“How can I get more motivation?” It’s a question we hear from others and often find ourselves asking when it comes to health, nutrition, and fitness goals. We feel like if we just had more motivation, everything would be so much easier!
We like motivation because it feels good. It is true, motivation is a useful tool, however, we cannot rely on it solely over the long-term. What success ultimately boils down to is staying consistent in our progress toward our goals—even when we don't necessarily feel like it.
It requires doing a little mindset work and a commitment to long term behavior change, but there are ways to stay consistent with healthy habits even during the times when motivation is low. As long as you are willing to take the long term approach, that is good news. So with this in mind, here are 7 ideas for staying on course for your goals, even when you find your motivation to be wearing thin!
1. Have A Plan
Nothing derails your goals faster than not being prepared. Spend a little bit of time planning out your meals and workouts for the week. Make sure you include foods you actually enjoy eating and look forward to. As evidenced by the recipes found on Dashing Dish, eating healthy does not require deprivation!! When you have meals that you enjoy planned and prepared and when you know which workout you’ll be doing for the day, it will be easier to stay on track. I know that I’m less likely to deviate from my good choices when the healthy ones are prepped and available. I hate for food to go to waste, so this is another way that meal prepping helps to keep me accountable with healthy eating.
It’s easier for me to get going with my workout when I know what I’m doing in advance. I get more excited about my workout when I know which exercises I am doing and imagine myself killing it the next day! I also get my workout clothes ready and laid out for my workout the night before. It may seem simple, but depending on what workout I have planned, I may need different equipment, accessories, or shoes. I get super stressed about not having what I need if I am looking for it at the last minute. I don't want to spend valuable workout time digging through my gym bag for my iPod band when I am ready to go for a run, or rummaging through clothing drawers for something appropriate to wear to the gym when I am ready to walk out the door! You'll find that you'll be less likely to bail on your plans if you remove any barrier to getting going.
It can also be helpful to plan ahead for unforeseen problems that could throw you off track. Even when you are perfectly prepared, something is bound to happen every now and then. Maybe you can't follow through on your initial plan or what you feel like is the best possible choice, but what can you do instead? What is the next best thing? Practice finding solutions for "if-then" scenarios.
If my planned exercise class gets cancelled, then I will do a circuit workout on gym equipment instead.
If I have to eat out at a restaurant that I didn't choose, then I will order a big salad with lean protein and light dressing on the side or lean protein and some grilled or steamed veggies.
If it rains and I can't go for a run outdoors, then I will do a bodyweight HIIT workout inside.
It helps to run through situations you think could come up and decide in advance what action you will take. That way, you won't be using the unforeseen event as justification to deviate from your plan. Note that these situations are different from a predetermined deviation from your plan. Everyone needs occasional splurges without any guilt, routine rest days to recover, etc. The difference is that they are deliberately and intentionally built into your plan and help to keep you on track.
2. Just Take Action
Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Taking action, regardless of how you feel (i.e. even if motivation isn't there) always puts you back in a place of power and feeling empowered. Bonus—it almost always produces motivation in the process! That bit of motivation acts like a battery charge which provides that temporary boost of positive emotion we enjoy. But remember that action still comes before the emotion.
To begin, it helps to start with finding your "why" and work backwards until you reach a place where you can take action. Usually the most compelling "why" will be something of intrinsic value (like feeling better, having more energy, getting a happiness boost, and so on), rather than an external one (like losing weight, "fixing" a trouble spot, etc.) and one which continues long term (versus one which has and end date or clear finish line).
So for example:
I eat mostly healthy foods because I know I will have more energy for my workout and will physically feel better afterword than if I made less healthy choices.
I stay consistent with workouts because I enjoy the mood boost, the mental stimulation and new ideas I get while moving my body, and because I know my energy will be better during the rest of my day.
I make sure I get to bed by a certain time, because I know if I don't, my food choices, mood, and workout will suffer.
As you can see, once I have clear "whys," I know what actions I need to take to produce them and have compelling enough reason to follow through. Afterword, the benefits I get help to produce the motivation I need for the next task I face.
3. Create Momentum
What works better than motivation? Momentum! How do we achieve momentum? Habits! Habits form by repetition and consistency. Habits also help protect us from draining our willpower. When we have an automated routine, we don’t spend our mental energy on decision making. The more time spent on decisions, the more mentally drained we are as the day progresses. This leaves us more susceptible to ditch our healthy behaviors and turn to activities that provide comfort instead. The less time we spend making decisions, the less exhausted we are, and the more likely we will be to maintain good decision making when necessary at the end of the day. There is a real reason why making healthy choices is easier at the beginning of the day than the end! Fatigue itself will impair our decisions, but we also have a finite amount of willpower each day, and once it is exhausted (once the “willpower battery” is drained) it becomes very difficult to white knuckle our way through healthy choices. Habits help keep us going without relying willpower. That in turn helps create momentum which carries us further toward our goals without expending additional energy.
4. Connect Healthy Behaviors To Your Identity
Anything that we repeat often enough eventually starts to become associated with who we are (it becomes part of our identity). Most of us have an idea of what our core values are. If not, I encourage you to take some time to consider what your core values are. Make sure to write them down, not just think about them. Creating a list is important for several reasons. First, you'll have it to refer back to later on. You can edit it as time goes on and as you learn and grow. Writing them out also helps to bring clarity of purpose and deepens your connection of your values with your identity. Many people choose to place the list in a location that they see daily as a reminder.
