We all know diets work. Every book, article, regimen, fitness plan, you name it works as long as you actually do it. Getting the motivation to follow through is arguably the most important part of losing weight. The information will always be there, but the motivation....that's the elusive piece of the puzzle, the thing that everyone wants and few of us have. How do you get the motivation to get started, stay on track, and most importantly, to get where you want to go?
How To Get To The Core Of Weight Loss Motivation
We get emails from people in everyday sharing their frustrations and challenges with weight loss. About 60% of them say they lack the motivation to stick with their weight loss program. They report that they do well for awhile and lose some weight, but inevitably fall off track- whether due to a loss of focus or some other kind of self-sabotage.
As a Personal Development Coach specializing in weight loss, and who was originally trained as a psychotherapist, it's very easy for me to give them advice, but as I sat down to write this article, I thought it might be nice to really start at the most basic, fundamental level of understanding motivation, and to then work up from there.
So armed with my trusty Mozilla Firefox I did a quick Google search for a basic definition of the word. Here is the first thing that Google gave me to consider (it came from an online dictionary associated with Princeton University):
"the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal; the reason for the action; that which gives purpose and the condition of being motivated."
So let's pull some key words from that definition and see if we can come up with a useful way to apply the concept to weight loss.
Action Toward a Desired Goal:
Taking action here implies that there is a desired goal in place, so the first thing that you must be absolutely clear on is 'what is your goal?'
The challenge here is that it's usually not sufficient to just come up with a number. 20 pounds or 30 pounds isn't going to cut it. You've known that for perhaps years, and telling yourself "I need to lose 20 pounds" over and over again hasn't gotten the job done. Just having a number in mind is not provocative enough of a goal.
So consider: the better question to ask is, "Why do you really want to lose weight"? At first glance, this may sound like an obvious question, but if you're struggling with your weight, you need to ask yourself this question again and again until you have a very clear answer.
Why are you looking to lose weight?
To feel more confident to start dating again?
To get into your favorite pair of jeans?
To feel sexy for your husband or wife?
To look good at your upcoming high school reunion?
Because the doctor told you you're pre-diabetic but that there is still a chance to turn it around?
Because you're sick and tired of feeling sick and tired?
You have to become crystal clear on your "Why". This is the first step in establishing a goal.
Now let's look at the first half of that equation, the part about 'taking action'. When you get clear and write it down, how motivated to take action are you? Do you feel your emotions stirring? Are you feeling the pull to get off the couch? Are you feeling the readiness to break your bad habits and make changes to your diet?
If you're not, then you probably need to do some more work on your "Why", because your "Why" is the foundation of your motivation.
Here is a hint: some people are more naturally motivated towards pleasure (the thought of looking great in a summer dress, meeting a guy/girl, running a 10K), while others are more motivated away from pain (being single forever, having to start taking insulin, having to see their high school friends while being heavy).
The trick is to find out which one- "Towards Pleasure" or "Away From Pain"- is more compelling to you in terms of your weight loss, and to focus on that. Write down all the reasons that cause you to begin to stir and want to take action. This is just for you, so be bold and write everything down, even if it's very personal. This is a very important step that cannot be overlooked.
That Which Gives Purpose
Building on your "Why", what is your deeper purpose behind losing weight? How will your life be better if you lose the weight?
Create a compelling picture for yourself that is rich in detail of how your life will be better.
What will you be doing?
Who will you be doing it with?
Where will you be?
Will the motivation to exercise come naturally?
How will you feel when you're there?
What clothes will you be wearing- or not wearing ; ) ?
In case you didn't notice, all of the above examples were written in "Towards Pleasure" language. But maybe you'll find that doesn't work so well for you- maybe it doesn't quite give you a sense of purpose.
If not, how about if you change the wording around a bit? Remember, some people are more motivated "Away From Pain". If this is you, you'll be more stirred by this question: "So if you don't lose the weight, or if it continues to get worse and worse, how unhappy and miserable will you be?"
Similarly, you may want to create a compelling negative picture for yourself.
If you don't lose the weight, what are you going to miss out on?
What opportunities will you lose out on? Maybe the ability to enjoy healthy time with your family late into your life? Or maybe it'll mean you continue to go out to go to restaurants and take vacations by yourself.
How will your health deteriorate if you don't lose weight?
What does the hospital room look like where you'll have to go for dialysis treatments?
So create a compelling picture for how your life is going to be better if you lose the weight, or worse if you don't. Cultivate this picture until it gives you a clear sense of purpose. When that purpose is there, you will be much close to taking the necessary action.
Remember, that while uncovering your "Why" and the deeper purpose that motivates you is a first step that cannot be skipped over, we all get busy and stressed, and it's very easy to lose our focus. At least until you build some positive, forward momentum and get comfortable with your new habits and behaviors, you may have to remind yourself of your "Why" and your deeper purpose again and again every day.
Write down your answers on an index card and put in by your bed stand or tape it to the bathroom mirror. Every morning and every night remind yourself why you really want to lose weight. Remind yourself why you need to begin taking action today, what the payoff will be if you do, and what the cost will be if you don't.
This is not the only step on the journey, of course, but it is an important one that you have to master early on. Getting the right support in place is also extremely important, as is learning how to handle the stress and challenges of daily life in a healthy, constructive way that doesn't cause you to abandon your weight loss efforts or turn to food for emotional comfort.
Some Simple Eating Adjustments That Will Boost Your Motivation
One very important thing we have observed at PEERtrainer over the years is the difficulty people have sticking to plans where they have to track every detail of their eating. Or where they have to stick to a very strict nutritional regimen that some nutritional guru has convincingly laid out for them. The problem isn't that these plans work. They often work incredibly well. The issue arises when one inevitably falls off track.
