Last week, in the first of 10 Tips on Maintaining Your Motivation, I talked about the importance of framing your healthy lifestyle goals in positive language.
There is, however, one very basic and important goal that everyone should have on their list, and it really needs to be expressed in the strongest possible negative terms: Do NOT do this, EVER!
So, what is this one thing you should never do? Read Tip #2 to find out...
The one thing you should never, ever do is tell yourself you’re not motivated.
I don’t care how unmotivated you feel, or how often you end up not sticking to your eating and exercise goals. None of this means you’re not motivated, and telling yourself that is what it means is really the only thing you can do that will actually wreck your motivation.
You can survive and overcome virtually any obstacle or problem you run into on your path to a healthy lifestyle–as long as you don’t talk yourself out of trying by saying you’re not motivated. The only time it makes sense to say you’re not motivated is when you really mean that you don’t want to lose weight, eat healthy, or get more fit. If you do want those things, then you’ve got all the motivation you need, even if it looks to you like you must not want them enough to do what’s necessary to make them happen.
You just have to figure out how to tap into that motivation at the right time. Telling yourself that you’re not motivated is really the only thing that can keep you from learning how to do this.
Feeling motivated is what happens when the decisions and choices you’re making are consistent with your goals. Feeling un-motivated is what happens when you’re not really making conscious choices at all–you’re just responding mindlessly to various triggers in your environment, or operating on “autopilot” based on old habits and conditioned behavior. To put it another way, you could say that the opposite of feeling motivated is feeling helpless, powerless, or unable to make the “right” decisions. But it’s hardly ever true that you actually are helpless, powerless or unable to make the choices you want.
What is pretty rare is for people to make choices that are truly inconsistent with their goals. Unless someone or something is literally forcing us to do something else, we normally do pretty much what we actually want to do. The problem is that we almost always want more than one thing, and sometimes one thing we want isn’t consistent with another one.
In practical terms, this usually translates into a conflict between immediate gratification (like eating what you want when you want it, or chilling on the couch instead of exercising) and delayed gratification (like eating and exercising the way you know you need to if you want to lose weight and feel better down the road).
The big mistake people often make is thinking that, if you’re “motivated,” it will be easy to say “no” to the immediate gratification and “yes” to the delayed gratification, because that’s what you “really” want. That’s nonsense. And it’s also a mistake to assume that delayed gratification is inherently superior to immediate gratification. We all want both our immediate satisfactions and the satisfaction of achieving a longer term goal–that’s the way we’re built, and we need both types of gratification to stay sane, healthy, and functional.
Getting down on yourself for wanting the immediate gratification is to deny half of who and what you are–and that will always cause more problems than it could ever solve. But that’s exactly what you do every time you tell yourself that you’re “not motivated” when you go for the immediate gratification at the expense of your longer term goal. You are motivated, you've just made a choice between two different things you want.
The great irony here is that telling yourself that you’re not motivated is really the only thing you can do that will actually keep you from making the choices you want . If you simply admit that you want two different things, and will usually have to make a choice between them, you give yourself the ability to actually make that choice. You might decide to make one choice now, and the opposite one later, but that’s fine. You’ll know that it’s you making the choice, not some character defect or some mysterious problem called “lack of motivation.” And you’ll know that you can make the other choice any time you want to do that. No more wasting time and energy wondering what’s wrong with you or your motivation.
So, here are your assignments for this next week:
In next week’s blog, we’ll talk more about switching off the autopilot and being more mindful.
Do you feel unmotivated a lot? Do you think that’s really true, or could you be sabotaging your own motivation by expecting that “being motivated” means it will be easy to make the “right” choice all the time?
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