What makes up a healthy lifestyle? If striving to live a healthy lifestyle is a top priority, motivation is vital to making healthy lifestyle changes, but it may not be enough.
It’s 9:30 pm. Everything is ready for a 5 am wake-up call to hit the gym. The excitement and motivation are high, and waking up when it’s still dark seems like a piece of cake. Until the alarm goes off, then all the planning and motivation suddenly feels like a thing of the past. The second buzzer strikes, and there is no movement to get up and follow through on the plan. Staying underneath the warm blankets and laying comfortable in bed is more pleasurable than baring the cold and slothing through another 45 minutes on an elliptical. Sounds familiar?
Motivation Is Fleeting
Why is motivation so high during times of excitement but dwindles as the excitement wears off? Because motivation is a fleeting feeling and a short-lived intention, not a permanent solution to staying in action and maintaining sustainable health. We need the motivation to get us started and keep doing the vital things to live a life of joy and happiness, but it requires a deeper approach to keep us in action in the long run. I only realized this with my motivation and the countless clients I have worked with over the last 20 years.
After the excitement of what you want to accomplish or acquire wears off, other elements must come into play to encourage you to keep going no matter what. Otherwise, two main factors—life challenges and fear—will stop you dead in your tracks.
Life is full, so when challenged, it is easier to succumb to one excuse after another instead of leaning in and reminding yourself why it is crucial to keep going. The first step to keeping the excitement and motivation high is to get clear on what you want. What brings you joy? And what will not only motivate you but also give you the discipline to follow through regardless of life’s ups and downs or setbacks?
Fear Is a Primal Instinct
Fear is a primal instinct that not only keeps us alive in times of danger but can also motivate us to take action. There are many types of fear: fear of success, failure, the unknown, disease, rejection, ridicule, and the list goes on. On the flip side, fear also has the power to paralyze and prevent forward movement. It is natural to return to our comfort zones during distress or when scared and unsure of the next move.
The mind can have a firm pull over our decision, but it is essential to examine whether the fear is real or a false event that appears real and remove any doubt from the equation. Using fear as a motivator can positively affect, but only if you decide to change the outcome. Take a moment to reframe how you want the result to be, then plan possible solutions for the outcome.
Here are 10 strategies to stay motivated that I’ve used to encourage forward progress, especially after the excitement wears off or when faced with challenges and crippling fear.
1. The Circle of Life Exercise
Joshua Rosenthal, founder and teacher at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, developed this life-changing exercise, called the circle of life, based on his concept of primary and secondary foods. The 12 Primary “foods” or areas that make up our lives are Spirituality, Joy, Social Life, Relationships, Home Environment, Home Cooking, Physical Activity, Health, Education, Career, Finances, and Creativity. Secondary “foods” are the physical foods on your plate.
The circle helps you identify each area out of harmony and which offers the most joy right now. If any of the areas are out of balance, the foods you eat could be directly affected by the imbalance. There is a greater chance to make healthier choices or stay committed to a healthier routine when you feel good about the primary foods in your life.
For example, say you have a bad day at work. Instead of your preplanned gym routine to work off a bit of steam, your friends invite you for drinks. You politely accept, thinking it is a better alternative. One drink turns to two, and now you are ordering a burger and fries, thinking it will make you feel better. Unfortunately, the feeling is short-lived, and you end up feeling remorse and frustration having veered away from your original plan.
Another example is the lack of preparation for the week. There is a much greater chance for take-out and convenience foods if you haven’t gone grocery shopping or planned your meals. When this primary “food,” Home Cooking, is out of balance, turning to foods that offer less nutritional value derail your home-cooked efforts. If your goal is to lose weight and there is no preparation or advanced planning, excuses take over, and motivation for making healthy choices goes down.
Go through the exercise and identify which areas bring you joy and which could use an upgrade to bring you back in harmony. Note that life will always have its share of ups and downs, but the important lesson is to learn, grow, and rewrite the old story. You are the author of your health.
2. Focus on Adding Health
Our diet culture bombards us with messages of deprivation, saying that removing one food group after another is the “best” and “only” way to lose weight and be healthy. And we have been conditioned to think that the slightest indulgence will ruin our long-term efforts.
