As surely as gyms and fitness studios will be packed with newly motivated men and women every January, they will have cleared out come March. The typical 8-12 week motivation drop-off is a well-documented phenomenon. So if you have made a resolution to get healthy and fit this year and you are already losing steam don’t worry, you are not alone.
First off, congratulations on having made the decision to invest in your health and wellbeing. Now, let yourself off the hook for losing motivation, it happens to everyone. Exercising is not the hard part of this equation, it’s maintaining your motivation that is the real challenge.
Why do we struggle so frequently and predictably with achieving goals? When we create personal goals, we create them from our frontal cortex – they are intellectualized and relate to executive function. Goals are our ideas based on the question: “What do I want to accomplish?” Goals are great, and there’s lots of research to show how important they are and how they keep us on track and moving towards what we want in our lives, but when it comes to staying motivated towards making real, long-term lifestyle changes, the frontal cortex just isn’t enough.
When it comes down to making an actual decision that we can act on and commit to, we call on our limbic or emotional brain to choose to put on our running shoes and get outside, for example. The question we answer when we tap into the limbic part of our brain is “Why do I want to accomplish this?” Only by answering this question do we have a fighting chance of realizing our goals, because they are anchored to what governs our daily decisions, i.e.: our emotions, and not to a concept of what we would like to happen.
When it comes to making a personal change that is lifestyle related and speaks to our habits, values and often our insecurities, whether we realize it or not, we have to make that decision on an emotional level for it to be meaningful. This distinction is of particularly important when the going gets tough because we need something to hold onto; something to remind us why we made the decision in the first place and how we are going to feel when we accomplish it. In a nutshell, we have to create meaning around our goals for them to stick when the going gets tough. In this way, goals stimulate, but emotions motivate.
So how do you find that “gut-feel” kind of reason to make your goals stick? A great tool to use is a mind map. Write out a goal and then draw a mind map by writing down all the reasons why you want to achieve this aim. Dig deep here and go beyond the logical answers that will arise, reflecting on how you want to feel during and after the process. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, the logical motivation is to become healthier. However, what about losing weight because it gives you a feeling of empowerment, in your body and your life. You can already feel how much stronger a motivating potential the later is. Once you hit your feeling-based reason, It will ring true for you mentally and feel right emotionally. Suddenly, your motivation becomes much more intrinsic: you tap into the visceral, emotional level of yourself and actually what controls your choices and that is what will keep you on track with your goals.
Now write down your motivating reason and surround yourself with it: post it on your fridge, in your phone, at your desk at work – wherever you can use it to keep you connected to that feeling. Prepare yourself to meet those motivationally challenging times, like when you are busy, stressed, unhappy or exhausted. In these situations, the first thing to go is often your motivation to exercise. Ironically, exercising will give you the energy and feel good vibes you need the most so you can remain calm and have a sense of wellbeing from which to face the stresses of life.
Sometimes, however, getting to the gym is not the hard part. Sometimes, we lose motivation during or after exercising because it doesn’t feel great to be pushing the limits of our physical comfort zone. Other times we become derailed and defeated by comparing ourselves to others, taking on their fitness goals instead of sticking with our own, or we hit a plateau and do not know how to adjust our goals to feel satisfied. These are all lose-lose situations that render us disconnected from our motivating reasons, leaving us demoralized and feeling like failures, effectively canceling out the positive gains of exercise.
To tap into a truly powerful source of motivation, you need to create a cycle of meaningful exercise connected to a reason based on a feeling. Take the time to do a mind map for every goal, and you will create a safety net to catch you from falling off the wagon.
By: Margot McKinnon Pilates and Movement Specialist, Founder and president of Body Harmonics Studios/Clinics in downtown Toronto.