What Exactly Is Driving You?
If you are looking to lose weight, you are likely also thinking about your own motivation to do so. You might find yourself saying, “I’ll get back to the gym (or) restart my diet, as soon as I find the right motivation”.
And if that is true, then the question is “What is the right motivation?”
There are three types of motivation; they each offer potential boons, and each have their own limitations. Of these three types, only one can be used to sustain behavioral changes for weight loss, end emotional eating, or treat eating disorders. Which of the following sounds most like you?
Do you remember completing your schoolwork because you would be punished if you didn’t? Do you recall being kind to your sibling because you would be scolded if you were mean? Have you ever tried to lose weight because you were bullied for how you looked? This is introjected motivation: a desire to make change driven by negative reinforcement. It can feel like you are only trying to make change because you want to avoid something unpleasant, such as a mean comment or a feeling of guilt.
As icky as this type of motivation may sound, it does have an upside. By simply doing what you are told regardless of your own desire, you might be able to make change without being burdened by having to think about whether you want to change or not — you can just choose to follow your doctor’s or your dietitian’s weight-loss support and hope you lose weight.
The downside to introjected motivation is that it often fades as quickly as it comes. Perhaps your father once made you feel ashamed of your body, so you vowed to lose weight to spite him. This motivation might have driven you to attend the gym and discard your junk food that day, but honestly, how long were you able to keep that motivation up? A few days? Maybe a week or a month? What you are likely to find is that if you are motivated by the values of others rather than by your own values, your motivation will wane.
Why do many of us go to work? For the prize: money! External motivation is occurring anytime you are driven by the promise of a reward outside of your body. For weight loss, these rewards can include money, compliments, attention, new clothes, a better dating life, a medal at the end of a race, and so on.
Notice how they don’t all have to be tangible trinkets. There is certainly nothing wrong with being motivated by the prospect of a prize, in fact I am sure you can think of many people in your life who accomplished impressive work in pursuit of money or romance. The upside to external motivation is that rewards can be VERY motivating!
But let’s think about what happens to the person who works hard at their job and eventually earns all the money they will ever need- what do they often do? They retire, they quit- in other words, they immediately lose motivation. If you are driven to lose weight by external motivation, what will happen to your numerous weight loss behaviors once you have collected your prize? For many people, reaching a certain number on the scale or winning a trophy at the end of a race means they get to end the behaviors that brought them to their goal. Then, ending the behaviors leads to the return of the weight they lost, and they find themselves back where they started.
Internal motivation is the only of the three types that can inspire sustainable, enjoyable behaviors conducive to weight loss. Internal motivation is used to make changes for no reason other than the desire to create the best version of yourself, to live according to what’s important to you, and to live with a warm-fuzzy feeling in your tummy that accompanies your sense that you are living the way you’re supposed to.
The upside of being driven by internal motivation is that since it helps you grow due to genuinely wanting to, very few things can erode this motivation. The downside is that internal motivation is difficult to achieve. You might be asking “How do I get myself to want to diet? How do I make exercise important to me when I’ve always loathed it?”.
Below are some tips for developing internal motivation. Remember that weight-loss counseling or the right weight-loss program may be useful in cultivating your internal motivation too!
- Play to your strengths: Try to implement life changes you genuinely enjoy. Be creative! Perhaps you don’t like going for walks, but you do like browsing the mall with your friends. This is excellent exercise you might find fun! Perhaps you want to eat healthily but don’t enjoy vegetables. Try to find one nutritious meal you don’t mind cooking and start there.
- Watch your language: Making big changes can feel like an unwanted obligation, and this can make us exclaim things such as “I have to eat healthy.” Or “I have to go to the gym.” Anytime you find yourself saying “I have to…” try saying “I get to…” or “I choose to…” instead. Notice the many ways this language modification affects the way you feel about the change you’re making.
- Inspire yourself: Approach change with curiosity about what you can do rather than with an expectation of what you should do. Before every run, say to yourself “Let’s see what my body can do today.” Or “I’m curious about what my efforts will bring me this time” or “I wonder how far I can go today.”
Want more information? Call the Bariatric Counseling Center at (210) 634-2200.