Motivation is a word thrown around the fitness industry like confetti at weddings. There are two teams on the motivation playing field. Those who defend the word see it as gospel–if you can’t change, you’re not motivated enough. Those who dislike the term dismiss it and bow down to ‘discipline’ instead.
Of course, the truth is, there’s a middle ground. But that middle ground is a personal battlefield, and your style of play is different from someone else’s. You do need to be motivated to make changes, and at some point, motivation will wane, and you’ll have to fall back on discipline.
You see, there are different types of motivation, and once you can tap into any or all of them, you’ll understand yourself a lot better–and use that understanding to navigate your weight loss journey.
This article explains why understanding your motivations is the key to making changes that last in complex and changing environments.
Motivation: How Does it Affect Weight Loss?
Self-determination is a concept rooted in taking responsibility for our actions through making choices and managing our lives.
Without getting too bogged down in the concept (it needs an article of its own), you’ll feel more motivated to take action when you know what you do will have an impact or effect on your life.
Weight loss is a pursuit and personal journey. Weight loss success lies in marrying external results with internal validation. What motivates you?
External or extrinsic motivation is based on external rewards. The rewards can be tangible; money or awards, but also intangible; praise or likes. How does it affect weight loss? If your goal is a physical transformation to take part in a competition, that’s extrinsic.
It’s not a bad thing. I think it’s important to highlight that extrinsic motivation can be highly effective. External rewards often keep us on task, especially when we have a deadline or we’re trying to complete a tedious work project.
The Pros and Cons of External Motivation
When it comes to weight loss, extrinsic motivation can be beneficial in the short term. If your goal is to lose 7 lbs or drop a dress size, both are potent goals. The initial motivation from seeing tangible results or hearing the praise of others can be incredibly motivating.
However, if your goal is more significant, let’s say it’s to lose 40 lbs; that’s a long-term goal that requires changes in lifestyle and thought patterns. Eventually, people might stop noticing or commenting on your weight loss. Without the praise of others, are you still motivated?
What if you reach your goal, and it doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would? The reward doesn’t taste sweet, and you might revert to old habits.
Internal or intrinsic motivation is based on internal rewards. Personally rewarding behaviours are easier to engage in because they’re exciting and provide opportunities to explore and learn about ourselves.
How does it affect weight loss? When you engage in something for its enjoyment, you are intrinsically motivated. If you run because you enjoy running, rather than running because you feel guilty for overeating, that’s intrinsic.
To truly understand intrinsic motivation, we must tap into our desires and values.
The Pros and Cons of Internal Motivation
If you can attach a more significant meaning to your weight loss efforts, you’re more likely to follow through and feel more satisfied with the outcome. The psychological and physiological benefits of losing weight, eating a healthier diet, and enjoying exercise outweigh the fleeting joy of reaching an aesthetic goal.
- Increased energy
- The ability to chase your children around the park
- No longer out of breath climbing the stairs
- No longer stress eating
- Feeling confident in your body
- Improved sleep
Above are the benefits of sustainable weight loss that might provide you with limitless intrinsic motivation.
There are no real cons to intrinsic motivation apart from the long-term investment in your health and the deep work necessary to tap into your internal motivation.
Using External and Internal Motivation Together
Many times in your weight loss journey, external rewards can fuel internal motivation.
If you enjoy running and sign up for a 5 km race, you’ll get a medal at the end, praise from your peers, and also the satisfaction of completing the race, and an inner feeling of pride. You might even sign up for longer races and challenge yourself further.
Eventually, you might develop goals and values that override the need for rewards such as medals and praise. You’ll run because you value strength and health; it’s a lot easier to run in the cold and dark because it’s become something that you do for enjoyment and purpose, rather than a result.
What is Your Motivation for Weight Loss?
No, I’m not going crazy; I’m suggesting you try “The 5 Why’s” exercise. It’s worth asking yourself why you want to lose weight. And then asking why that, and then asking why that again. Repeat this process 5 times.
There are no wrong answers. If all you can come up with are external motivators, that’s fine, but we’re willing to bet you’ll find deeper reasons for wanting to lose weight.
Here at Next Step Nutrition, we cut through the noise and guide you on your journey to enjoying food and exercise again, so you’ll always be motivated not just to lose weight but keep it off.