...I think you can see where this is going.
Over to you
So there you have it. The three step plan to beat the motivation myth.
Start with why you’re doing what you’re doing - this will help to give you a nudge on those days when even the smallest actions seem a little daunting. Then realise that some action is going to be required to overcome the inertia, and the easiest way to do that is to take the smallest action possible towards your goal.
Combine the above three steps with a little patience and you’ll be back on top of your health before you know it. And of course, if you need some help in reaching your health goals, then I’d love to have a chat to see if that would work for us. The best thing to do is to book a free health blueprint call with me here.