In Part 3, the last in this series, learn how to tap into your unique drivers—what motivates you, what you enjoy—and discover how to connect fitness and weight loss to your interests and values for long-term success.
So let’s get started.
The Foundational Why
Tapping into your intrinsic motivation and inner drive begins with what I call the foundational why.
The foundational why refers to finding out how to make your desire to lose weight and get in shape into a journey that is valuable and positive rather than just being about weight loss or looking good for the summer. This simple yet powerful question is necessary for any weight loss or fitness program to be successful.
Start by sitting down with paper and pencil and write down why you want to lose weight or get in shape. Write down every reason that you can think of.
After you have gotten all of your thoughts down, go over your responses.
What are the reasons? Do they come from outside yourself or from within? If they come from within, how much are they integrated with your sense of self?
For example, let’s say one of your responses is similar to one of the following:
- Because I should
- Because I am ashamed of my weight
- Because I want to look good for summer
If any of these sounds close to your answers, it means that you are working from extrinsic motivation.
Is Extrinsic Motivation Bad?
So the simple answer is yes and no. The more complicated answer is that, yes, extrinsic motivation is poor in the long run, but many studies have shown that it is actually quite common to see at the start of a weight-loss journey.
In one study conducted in England on 425 government employees, researchers found that extrinsic motives such as appearance and weight management dominated in the early stages while reasons related to intrinsic motivation such as for enjoyment or revitalization were stronger in the maintenance stage.
Studies such as this show that external or introjected motivation can produce results but only in the short term, and as we know, weight-loss is a long term problem.
It’s okay to have extrinsic motivation as long as you are not operating only on extrinsic motivation.
Finding Your Intrinsic Motivation
Since you need intrinsic motivation for long-term success, what type of answers might one be looking for when assessing their foundational why?
Answers that represent intrinsic motivation would be responses that are connected to who you are as an individual, with what you value or enjoy doing. You may be the type of person who loves adventure, or maybe social comradery is important to you. Perhaps you value activities that connect with your spiritual side.
You might have a good sense of what makes you happy in life and what is most important to you. Or maybe you have an idea but you’re not sure how to apply this to weight loss or fitness.
If so, I recommend doing this one exercise to help you think about what’s really important to you and what your unique drivers are. It’s called the You at Your Best Exercise.
You at Your Best Exercise
Think of a time where you felt you were at your personal best. What were you doing? Who were you with?
This event is like a snapshot of you in your finest hour and something that you feel most proud of. It could be a really big action or it could be a small action but it exemplifies you and your character.
Write down this event in detail and then go over it. What does this event say about what you value in life, about what individual strengths you already possess, about what you enjoy doing just for the sake of doing it.
- Why did you choose this event?
- Why is it meaningful to you?
- What does it symbolize or represent?
The You at Your Best Exercise will help you connect improving your health to things that you really care about, to things that mean something to you, by showing you what your personal drivers are.
For example, perhaps this exercise reveals that you are someone for whom family is really important. In which case, think of your foundational why in terms of your loved ones or connect them with your health goals. It could be exercising with your partner, or perhaps going on walks with your parents.
It may reveal that you get energy from your sense of ambition. In which case, setting ambitious goals is something that you value and drives you to succeed. Maybe then sign up for an upcoming marathon?
Perhaps it reveals that when you are at your best you are using your humor and sense of play. If so, consider how to tap into that energy when deciding what fitness classes or activities to join. For some people, the addition of wearing silly socks to the gym can change their attitude to working out.
The idea behind this exercise is to understand what naturally interests you in order to draw upon that to create lifestyle changes that you will enjoy.
The Fun Factor
A study from Cornell University shows how when exercise is fun, an interesting positive side effect emerges. That is, we end up improving our eating behavior as a result.
When we think of exercise as exercise, we think of it as work, and so with work we operate on extrinsic motivation and need a reward.
Since we need a reward, what usually happens is that when choosing what to eat after exercising, we often choose the more indulgent option. This is called the licensing effect in psychology.
But what happens if we think of physical activity as fun and not just exercise?
In this situation we are using intrinsic motivation since the activity is enjoyable for its own sake.
The result is that we don’t need an external reward; the physical activity is reward enough. So, when it comes time to eat, we end up choosing healthier options.
By obeying the fun rule, you end up drawing upon intrinsic motivation. This helps you succeed not only by reinforcing the action next time, but also by ensuring that our other health choices support our decision to lose weight and exercise.
So if you are thinking about losing weight or getting in shape, hopefully this article has encouraged you to not just google the latest diet or fitness program but to pause and consider the internal strategies–your personal sources of motivation—that can really make the difference between yo-yo dieting versus making lifestyle changes.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Don’t forget that this is really all about you and not about the diet or program. So remember:
- Do this for yourself
- You are the expert of your life
- You have all the tools to succeed
- You choose what is right for you
- Have fun
- Be you
Adoree Durayappah-Harrison, M.Div., M.A.P.P., M.B.A., is a writer on health and psychological well-being. Learn more at AdoreeDurayappah.com.