If you are looking for some extrinsic form of motivation to do something then you have probably started in the wrong place. The real driver for improving your lifestyle is habit. The problem with motivation is that it changes regularly and it can be fleeting (think of motivations such as hunger, money or sex drive). We can not possibly always be at our highest levels of motivation for improving our health. Everyone gets tired eventually, mentally if not physically, and we can also have other forms of motivation conflict with our goals. Consider how dinner (and drinks) with friends, hunger, sleep and earning money conflict with your motivation to lose weight or increase your fitness. It’s a motivation MESS. My answer to the fleeting and overlapping nature of motivation is habit. Habit is the pattern of behaviour we have developed to elicit a healthy outcome. The great thing about a good habit is that we are doing it before and sometimes regardless of whether or not we are motivated. Our habits are dictated by our conditioning. So if we have conditioned ourselves to put our gym shoes on as soon as we get home and head out the door we will do it instinctively regardless of how we are feeling or what kind of day we have had. We don’t have to train hard, every day, we just have to attend the gym and provide a healthy amount of exercise each day.
Another example is our choices of food. Motivation is required to refuse dessert once we have the dessert menu in our hands. It takes a great deal of mental strength to view the menu, start drooling at what we are envisaging the meal to look like, exciting the pleasure centres of our brain and then tell the waiter that we refuse to have a dessert. A healthy habit is to refuse the dessert menu in the first place. It’s the nutritional equivalent of walking into a strip club and pretending you will have the strength to keep your eyes closed!
I recently heard a great story about habit and how easy it is to create a healthy one….
If you want to create a habit of flossing your teeth every day, once per day, then the secret is simple. Just floss one tooth every day and commit to it. It takes virtually no time, there is no need for any excuses and it removes the motivation factor because it is so easy. After all, it’s just one tooth. You can floss all of your teeth if you want to but you don’t have to. Eventually you will become so conditioned to flossing one tooth that you WILL floss all of your teeth habitually and it all starts with a commitment to one tooth. So here’s the kicker – if you want to get really good at squats, or push ups, or eating more vegetables or drinking more water all you have to do is start small and build the habit. Do one squat every day, do one push up every day, eat one vegetable at every meal, drink a small glass of water before every meal. Soon you will realize that it isn’t motivation that you required all along, you just had to floss one tooth! Now that’s SMART.