Most of us understand the importance of running big decisions through the filter of our core values, but not all of us use our core values as a way to filter our decisions when it comes to our health. This can be a very useful tool in maintaining consistency when it comes to your health and goal setting. It is easier to align what you do (your behaviors), with a set of values. Bottom line: decide what health values you hold and get intentional about finding a way to tie them to your core values through behaviors you can practice routinely. As a result of linking your goal to your identity, it becomes less of a chore to act in alignment with those behaviors.
5. Surround Yourself With Like-Minded People
We have all heard the quote from Jim Rohn that says "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." Be protective of who you allow to speak into your life in the areas of health. Be intentional about creating healthy relationships that challenge you to grow in the area of health, much in the same way you choose relationships that challenge you to grow spiritually, intellectually, and so on.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
Do not be deceived: bad companionships corrupt good habits. 1 Corinthians 15:33
I realize that not everyone has a strong support system in this area. To start with, you may have to reach beyond your direct family and friends.
Here are some ideas:
Are you a member of the Dashing Dish Members Facebook Group? If so, do you check in routinely? This is a valuable resource for you and I highly recommend you get plugged in if you aren't already! I can't tell you how many times I have seen others post photos of the Dashing Dish recipes that I haven't tried yet, or of some I love and have forgotten about. It gives me fresh perspective and renewed inspiration, especially when I am meal planning for the week. There are also lots of new helpful meal prep tips, workout ideas, product recommendations, and more every time I jump online and look!
Many churches have small groups that meet to bond around a common theme. Consider starting one for healthy habit support if there isn't one already available.
Do you routinely go to an exercise class where you could look for others around your same age? Break the ice and get to know some people! If you know you'll be able to chat with someone every time you go, you'll look forward to your class even more.
One important piece of advice with regard to these relationships is to make sure that they motivate you positively, not negatively. What I mean is that you want to avoid the comparison trap. This can be especially easy to fall into when we look online for inspiration. When we don't know someone's whole story and only see pieces of the complete picture, we get a distorted view of things—and often of ourselves as a result. Pay close attention to the social media accounts that you follow for motivation. Do you feel better about yourself and your goals after scrolling through a certain feed? If not, it may be time to unfollow and stick to those which encourage you from a perspective that aligns with the truth of God's Word.
Know what method of accountability works best for you. Are you the type of person who can set your own expectations and meet them, or do you need someone else to hold you accountable for follow through on taking steps toward meeting your goals? Some people find it very easy to follow through on their own, and may even become less motivated if they feel like someone is pestering them by checking in. Other people can never seem to follow though if their only responsibility is to themselves. They do better to know that their actions matter to another person and get highly motivated by not wanting to let someone else down.
A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12
If you find external accountability to be beneficial, find a few people that will hold you accountable in the way that you need them to. Be clear about what you need from them. Do you need one person to help you with your nutrition goals and another with exercise? How often do you need them to check in on you and what things are you needing them to ask you about? Will they be meeting you for workouts or just getting a report of your follow through on going to the gym? Think about things like how close you need them to be without it being imposing. Is your spouse or roommate a good person to ask for help with nutrition accountability? For some, their presence may help you to keep on plan. Others may feel like every choice they make is being judged. In the case of the latter, you would want to choose someone who you can speak with at designated times, but who won't be around to monitor everything you do.
7. Habit Pairing
Until you get in the habit of a new or healthy behavior, it can be beneficial to use a strategy called habit pairing or habit bundling. The idea is to take one activity you already practice routinely and/or an activity that you enjoy and pair it with another activity that you either can't get into the habit of sticking with and frequently forget, or one that you don't do regularly because you don't enjoy it. You build and strtengthen the lagging habit by always performing it with the stronger habit.
So for example:
A while back, I was trying to get into the habit of oil pulling for health benefits, but I could never remember to do it every day. By the time I remembered it was usually not convenient to do it since it takes 15-20 minutes. Eventually, I came up with the idea to pair the habit with my morning coffee and Bible reading routine. I set my jar of coconut oil on my nightstand. When I get up on the morning, I always have the same routine: I make coffee and drink it while read my Bible and pray. I usually finish the coffee well ahead of finishing my quiet time, so I set my coffee cup on the nightstand until I'm done, then take it to the kitchen later. When I started keeping the jar of coconut oil on my nightstand, I would see it as I set my coffee cup down, and it reminded me to start the 15 minute oil pulling routine, which was perfect because it was usually about what I had left to finish my quite time!
Other examples are listening to a favorite podcast or audio book only while you work out, talking to a friend or family member on speaker phone while you prep your meals, stretching while watching TV, practicing relaxing breathing for stress relief while commuting, making your favorite smoothie after a workout, going for a longer walk when your dog needs to go out to the bathroom, and so on.
To get started, grab some paper and a pencil. Draw a line down the middle of the paper so that there are two columns. Spend a few minutes and brainstorm some habits that you have well set routines for. Make a list of these in the first column on the paper. Now, think about some things you'd like to work on adding to your routine and write that list in the second column of your paper. Can you find any that make sense to pair together? That is where you will want to start. If you come up with some specific ideas that may help others, please comment and tell us below!
Hopefully at least a few of these strategies provided some practical and actionable ideas that you can implement. My prayer is that they will help strengthen your journey toward your health goals. If you have any other thoughts or ideas, please share those here or on the Dashing Dish Facebook group!