The world of nutrition counseling is filled with the joys of witnessing clients accomplish the steps it takes to realize their goals– “I’ve been to the gym 5 times this week!” or “I’ve switched my breakfast from a bagel and cream cheese to a bowl of oatmeal with fruit!” or “I’ve cut out soda!”– yet on the flip side, there are many hours spent listening to confessions about how no changes were made– “No, I haven’t been walking.” or “I’m still eating my big bowl of ice cream at night.” or “I haven’t kept my food journal.”
Many times people know what they need to do as far as their diet and physical activity go, but they don’t do it. And I hear the words… “I’m just not motivated.”
Is this you? What’s going on? How can so many people be unmotivated? You think you know what you want, but your actions prove otherwise. It sounds like a mystery but when you consider basic human behavior, it’s actually quite clear.
Here are my thoughts on motivation: First of all, what is motivation? Basically it’s the driving force that gets you to do what it takes to reach the outcome you desire. Figure out what you really want. Is it a 40lb weight loss? Healthier cholesterol or blood pressure levels? Great, you’ve pinpointed what is important to you. This will be different for everybody. If I want you to have normal blood sugar levels but you could care less, then there is no way that you are going to change your diet and start exercising to work on lowering your blood sugar. However, say you decide that you really do want to lower your blood sugar levels. I will help you come up with ideas for things you can do that will get you to your goal. What I cannot do is actually make you take those actions. I can try to inspire you, give you nutrition education and be here to support your efforts, but I cannot directly motivate you. Motivation needs to come from within.
“It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t… It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.”
― James Gordon, MD
You may want to be healthier and lose weight, but to be truly motivated to do it you need to want that outcome more than you want to enjoy your current behaviors. This means losing ten pounds must be more important to you than sitting on the couch watching television every night. Fitting into those jeans next month has to be more meaningful to you than eating a bucket of fried chicken. Lowering your cholesterol must be more vital to you than your lunches of burgers and french fries. Notice how the thing you want is something that will take time and the current destructive behavior is something you can enjoy right now? The reason it’s so hard to change is that you are getting immediate gratification from these habits. Although they may not be healthy for you, you are getting some pleasure from them. If you find that you are routinely unable to make the changes you need to, look at how badly you really want what you thought you wanted. Merely desiring or wishing for something is not enough. Just about everybody would easily agree that they want to be healthy, but not everybody wants it seriously enough to put forth the effort. You need to be motivated in order to implement the necessary changes. Be honest with yourself- you might learn that you want your fried foods more than your life. But let’s hope that’s not the case.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. ”
― Walt Disney Company
Change your thinking to more long-term. Health goals aren’t achieved overnight. This is a gradual process and you need to keep your goals in the forefront of your mind. Start small and be realistic. Write them down, shout them from a mountaintop or create a vision board if you have to. Stay focused and always be thinking about what it is you want to achieve. Constantly work on the steps you need to take to get you to your goal. There will be ups and downs, days when your motivation waxes and wanes; this is normal. Yes, you will find yourself in situations where eating half a bag of pistachios will feel more important to you than fitting into your party dress on New Years. Don’t beat yourself up. Forget about it, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and promise to start over again right now.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
I really, really like this quote– it rings so true. We are creatures of habit. We are our habits. The key is to create new healthy habits that you enjoy and stick with so that your life is balanced. Once your new habits become your life you won’t need to rely on that motivation so much. You’ll have established positive routines (like making lots of veggies at dinner or declaring white flour products off-limits!) that will be a normal part of your life that you won’t even think twice about. Once you get in the habit of buying apples and bananas instead of chips and cookies it won’t seem like such a battle of willpower at the grocery store. It will simply be the way the new you shops and eats.
Set your goals, get yourself motivated and believe in yourself! Know that you can do anything that you put your mind to!
“And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!”
― Dr. Seuss