What constitutes a healthy lifestyle? If living a healthy lifestyle is a top priority, motivation is essential for making healthy lifestyle changes, but it may not be sufficient.
It is now 9:30 p.m. Everything is set for a 5 a.m. alarm to go to the gym. The excitement and motivation are high, and waking up while it’s still dark seems easy. Until the alarm goes off, when all of the planning and motivation feels like a distant memory. The second buzzer sounds, and there is no movement to get up and carry out the plan. Staying warm under the blankets and laying comfortably in bed is preferable to braving the cold and wasting another 45 minutes on the elliptical. Does this sound familiar?
Motivation is fickle.
Why is motivation so high during times of excitement but fades as the excitement fades? Because motivation is a fleeting feeling and a fleeting intention, it is not a permanent solution to staying active and maintaining long-term health. We need motivation to get started and keep doing the necessary things to live a joyful and happy life, but it takes a deeper approach to keep us in action in the long run. This was only possible because of my motivation and the countless clients I’ve worked with over the last 20 years.
After the thrill of achieving or acquiring your goal has worn off, other factors must come into play to motivate you to keep going no matter what. Otherwise, two major factors—life challenges and fear—will put a stop to your progress.
When faced with a challenge, it is easier to succumb to one excuse after another rather than leaning in and reminding yourself why it is critical to persevere. The first step in maintaining excitement and motivation is to be clear on what you want. What makes you happy? And what will not only motivate you but also give you the discipline to persevere in the face of life’s ups and downs or setbacks?
Fear is a Primordial Instinct.
Fear is a primal instinct that not only keeps us alive in dangerous situations, but it can also motivate us to take action. Fear comes in many forms: fear of success, failure, the unknown, disease, rejection, ridicule, and so on. Fear, on the other hand, has the ability to paralyze and prevent forward movement. It is natural for us to retreat to our comfort zones in times of stress or when we are scared and unsure of what to do next.
The mind can exert a strong influence over our decisions, but it is critical to determine whether the fear is real or a fabricated event that appears real and to eliminate any doubt from the equation. Fear can be used as a motivator, but only if you decide to change the outcome. Take a moment to reframe how you want the outcome to be, then brainstorm possible solutions.
Here are ten motivational strategies that I’ve used to encourage forward progress, especially after the excitement wears off or when confronted with challenges and crippling fear.
The Exercise of the Circle of Life
The circle of life is a life-changing exercise developed by Joshua Rosenthal, founder and teacher at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, based on his concept of primary and secondary foods. Spirituality, Joy, Social Life, Relationships, Home Environment, Home Cooking, Physical Activity, Health, Education, Career, Finances, and Creativity are the 12 primary “foods” or areas that comprise our lives. The physical foods on your plate are considered secondary “foods.”
The circle assists you in identifying each area that is out of harmony and which currently provides the most joy. If any of the areas are out of balance, the foods you eat may be directly affected. When you feel good about the main foods in your life, you are more likely to make healthier choices or stick to a healthier routine.
Assume you’ve had a bad day at work. Instead of your planned gym session to blow off some steam, your friends invite you out for drinks. You politely accept, reasoning that it is a better option. One drink turns into two, and you’re now ordering a burger and fries to make yourself feel better. Unfortunately, the feeling is fleeting, and you soon feel remorse and frustration for deviating from your original plan.
Another example is the week’s lack of preparation. If you haven’t gone grocery shopping or planned your meals, you’re much more likely to eat take-out or convenience foods. When your primary “food,” Home Cooking, is out of balance, you will derail your home-cooked efforts by eating foods with lower nutritional value. If you want to lose weight but don’t prepare or plan ahead of time, excuses will take over and your motivation to make healthy choices will dwindle.
Go through the exercise to determine which areas bring you joy and which could benefit from an upgrade to bring you back into balance. It is important to remember that life will always have its ups and downs, but the important lesson is to learn, grow, and rewrite the old story. You are the creator of your own health.
Concentrate on Increasing Health
Our diet culture bombards us with deprivation messages, claiming that eliminating one food group after another is the “best” and “only” way to lose weight and be healthy. And we’ve been conditioned to believe that even the smallest indulgence will jeopardize our long-term efforts.
