We often view it as a character flaw if we don’t feel fired up to make a change: like there’s something wrong with our internal compass towards our desires, and we need others to show us the way. Typically in fitness, so-called attempts at giving motivation usually take the form of people with “better bodies” than us showing us how awesome they look feeding into their narcissism with 20 selfies a day with hashtags like “#FitnessIsALifestyle”.
This type of stimulus often has the opposite effect, however. It can make us feel further from our goals.
It also fails to address the real problem most of the time. You probably already have the desire to achieve your goal – you just can’t get yourself to take the NEXT step. If you’re asking how to get motivated to lose weight, you already are motivated to lose weight. People who don’t want to lose weight don’t ask about how to get motivated to lose weight!
The real problem here isn’t motivation – but confidence. And what is holding back confidence? A feeling of overwhelm. Overwhelm = stagnation.
If your motivation is a “9” but the obstacle you perceive in front of you is a “10”, then you’re going to be a train stuck on the tracks. While you could say the motivation isn’t high enough, what’s really going on is that the motivation simply has a road block that needs to be removed.
Here’s a little parable – yes, I promise I’ll bring it back to you:
I try to read a lot so I can advance my knowledge and skills in my field. In the fall of 2014, I was hauling serious ass putting in time for education – some weeks with over 10 hours. But the end of the year came and winter reared its ugly head (other ‘SAD’ people know what I’m talking about here…), what I was able to do previously became overwhelming. What was “maybe as high as 10 hours a week” divided into many blocks of 20-25 minutes became “lucky if it’s not under 2 hours”.
So why was my “motivation” gone? And how could I get it back? It was gone because I wasn’t confident in my ability to achieve my short term tasks – both in terms of the hours per week, but also in the minutes per block of reading. So I asked myself – what would I have a client of mine do if they were having struggles with their exercise program or their nutrition like I’m having with my reading?
Then the solution became a bit more obvious: 1) Shrink the challenge to become ridiculously easy, and 2) largely as a side effect of #1, create momentum.
Shrinking the challenge meant aiming for a target I am 90-100 percent sure I could accomplish. On a more ‘micro’ level, this means blocks of 5 minutes of reading at a time rather than 25. I don’t know what’s going to be happening 20 minutes from now, but right now I’m focused and know I can get in 5 minutes.
Creating the momentum was accomplished by watching these 5 minute blocks add up in a journal I keep. Not only with every block of reading have I done another 5 minutes, most importantly I can SEE that I’ve done the 5 minutes. Instead of being at “0%” for my goals for the week, I can see how all the 5 minute blocks have added up. I feel further along – I see my momentum. And I want to keep it going.
Our ability to feel motivated for the task immediately at hand is largely influenced by our own perception of our ability to do it. We’re more likely to bother trying the next step towards our goals if we’re confident that we can nail it.
On the other hand, the feeling of overwhelm creates stagnation. Setting the hard target of “6 hour-long workouts per week” is a great way to get 0 workouts in, unless you’ve nailed 4-5 already. And before that, 2-3.
So what are some ways that you can use the above process to help you get closer to your goals?
Step 1: Find what overwhelms you.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you feel you don’t have the motivation to try the task in front of you. Instead, the task just needs to be modified to be realistic to you. Identify the specific challenge that feels overwhelming.
Step 2: Shrink that challenge.
Maybe you said “working out for an hour 3 times a week” or “tracking calories at all my meals”. Okay – so there’s something in those tasks that you want to benefit from… what is a version of that task that you’re 90-100 % sure you can accomplish? 2 hour-long workouts? Working out for 30 minutes 3 times a week? 15 minutes 6 times a week? For our nutrition example, maybe tracking the calories for every breakfast? Weekday lunches? Dinner only on the nights where you get to leave work at 4pm rather than 5pm and you know you’ll be more focused?
Step 3: Create the momentum.
The experience and practice of the task you’re working on will create its own momentum. But are there any ways you can show yourself how far you’ve come? At some point you’re going to have a set back and will feel overwhelmed with how to get back in a routine – what’s your system for reminding yourself that you’re NOT starting from square one? You might create some type of list of every health and fitness behavior that you’ve had success with, like a check list for every time you’ve practiced a certain behavior, i.e. visits to the gym. Make it visually meaningful to YOU – so when you look at it you go “Holy shit! I’ve come pretty far already. Now I just need to take that next step.”
The sensation of being overwhelmed can create the perception that we “lack motivation” and that we need others to give us more inspiration. But more commonly, we just need to shrink the challenge, experience success, and reflect on how far we’ve already come. Overwhelm creates stagnation – and confidence is your best long term defense.
If you’re looking for a systematic non-diet approach towards your fat loss and health goals that won’t overwhelm you, check out the Habit Project ™
The Habit Project is a Registered Trademark of Sean Flanagan Fitness & Nutrition, Oakland CA 2016