Often what happens when people fall off track, is that they either beat themselves up or they just say "screw it" and accelerate their downward spiral. The issue here is simply one of "expectation." Their plan is expecting too much of them. If this pattern sounds familiar, you will want to check out a new and free tool called the "PEERtrainer Cheat System" that you can quickly learn and start to use.
If you are the kind of person who is used to counting calories or points or whatever, this system will be a relief to you. On the other hand, if you have bought into the idea that if you eat "healthy" you can eat whatever you want, then you might have an adjustment period ahead. Often we see people who are in this "I can eat all the healthy food I want" mode are shocked when they have to start being a little more accountable. But then they start to lose!
A Highly Important Shift In How You Think About Exercise That Will Boost Your Motivation
When you start to eat a diet high in "nutrients and forgiveness" (as explained in the PEERtrainer Cheat System) you'll find that you have more confidence. Which is highly motivating. This is a critical shift in cracking your motivation puzzle. The second shift that you must make is starting to move more slowly when you exercise. Unless you are already an athlete, you are likely to be in a mode where you feel guilty about all the exercise you aren't doing!
When you start to exercise more slowly, it becomes more doable and more enjoyable. In very simple terms, when you enjoy exercise, you'll be motivated to do more of it. If you approach exercise as a "I have to do 45 minutes of cardio and go ALL OUT!!" you are likely to do less of it. Additionally, there are some simple but powerful stretches that will quickly decrease your physical pain, and boost your motivation and enjoyment of exercise.
Overall, motivation is one of the most common questions that we get at PEERtrainer. Once you are ready and have a great set of reasons to lose weight at the top of your mind, you are ready for what we call "massive action combined with massive motivation." We have put together a free motivation program that helps keep you on track each day and also helps to build your readiness and help you develop your "whys".
The Truth As A Motivator
I would suggest that the most powerful motivator is the truth. What is your truth? And why are you hiding from it? This may be hard but spend a minute really thinking about this question....are you truthful with yourself? Do you take an assessment of your life and really know what's going on without sugar coating it or emphasizing the negative? Have you taken a picture of yourself and acknowledged, fully acknowledged that you don't look good - that you don't look healthy? Have you looked down at your midsection, when you're sitting down? How much of that bulge is bulging over? Forget about your looks for a second and spend a minute acknowledging the health consequences to your extra slice of pizza. Are you avoiding old friends or maybe your brother because you don't want to see the looks on their face in reaction to your weight gain? Do your helpful friends even make a comment here and there that would get you on track, but you ignore them? Do you say to yourself, "they're just jealous. They might be thin, but they're hungry and miserable. At least I'm full and happy". Maybe none of these questions resonate with you. But if you focus on the truth, you'll find the right question inside of yourself, the one that reflects the truth and the key to your motivation.
The Real Habits and Choices of Sustainable Motivation
Until you face the truth, until you face the total reality of your weight, your health and your life, you will not get the real, solid, win-the-race motivation you need. Sure, you might get the one or two day spurts of getting to the gym, or eating within your points, but you will not get what lies beneath....the real habits and choices of sustainable motivation.
Examine and Find Your Truth
When you are ready to begin to lose weight in earnest, group and peer support are the most highly proven methods for success. It is one thing to learn how to lose weight and eat more healthy, it is another thing to put this into practice on a consistent basis. Friends and family are of limited use because there is only so much burden they can bear. Getting the support of an anonymous group of people each day can make the critical difference. Self-monitoring is the other method, backed by volumes of research, that is highly correlated with weight loss success. You keep a log of your food, exercise, goals and thoughts. When you do this each day it keeps you accountable to yourself, and brings this aspect of your life to the top of your mental agenda. When you are writing each day, you are thinking about the things you write about. This begins to change how you think and facilitates better decision making. When you make better decisions, and have a broad support network, you are very likely to lose weight for the long term. When you do both these things, the odds of success increase dramatically.
A free, online resource that facilities both social support and self-monitoring in an easy to use (and anonymous format) is PEERtrainer. You sign up, start or join small groups and teams. You log your food each day, and the others in your group see your log and provide support, motivation and accountability each day. It is like a virtual support group available on the internet whenever you need it. It is highly effective and has been featured in The New York Times, Fitness Magazine, Women's World, Business Week, ABC News, CNET, Fast Company...
Diets That Work
You have heard over and over that diets don't work. The traditional American idea of dieting is "portion control" or reducing your caloric intake. These approaches fail because you are only reducing portions of unhealthy and fatty foods. There are new diet approaches out there that seek to fundamentally change what you eat. These diets slash the amounts of saturated fats and sugar that you eat and radically increase the amount of plant-based foods. The Fat Smash Diet (by Dr Ian Smith) is one such popular approach, and Eat to Live by Dr Joel Fuhrman is another. These approaches are not about lowering carbs, or getting more protein or counting Weight Watcher points. They about fundamentally restructuring your eating habits. When you reorder your diet to eliminate processed foods, slash dairy and meat consumption and increase your intake of fruit, vegetables, beans, rice- you will lose weight and reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other diseases. Improper nutrition is at the root of most diseases. Animal based foods contain cholesterol and boost the levels in your body. Plants do not contain any, and help reduce levels in your body. As blood cholesterol levels decrease, cancers of the liver, rectum, colon, male lung, female lung, breast, childhood leukemia, adult leukemia, childhood brain, stomach and esophagus levels will decrease. The more you reduce meat, dairy and processed foods in your diets, the healthier you will be.