One of the most common questions I am asked is, “How did you get motivated? What changed?” People who knew me before I lost weight know how hard I had tried. They know that I was never satisfied with my weight and always looking for a quick fix but tended to fall back to old patterns pretty quickly. People often tell me that they envy my motivation – they just “don’t have it”.
I think there is a major misconception here about motivation. Ever notice that you feel motivated one minute and not the next? That’s not just you. That’s pretty universal. Motivation is not something that strikes you once and never leaves. High achievers aren’t merely blessed with a high level of motivation.
Think about why you wake up and go to work every day. Do you want to? Maybe sometimes. Do you go on the days you don’t want to? Of course. Why? Because there are consequences if you don’t. You’ve made it a non-negotiable event in your head because the rewards for going to work (your pay check, health insurance, career advancement, whatever it may be) are greater than the rewards for staying home (relaxation, low-stress, etc). You have decided in your head that there is more pain associated with not going to work (getting fired, having people think you’re a slacker, getting behind on projects) than there is pleasure in staying home. It is 100% about the associations in your head.
If you are someone who wants to lose weight but regularly finds yourself indulging in cookies, snacks, pizza, etc – this is for no other reasons than the associations you have in your head. Trust me – I know this – I was this way for years. Yes, I wanted to lose weight desperately. But in my head, I associated weight loss with deprivation, frustration, hard work and sacrifice. The mind is built to encourage us to seek pleasure and avoid pain so OF COURSE I found ways to sabotage myself!! To compound the problem, I linked sweets and junk food with (momentary) relief, satisfaction and indulgence. My associations were making my body pull me towards overeating and keep me from weight loss. It was impossible to “maintain motivation” when I had such negative associations with weight loss and positive associations with overeating.
So what did I do? I made a list of everything I would gain if I lost the weight: pride, confidence, happiness, joy, mobility, energy, satisfaction, admiration – I listed out as many things as I could. I made a long list of everything I could lose if did NOT lose the weight – my health, my marriage, what was left of my confidence, mobility, energy, sex drive, friends, happiness.
I forced myself to pay attention to my thoughts. When I started to think things like “I really want some ice cream” or “I’m not losing weight fast enough” or “My sweet tooth is out of control”, I would immediately replace those thoughts with things like, “I eagerly fuel my body with healthy foods because I love them. Everyday my body is leaner and stronger and I am happier and more energetic.” Regardless of my mood or mindset I would say these things with a smile on my face – working on reprogramming my brain to positively associate health & fitness and turn off those negative associations.
I made sure to read or listen to motivational things every day. I found books that motivate me and I read them over and over. I listened to motivational music. I subscribed to motivational podcasts and blogs. I wanted as many positive, empowering messages coming into my mind.
Motivation is a decision. I bet most of you could tell me what you should eat or not eat to lose weight. That’s not the issue. The issue is between your ears. The associations you’ve built related to weight loss, healthy eating and lifestyle change. You need to do the mental work if you want long-term results. You need to. There are no short cuts.