Where art thou motivation? (how to get off your ass)

We all are. Even if you don't know it. (shirt from zazzle.com)

As emails have begun coming in with topic suggestions, a few themes are becoming visible. First up: motivation.

If you are having a hard time getting started on a workout program, a healthier diet, or simply in making progress toward any goal check out the different types of motivation ruts and ways to stir up some action below.

The curse of the can’t get started

What is motivation anyway? I believe, strongly, that motivation is a product of action and not the other way around.

Did you ever notice that when your schedule is wide open, you get nothing done. Why is that? It might be because you think, “hey, I have tons of free time, so  I will just relax for a while”. In other words, you sit around and rely on the mood to strike you to get up and be productive.

Conversely, during those times when you have several appointments or deadlines, or a long to-do list, you seem to manage to get your dishes done too and you make it to the gym for a class or to lift weights. In other words, you already up and moving so you might as well keep going. Behavior is like dominoes.

Does that sounds familiar to you?

Given the example above, you remain inactive until something makes you take action.

Enter: Behavioral momentum , you probably have a good sense of what it is just by its name. It’s not much different from its physics counterpart. Something in motion stays in motion until something stops it. Behavioral momentum is also a technique used by behavior analysts, teachers, coaches, and parents. You’ve probably employed it yourself without even knowing it. When someone is noncompliant, you ask them to do something that you are sure they will do, you repeat this a few times and then ask them to do what you really wanted them to do in the first place, and chances are they do! (for my behaviorist readers. Yes: Hi-P, Low-P)

Remember tired old sitcom bit of two people fighting? One says “yes” and the other says “no”, they do this rapidly back and forth until the first switches what they say to “no” and in response the other person says “yes”, to which person one inevitably shrieks “ha!” and the duped one says “heeeey! you tricked me!” — I think it is fair to consider this behavioral momentum.

Need a starting point? Do you have between 10 and 30 minutes right now? Try one of my minimalist workouts and see if it gets you motivated to do more!

Perhaps you notice something is missing from this section so far: you ARE really busy, and you can’t seem to get started toward your health, fitness, and personal goals. Well sure, we’ve all been there. You’re in a routine, and it seems like there is no time for anything else to be added. Or you are too tired to add more (we’ll address this topic in a future post). Remember the second part of the definition of “momentum”: an object will stay in motion until something gets in the way (yes, I can rephrase laws of physics).

Interrupt your routine. Make it small and enjoyable and you’ll likely find that the time and energy is there. Want to start going to the gym after work? Have a friend meet you there, not just any friend, a friend who you really enjoy being around, one that you laugh with, one that you have wanted to catch up with for a while. Set the duration of your workout short, just 15mins to start.

Momentus Interruptus

You were doing really well, you were making progress and feeling great. Then you went on vacation, or got sick, or got bored with your workouts or recipes or piano sonatas. Or perhaps you feel as though you aren’t making progress or enough progress an give up.

Now you want back in, but you feel stuck. You lack the motivation. If you were keeping a training log/journal, or were charting your progress or routines, then the solution is right there! Take a look at those records, be your own inspiration. Very often people are making progress but haven’t revisited their goals is so long that they don’t even notice how far they have come.

Here is an example I came across this week. A girl wrote into Oxygen Magazine, she said they were “frauds” and that she was going to burn her clean eating book and all their magazines because in the past 11 months she has lost only 84 pounds. I don’t know about you, but I think that kind of progress is amazing, and moreover, it is proof that what she is doing is working! I also understand her frustration, based on other information she provided she still has a way to go to reach her final goal, and is disappointment by some of the unintended side-effects of weight loss (i.e. the routine, loose skin).

If you have your training records, or are working on a project (like a quilt, or writing), and your interruption has been brief, look at where you fell off pace and see if you can achieve a level just below that today, and just keep going.

If you don’t have records, no worries, be your own competition. Challenge yourself to start today, and whatever you do, do more tomorrow, and more than that the next day. Set a few milestones and when you achieve them reap a reward!

If you are tired of the gym, not making the progress you want, or your training (or work toward some other personal goal) was interrupted, make some smaller goals and get some momentum back (yup, back to the dominoes). Start really small, and reward yourself! As you accomplish small goals, move on to bigger or longer term goals. Repeat each goal as many times as you need to, and don’t punish yourself for backsliding, it’s OK to move back from step 4 to step 1 if that’s what keeps you moving.

Here is an example of a hierarchy of my personal workout goals (and reinforcers) when I was recently having a visit from Captain Colitis, which typically lasts between 48hrs and 2 weeks.

  1. Focus on each minute of a workout class (mini-mini goals), tell the instructor I might leave early. (watch 1 hr of junk on my DVR, guilt free)
  2. Workout at 75% for 20 mins (= eat something awesome)
  3. Complete 8 high intensity intervals within a 45-60min cardio workout (= usually I feel so good I don’t need a contrived reinforcer)
  4. Complete a personal strength workout after a spin class (where I am the instructor) (=Staaaaaarbucks coffee)
  5. Complete 2-4 strength sessions in one week (= buy a new fitness magazine)
  6. Stay on track for a month (= buy an item at Lululemon, or register for a road race)

My priority list gets stuck on repeat at number 3!

If this describes you, then you may fall into the “I am so busy, I have no time to exercise/cook/shop healthy/practice my violin/weed my garden…” When your commitments do not allow you the time to take care of yourself, this may be a case of altered reality.

If you like lists like I do you probably have tried to come up with “priotirites” You know, like:

  1. family
  2. work
  3. workout every day
  4. friends
  5. practice guitar (or whatever)
  6. etc….

Here is the problem with a list like this, it is not realistic! At 2pm, when you have a 4pm presentation deadline set by your boss, your number one priority is probably not your kids….and that is OK, stop worrying about them and focus 100% on that presentation!

If one of your top priorities is to run 5 miles everyday, but you have been working overtime, have a cold, and have no healthy food in the house, it is totally acceptable to slide food shopping and a nap into the number 1 or 2 priority slot.

Here is a suggestion on how to do that: write a list of your 5, 10, or 15 priorities. Cut then out (strips). Then, each night before bed, lay then out in the order that is appropriate for the next day. Don’t be afraid to re-prioritize once the day gets going!

Be realistic and focus on what you are doing. I am not a fan of multitasking, for me, I know it slows me down and I get nothing completed. If I make a list of priorities based on that day, how I feel, and what my commitments are, then focus on one thing at a time, I get a lot more done!

There are certainly more motivation road blocks to cover. I think I will give procrastination it’s one post :). So please, comment, email me (annabellewinters@me.com), and let me know: what do you do to stay motivated? What inspires you do set goals and go after them?

Go on – get focused!



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