Instead of focusing on deprivation and guilt, focus on cleaner selections and adding health. For every indulgence, add something that offers the highest nutritional benefit, like cut-up fruit or veggies for your next snack. If you sit all day, walk or run around your block or crank up the music and dance in your living room. Had a tough day? Phone a good friend and talk it out or take 10 minutes to breathe or hit the gym.
When you continue to add health, it is less about deprivation and more about selection. The foods you thought were forbidden and the amounts you were consuming, over time, with consistent effort, become foods and quantities you no longer desire. Your body is nourished and turns to foods and activities that offer a greater sense of joy and satisfaction.
3. Think About Short-Term Wins
Want to write a book or run a marathon? The result can feel daunting and crippling if you are staring at an empty page or get winded just walking up a flight of stairs. Focus on the short-term wins. Begin with a word dump and a 10-minute walk as a starting point.
Long-term goals are great to offer a plan and purpose for your life, but they can also feel rigid and make us stressed and overwhelmed thinking of the process it will take to reach it. Instead, focus on a single task or daily goal. Once you accomplish that goal, celebrate it. Ultimately, you will get to the top, and there will be wins and learns along the way.
4. Commit to Yourself
Inky Johnson said, “Commitment happens long after the time we’ve said it has passed.” Committing to a healthy lifestyle takes discipline and consistency. Decide you are worth moving and feeling better in your body and be sure to have a plan of action.
There will be setbacks, and you won’t always feel like going to the gym or reviewing the menu before heading to the restaurant. But each small action step you commit to will have a cumulative effect, and over time, the long-term goal that seemed impossible to reach will begin to feel like second nature.
5. Remove Yourself From Autopilot
If our approach to living a healthy lifestyle is too rigid or requires a lot of deprivation, the excitement won’t last, and you will find yourself constantly starting over again on Monday. Break up with that cycle and begin to bring joy and inspiration into the healthy equation—experiment with a new recipe, take a dance class instead of your regular group exercise class, walk or run a different route. Changing your routine and removing yourself from autopilot will feel like you are starting something new and fresh, which may be just what you need to stay motivated for the long hall.
6. Schedule in Rest
Rest alone is more than adding extra sleep time. It is also resting from other areas in your life that cause stress and overwhelm: being on SM, sending emails right before bed, or pushing seven days a week at the gym. Scheduled rest allows you to hit the refresh button, so you return to each task with a great sense of focus and clarity.
7. Get Support
Getting motivated can be difficult if you live with a partner who isn’t motivated at all. If this is the case, surround yourself with others who are like-minded or hire a trained wellness professional to hold you accountable. Tell others about your goal. The more you speak about it, the greater your excitement builds, and others will be there to hold you accountable.
It is easy to give in when something better comes along. But when you tell others your goal or intentions for meeting that goal, the stakes are higher, and you won’t want to let them down.
8. Set Healthy Boundaries
Saying “no” is hard, especially if you feel an overwhelming obligation and responsibility for everyone else’s care. Feeling overwhelmed can wreak havoc on your priorities. Only take on what you can control, and be sure to say “no” to things that don’t bring you joy or take more energy from you. Taking care of yourself first isn’t selfish, and it doesn’t mean “me first.” It means “me too.”
9. Make a “To-Don’t” List
Yes, you read that correctly. A “to-don’t” list is one you make of tasks you will no longer do to help you stay more focused and clear on the areas that are important to you. These items on the list are things you will now delegate or outsource.
We often spend too much time on something that could be completed faster by someone who has more experience or enjoys performing. Make your “to-don’t” list and watch the stress subside.
10. Reframe Your Negative Thoughts Into Positive Feelings and Actions
There is a comfort to automatically return to your default behaviors when things are not going right. But what if you reframed the thoughts to create new positive behaviors that offer a different, more optimistic outcome?
Setbacks are a normal part of the process when we are changing habits and creating a healthy lifestyle. Instead of throwing in the towel, keep it simple and focus on small changes to help you stick with it for the long term, not just the temporary outcome. Reflect on what caused the setback, and plan for a different result the next time life throws you a curveball.
When excitement and inspiration are at their peak, motivation is enough to get you going. When it begins to wear off, other factors must come into play to offer a permanent solution. Once you evaluate and learn from factors that prevent you from moving forward on things you desire, not only will you be motivated but also committed to the result.
Have a plan, stay consistent, and the rest will take care of itself—rely on taking action today, not tomorrow, even if it is a tiny step. Remember, yesterday, you said today.
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