Motivation…it’s a funny thing.
It can come in an instant and send us into a frenzy of cleaning, prepping food, planning workouts, or doing whatever else we think is going to get us where we want to be. And then just as quickly as it came on it can disappear, leaving us feeling lazy, unhappy, and guilty.
What exactly is motivation? It stems from the latin root word “mot” which means “to move”. Motivation is what moves us, what drives us, what gets us out of bed in the morning. Simply put, motivation is the reason why do choose to do something.
When explaining why they can’t get started on a fitness routine many individuals will say they’re just not the motivated type. But whether we realize it or not, we’re motivated multiple times a day. We’re motivated by hunger to eat. We’re motivated by tiredness to sleep. We’re motivated by not wanting to get fired to avoid telling the customer in front of us to go fuck themselves. Motivation is the driving factor of our daily lives.
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when the driving factor comes from within you; you’re doing something because it satisfies a need, you enjoy it, or you find it personally rewarding. Eating is a perfect example. Not only does it satisfy my body’s need for nutrients, I also love food and find eating a delicious meal I cooked personally rewarding.
Extrinsic motivational factors on the other hand come from external sources. You’re doing something to gain a reward or avoid punishment from someone else. At my hotel job I work hard to upsell guests to bring in extra commission for myself; I don’t necessarily need the money or enjoy making people spend extra money, but the reward of extra cash in my pocket is motivation enough. Similarly, I definitely don’t enjoy biting my tongue when I have a woman almost in tears in front of me because she has a “shitty view” from her room, but knowing the repercussions of the actions I’d like to take is motivation enough to shut me up.
Being motivated by intrinsic factors isn’t necessarily better than being motivated by extrinsic factors, and vice versa. Either way you’re doing what needs to be done or not doing what will get you in trouble. But studies have shown that when it comes to creating long-term behaviour modification, intrinsic motivational factors may be more effective.
Let’s say your doctor is on your case about getting some aerobic activity. Your blood pressure is high, your blood glucose levels are high, and within the next 15-20 years your risk of getting a heart attack will increase dramatically. He tells you to start going to a step aerobics class, so you find a local community centre and start going twice a week. You HATE this class. It plays crappy music, the instructor is annoying, and you find yourself stumbling with the choreography. But you know that over the long term it will be good for you, so you continue to follow your doctor’s orders.
Then one morning you REALLY don’t feel like getting out of bed. You’re tired and grumpy and the last thing you want to do is trip over your step while your instructor prances over hers with ease, with her annoying little headset bouncing as she does so. You decide to take the day off since you’ve been pretty consistent lately, and your heart attack risk isn’t high NOW. You’re just preventing it from increasing later and missing today’s class isn’t going to make a huge difference.
Then the following week you have a busy day and don’t see how you can get everything done while still making it to your class. You again justify skipping it by telling yourself that your doctor is only doing this for preventive measures, and you did already go once this week so you’re okay. Week after week life continues to get in the way and eventually you find yourself not going at all.
This isn’t because you’re lazy, or weak, or lack willpower. It’s because the extrinsic motivational factors weren’t strong enough to keep you doing something you didn’t really enjoy, even though it may have been good for you. We’re a pretty impatient society, and oftentimes if we don’t see the reward right away we tend to not stick with things.
But if your doctor had given you a little bit of freedom in choosing the type of activity you did things may have turned out a little differently. Maybe you tried out a yoga class instead of step aerobics. It was a little awkward and uncomfortable at first because you didn’t really know what you were doing, but you left each class feeling refreshed and energized.
As you continued your practice through the weeks you found your stress levels to be lower and you were actually happier! That morning you woke up feeling tired and grumpy, instead of staying in bed like you did with your step aerobics, you decided to get up and go to yoga anyway because you knew it would make you FEEL GOOD.
In this case, the extrinsic factor initiated the change. You didn’t try yoga out of your own will, you went because your doctor was nagging you. But you discovered you really enjoyed it and felt fantastic after doing it, so you continued to go. That’s where the intrinsic factors come into play.
It’s great to be motivated by things like looking good for your partner, keeping potential health issues at bay, or going to the gym in January because everybody goes to the gym in January. But when things get tough or when the time vampires try to suck the days away from you it can be difficult to stick to your routine if you don’t have any real internal drivers keeping you in check. The next time you go for a walk, or eat well all day, or have all your tasks for the week planned out ahead of time, take a moment to take note of how these things make you feel. Do you feel refreshed? Do you feel energized? Do you not feel like the psychotic stressed out mess you usually are when you leave everything to the last minute?
Hold onto those feelings! Store them in that grey matter of yours and call on them when you really need them. On those days you don’t want to exercise remember how good you feel afterwards. When you don’t feel like planning ahead for your week remember how nice it was to not have to worry about meals and things that needed to be done when you did plan ahead. When those office cookies are in front of you remember how strong and proud of yourself you felt for saying no last time.
Over time these drivers, both internal and external, will turn our positive actions into habit. You’re still going to have days where you don’t want to do the things you know you should; those never go away. But it gets easier to get up and get them done anyway.
The past few weeks I felt a real lack of motivation. Maybe it was the annoying cold that dragged on for almost three weeks. Maybe it was because I’ve been going hard at the gym and eating fairly well for almost two years and just needed a bit of a break. Maybe it was because I’ve been so busy the past year and just needed a time out, and maybe it was a combination of all three of these things. But each morning I continued to get up and do my workout and prep my healthy meals.
Sure, during my workouts a lot of the time all I thought about was lying in bed or eating a sandwich. And yes, about 90% of the time I felt like an estrogen-raging Cookie Monster. But by the same token I felt great when I was finished each workout and I didn’t go to bed feeling like shit after eating my weight in chocolate.
Motivation is what gets you started and habit is what keeps you going.
So tell me, friends! What motivates you? What gets you out of bed each morning to tackle the day? Do you ever find yourself struggling to call on those intrinsic motivational factors?
ALSO! I’d like to know if there are any tips and tricks that you would find beneficial to keep you along your fitness journey. Or is there anything you know now you wish you’d known when you just started out? I’m going to be putting together an e-book that I’ll be giving away to those who purchase my monthly programs (a new one drops next Saturday! And you can still purchase January’s for $10 by clicking the link at the side of my page) or those who subscribe to my blog via e-mail. I’d like it to include a variety of tips for sticking to your routine and making it through the tough days, and while I have lots of ideas I’d like your feedback as well! After all, you’re the ones I’m doing it for 🙂