Has your motivation disappeared along with the colder months and the new year’s resolutions? The top two resolutions on January 1st are………
(drum roll please)
Ok no drum roll as you can probably guess. Number 2, exercise more and number 1 eat better, according to a YouGov poll (2017). It is not really a surprise that our diet and exercise top the list. Now we have reached the spring, finally, how many of us have that resolution still going strong, and how many have let motivation slip?
Well if you are in a grand 8% of the country you will still be going strong, but if you are like the majority ‘quitters day’ hit a long, long time ago. The 12th January to be exact was the date most of us would have felt motivation to continue slipping away (Barr, 2018). The fateful day we reach for the takeaway food, alcohol and decide to sit still indoors in the warm, rather than move.
But…. all is not lost. If you think you have joined the land of ‘quitters’ don’t panic. There is a way to get yourself from ‘can’t be bothered’ to ‘loving it’ again.
Think about your exercise and eating habits and see where you fall on this scale of motivation….
Amotivation Extrinsic Intrinsic
Can’t be bothered forced to should / have to want to love it
(Deci and Ryan, 2000)
Now if you feel you can’t be bothered to eat well and
exercise you are probably in the Amotivation category. This is where you are not motivated to do things at all, possibly with feelings of incompetence and unable to
recognise the value of the activity. Now I am not saying that amotivation is all bad, we can sometimes not be motivated to do something for many reasons. For example, I once worked in a burger fast food restaurant and I’m a vegetarian. It didn’t really sit well with my values and I lasted all of two days in the job. While I was there I was miserable and couldn’t wait to get out. I certainly couldn’t be bothered with that job.
My career changes are not the same as eating well and exercising, but my point is the same. I am not here to tell you how or what to eat or when to exercise. This is about the motivation behind it and how to stay motivated to achieve what you want. It can be applied to any area of life.
If you have been forced to take up a gym routine, maybe by a well-meaning partner, or you feel you must go running because of the money all your new fitness gear cost (looking fabulous by the way) you may have moved into extrinsic motivation. This is
an interesting one as we often have extrinsic motivators for lots of things. We work because we want money, we exercise because we want to look like the hottest person in the world, we behave in a socially acceptable way to achieve a good social status. Extrinsic motivators can keep us going for a long time. Things like money or a tasty treat after a hard workout are positive reinforcers. You do the desired behaviour you get a treat. A great book on this type of behavioural change is ‘Don’t shoot the dog’ by Karen Pryor. Have a read to learn more in-depth ways of reinforcing your own behaviour with meaningful rewards at the right time.
Are you loving the exercise and healthy eating? Then you have probably achieved intrinsic motivation status. When we are motivated to do something intrinsically we do so because we want to, it’s fun and gives us self-worth. Examples of intrinsic motivation are often careers we would describe as vocations where you may not be payed as much as another line of work, yet you do it anyway, nurses spring to mind. Voluntary work is usually intrinsic as the reward is a nice feeling inside rather than money. If you are
intrinsically motivated research shows you will have greater wellbeing and this leads to flourishing in life (Deci & Ryan, 2000). We then perform more effectively, engage and show more interest in the task, benefit from improved relationships, creativity and confidence.
So, how do we get from amotivation, to intrinsic? Research indicates that we need three ingredients (Deci & Ryan, 2000).
Autonomy means we have a real choice available to us. Therefore, we lose motivation quickly if someone else chooses our activity or goal. So, if your well-meaning partner is pushing you to attend the gym the motivation to do so may not last too long because it is not your choice. So, choose the exercise you feel like doing and the food you want to eat, then there is no guilt or craving involved.
Relatedness is social connection. We need to feel connected to others. This could be friendly faces down the gym or a friend to go for a walk with or try joining an online support group. If you have a supportive and welcoming environment and the connection that comes with it, you will more likely stay motivated.
Competence is all about how much skill we have for the task. If you are asked to run a marathon after not exercising for a year the skill and challenge level will be very uneven. You need to choose an activity you feel competent at. You can then increase the challenge as you become more competent. It is very demotivating feeling useless at a task. If you feel that it is achievable then motivation stays higher.
It is important to get all three of these ingredients to achieve intrinsic motivation. You will then feel better, stick to your goals and flourish. Remember if you want to move from ‘can’t be bothered’ to ‘loving it’ then choose your goal, find social connection with others and pick a challenge that meets your level of skill. Importantly, don’t forget to revisit the competence factor as you will need to increase the challenge as your skills grow.
Enjoy your new-found motivation.
For an enjoyable book on the subject to motivation try Drive by Daniel Pink (2010)