Instead of focusing on deprivation and guilt, concentrate on making healthier choices and adding health. Add something with the most nutritional value to every indulgence, such as cut-up fruit or vegetables for your next snack. If you sit all day, go for a walk or run around the block, or turn on some music and dance in your living room. Have you had a difficult day? Call a good friend and vent, or take 10 minutes to breathe or go to the gym.
When you add health, it becomes less about deprivation and more about selection. The foods you thought were forbidden, as well as the quantities you were consuming, become foods and quantities you no longer desire over time, with consistent effort. Your body is nourished, and it gravitates toward foods and activities that provide a greater sense of joy and satisfaction.
Consider Short-Term Gains
Would you like to write a book or run a marathon? If you are staring at an empty page or get winded just walking up a flight of stairs, the result can be intimidating and crippling. Concentrate on short-term victories. As a starting point, start with a word dump and a 10-minute walk.
Long-term goals are great for providing direction and purpose in your life, but they can also feel rigid and cause us to feel stressed and overwhelmed when we consider the process required to achieve them. Instead, concentrate on a single task or a daily goal. Celebrate when you achieve your goal. You will eventually reach the top, and there will be victories and lessons learned along the way.
Make a Promise to Yourself
“Commitment happens long after the time we’ve said it has passed,” Inky Johnson said. It takes discipline and consistency to commit to a healthy lifestyle. Make the decision that you are worth moving and feeling better in your body, and make a plan of action.
There will be setbacks, and you will not always feel like going to the gym or going over the menu before going out to eat. However, each small action step you commit to will have a cumulative effect, and over time, the seemingly impossible long-term goal will begin to feel second nature.
Take Yourself Off Autopilot
If our approach to living a healthy lifestyle is too rigid or requires a lot of deprivation, the excitement will fade and you’ll find yourself starting over every Monday. Break the cycle by introducing joy and inspiration into the healthy equation—try a new recipe, attend a dance class instead of your usual group exercise class, or walk or run a different route. Changing your routine and getting off autopilot will make you feel like you’re starting something new and exciting, which may be exactly what you need to stay motivated for the long haul.
Schedule a Rest Period
Rest is more than just getting more sleep. It is also resting from other areas of your life that cause stress and overwhelm, such as being on social media, sending emails right before bed, or working out seven days a week. Scheduled rest allows you to hit the refresh button, allowing you to return to each task with renewed vigor and clarity.
It can be difficult to become motivated if you live with a partner who isn’t motivated at all. If this is the case, surround yourself with like-minded people or hire a trained wellness professional to help you stay on track. Inform others about your ambition. The more you talk about it, the more excited you’ll become, and others will be there to hold you accountable.
When something better comes along, it is easy to give in. When you tell others about your goal or your plans to achieve it, the stakes are higher, and you don’t want to let them down.
Establish Healthy Boundaries
Saying “no” is difficult, especially when you feel a sense of overwhelming obligation and responsibility for everyone else’s well-being. Feeling overwhelmed can have a negative impact on your priorities. Take on only what you can control, and be sure to say “no” to things that don’t bring you joy or drain your energy. Putting yourself first is not selfish, and it does not imply “me first.” It means “me as well.”
Create a “To-Do” List.
That’s right, you read that correctly. A “to-do” list is one that you create of tasks that you will no longer do to help you stay more focused and clear on what is important to you. These items on the list will now be delegated or outsourced.
We frequently waste time on tasks that could be completed more quickly by someone with more experience or who enjoys performing. Make a “to-do” list and watch the stress go away.
Transform Your Negative Feelings and Actions Into Positive Feelings and Actions
When things aren’t going well, it’s reassuring to know that you can just go back to your old habits. But what if you reframed the thoughts in order to generate new positive behaviors that result in a different, more optimistic outcome?
When we are changing habits and creating a healthy lifestyle, setbacks are a normal part of the process. Instead of giving up, keep it simple and focus on small changes that will help you stick with it for the long term, not just the short term. Consider what caused the setback and prepare for a different outcome the next time life throws you a curveball.
When excitement and inspiration are at their zenith, motivation is all that is required to get you going. When it starts to wear off, other factors must come into play to provide a long-term solution. When you evaluate and learn from the factors that prevent you from moving forward on things you want, you will not only be motivated, but also committed to the outcome.
Have a plan, stick to it, and the rest will fall into place—focus on taking action today, not tomorrow, even if it is a small step. Remember, you said today yesterday.