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Everyday Fitness

with Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Find the Motivation That Sticks

“Help! I know what I need to do to get healthy but I’m just not doing it. I can’t seem to find the motivation to get off first base.”

“I was doing great and I’ve already achieved a lot with my nutrition and fitness. But, now I’m struggling to find the motivation to keep going.”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. The first cry for help is all about discovering a motivation that will get the journey going. The second is about reigniting motivation to keep a healthy lifestyle going and growing. We’re going to deal with both.

Everyone struggles with the issue of finding and holding onto that often elusive motivation. And it’s not just consumers who are mystified. Doctors, dietitians, fitness professionals, and counselors are often fooled into thinking that someone will certainly be motivated to change if their cholesterol is through the ceiling or they’re being threatened with needles and insulin unless they get their blood sugar under control.

Surprisingly, many people just opt for the medications and never change their habits. Motivation derived from coercion can be effective only if it’s linked to a meaningful reward. This is sometime referred to as extrinsic motivation as it originates from outside the person. The reward is never to have to use a needle or take a medication with a zillion side effects. An intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is one driven by your own desire to feel better or achieve a specific goal (e.g., run that first 5K). That includes eating food to satisfy hunger and survive. Whether it’s internally or externally derived, reward is absolutely key for motivation to work.

When people come to me and share how much they want to change, I ask them what their motivation is. The majority of time, they say they want more energy, to look and feel great, better self esteem, to prevent or treat a condition, live long and well. These all sound good when you write them at 8 a.m. while calmly sipping your latte, feeling full of the hope and promise of a new day.

However, by 3 p.m., you’re tired, feeling beat up, overwhelmed, slightly homicidal and can’t remember your own name. Suddenly, wanting to be “healthy and well” is all but a forgotten echo of dreams, and certainly not enough to pull you away from the seductive siren call of chocolate and shortbread cookies. You need a powerful motivation to help you turn and walk away from self destruction when the going gets tough. Here’s how to find yours.

In Body for Life for Women, the second Power Mind Principle is “Find your Motivational “Bull’s-Eye.” Think of motivation like a target, the kind you use in archery. The typical target has five rings and a bull’s eye. Your goal is to find the motivational bull’s-eye that resonates deeply with you and is powerful enough to keep you laser focused on achieving your goals any time of day.

1. Take out a piece of paper and pen and draw an imaginary archery target. Sketch five rings. In the outermost rings, you’ll be writing your global motivations and you’ll keep getting more specific about the motivations until you reach the bull’s-eye where you’ll write your Target Motivation

2. Ask yourself “Why do I want to change my body?” Write down up to five answers. These are usually the Global Motivations, and sound broad and general like: “I want to be healthy, have more energy, look great in clothes, feel proud of myself,” etc. You know them because you can’t measure them. They are important but general concepts.

3. Write your global motivations on the three to four outer most rings of the target picture. Now you’re left with one ring and the bull’s-eye.

4. Ask yourself again, “Why do I really want to change”, and this time get really personal. Take time and search deep inside. Your answer(s) might be serious (e.g., I am reversing this diabetes if it’s the last thing I do), or anything else that works to tap inside your heart and soul and be the driver behind a motivation that really matters (e.g., I want to remove 50 pounds and start dating). Write out no more than three answers that come to mind. These are your Target Motivations and you’ll know them because you can actually measure the outcome for each (better blood sugars, 50 pounds removed and five dates on your schedule).

5. Write the one burning Target Motivation in the bull’s-eye area and put the other Target Motivations in the ring closest to the bull’s-eye. That bull’s-eye motivation is the Target Motivation that you feel most passionately about. The others are back-ups should this one not work for you for whatever reason.

6. Create a Mantra that anchors your bull’s-eye Target Motivation and makes it easy to remember. The Mantra should be a powerful visual image that will smack you out of your foggy brained, overwhelmed-with-life trance, and keep you on track with your healthy lifestyle habits. Think of what you’re running from (e.g., current status) and what you want to run to (e.g., the reward you wish to achieve). One of my patients is a teacher and noted she wants to be a superb role model for her high school students as well as her two daughters. She wants to walk the talk. She’s running from being a hypocrite (her words), and running to being a teacher who walks the talk (brings her joy). Her Mantra: Hypocrite or teacher who walks the talk. Every day she’d ask herself “Who won today? The hypocrite or the teacher who walks the talk?” Those images were so intense and effective they powered her through 40 pounds to achieve her goal.

Memorize your Target Motivation Mantra. Write it everywhere you might go to self destruct (e.g., fridges, pantry, couch). Refine and change it entirely if, by trial and error, it’s not holding you. You’re customizing as you go along. You’re also getting to know a lot about you and what truly motivates you. Lots of surprises await everyone who does this exercise! Armed with your Target Motivation you’ll be much more successful at navigating the afternoon and evening hours when your guard drops with a loud clank. And here’s a great win win for you – as you achieve your Target Motivation, you’ll also be achieving your Global Motivation as well. When your new healthier lifestyle leads to normal blood sugars, you’ll feel happier, healthier, filled with more energy and you will have reversed a disease. Not bad!

Let’s say you’ve either completed your original Target Motivation goals or are halfway through your weight and lifestyle journey. Suddenly you find that the original Target Motivation is no longer as powerful as it once was. Those cookies are calling and you’re feeling a pull like the old days. You’re afraid of slipping backwards. Here’s what to do.

1. Go back to your original Target Motivation homework and repeat the exercise. Time has passed, and you have changed. The pain you initially felt when you started your journey is no longer as intense, or, if you’ve achieved your goals, is gone. You need a change up in your Target Motivation. You’ve outgrown it!

2. After having repeated your target exercise, you may find it harder to identify the Target Motivation that will work for you now. If you’re having problems, simply identify what gives you real joy in life (e.g., hiking) and now attach it to a goal. You’ve dropped 30 pounds and are a stronger hiker so your new goal is to hike a mountain. Once you’ve achieved that, you’ll then find another goal, and another. They can be small or large. It doesn’t matter. They just have to have deep meaning for you to work. And you must keep doing this for a lifetime.

The secret to finding a motivation that will stick and keep you on the right track is to reassess, refresh and redefine your Target Motivation throughout your entire lifetime.

Finding a powerful Target Motivation for healthy living is a dynamic process. And, sometimes it’s not easy to identify that Target Motivation. It’s perfectly fine to just sit with it and let it marinate in your mind. Some people are filled with such dissociation and denial about themselves and their lives that it’s hard to wade through and find that golden Motivation. Be patient. Just keep asking yourself “What gives me joy?” Where there’s authentic joy (e.g., biking through Vermont), there’s a meaning and purpose and thus Target Motivation that will propel you through your healthiest, happiest life.

Think Small Lose Big

Posted by: Pamela Peeke, MD at 9:00 am

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