What's the secret to weight loss motivation? Where does it come from, and why can it seemingly disappear in a flash, for no apparent reason?
Most of us embarking on this mission to improve our health and fitness have at some point experienced a jolt of motivation, a fire that has been lit under our butts, which propels us off the couch and into the gym/back-yard/park/whatever. I look on those moments with immense gratitude, because without them there's every chance nothing would have changed.
If you've yet to make that move for yourself, I wish I could tell you how to get the ball rolling, but I can't. Each and every person will have a different ‘propulsion' moment – your motivator will be something different depending on your lifestyle and circumstances. For me I still recall how incredibly ill I felt the morning after eating an entire tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, circa February 2012. Photos, a comment from a friend, facing an apparently easy physical task that suddenly proves impossible because you're so unfit all appear regularly in the anecdote file of what it was that first motivated someone to change their life.
As quickly as it comes, it can easily disappear, and that's the sad truth. Most of us have probably experienced this sudden disappearing act, and somewhat disheartened have turned to Google or books, for ‘list of ways to stay motivated', or ‘strategies to increase motivation', searching desperately for that ‘magic bullet' which will keep you away from the biscuit tin. Michelle Bridges, arguably Australia's most famous personal trainer, argues that this magic bullet doesn't exist. In an article in Mamamia she is very real about the fact that she doesn't particularly enjoy exercise. She doesn't wake up every morning pumped to go for a run or lift weights. The fist pumping enthusiasm is saved for the cameras, it seems. She says, you “just do it”, and stop searching for motivation. Exercise, and making healthy food choices, needs to be so ingrained in your lifestyle – just like cleaning your teeth or having a shower – that it becomes automatic. Don't think, just do.
I agree with Michelle to a large extent, however I argue that you can, and will enjoy exercise when you push yourself to get past the pain barrier. Exercise endorphins are powerful. They've kept me off the anti-depressants during periods in my life that might otherwise have overwhelmed me.
My tips for weight loss motivation
While I agree with Michelle's philosophy about needing to incorporate exercise into your daily routine as automatically as possible, on days when that isn't enough, some strategies that you might turn to for motivation include:
1. Ask yourself how you'll feel in an hour when the work is done. You never regret working out but almost always will regret NOT doing it.
2. Photos. Keep some handy, either of yourself in the ‘bad old days', before and after photos of other people who've had great success, or a photo of someone doing something that you'd like to be able to do, like rock-climbing or a chin-up or chasing their kid around a park. Whatever works. Vision boards, although the idea can sound a little trite, are powerful things.
3. Sometimes I describe myself to myself in the third person. “Gen is fit and strong. She lifts things and throws things and hikes for miles through mud. She can run and jump and skip”. Then I tell myself that even if I've only done one of those things once, I've done it, therefore it's already true. Live as though your vision is already true and your goal has already been reached.
4. Motivational sayings can work for some people. One of my favourites is “nothing tastes as good as being slim feels”. I think this may have been old Weight Watchers slogan (any copyright infringement here is purely accidental – *gulp*), but it works for me (sometimes). Even though chocolate cake can taste out-of-this-world amazing, walking down the street and feeling my flat, toned stomach under my shirt, is priceless. I often put my hand on my waist, just to marvel again at the fact that I HAVE a waist, when for so long this was merely a dream. To feel light, energetic, fit, strong, confident – these things are immeasurable.
And even more tips…
Speaking of measurement, two more suggestions include:
5. Take regular measurements. I advise waist and hips primarily for women. You can of course do upper arm, chest and thigh as well, but you'll likely put on muscle here and don't want to be discouraged. You can weigh yourself as well of course, but the scales fluctuate so much, and putting on muscle weight is normal, so again you don't want to give yourself any reason to feel discouraged. Measurements can be powerful. I've had weeks where it feels like a hopeless cause and I think I'll never get to where I want to be, only to get the tape measure out and see that despite feeling like I've made no progress, I've lost a centimetre off my waist (for example). Remember it's progress, not perfection that's key.
6. If motivation disappears for days or weeks at a time, maybe consider revisiting your goals. Look closely at them and make a hard-nosed decision about whether they're SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. If you've said “I want to have a hot body within a year”, is that a smart goal? Of course not. What is a ‘hot body' anyway? Why a year? How will you know when you're there? The sad truth is that most of us who've known what it's like to be overweight and unfit will have a permanently warped self-perception and may never truly believe that we're ‘there'. Instead you could say to yourself “I want to be able to do 10 real push-ups within 3 months” (by real I mean on your toes, not your knees, and chest as close to the ground as you can manage). The next goal then becomes I want to do 5 one-handed push-ups within 12 months. These are just examples of course, chosen because of my own personal obsession with the humble push-up!
If all else fails, you've tried every single motivational strategy in the book and still feel no more inspired, it's time for a holiday. Don't sit on your butt eating cake for a week, as I've been known to do, but take a good few days with mostly healthy food, as much incidental exercise as you can fit in, read all your favourite books and just relax. Know that you didn't become overweight and unfit overnight, and you won't then stack weight back on if you allow yourself a few days' break. There's every chance that you're physically and mentally exhausted, and the constant thinking and obsessing over your goals has done your head in for the time being. I know how that feels and have experienced it many times!! Try to trust yourself and your body that the seed of good habits has been well and truly planted, and a few days' break will be enough for that mysterious motivation to start to return. There's every chance you'll miss exercise, and I find that only a couple of days of eating the way I used to in the old days (big servings of carb-heavy food) sees me craving salad again. True story!