Many folks claim they aren’t motivated to exercise or eat right. There are many cases where this is true. However, I believe there are many cases where people really want to exercise and eat right but are falsely claiming a lack of motivation as the main issue.
I want to help you distinguish whether or not motivation is the biggest problem. Knowing this will help you focus on the right game plan to get results.
Let’s start by looking at the 4 components of motivation
Do you believe You Can?
Many folks do not believe they are capable of doing what it takes to exercise. They believe they lack the ability because they are too old or too injured. This can often be solved by education. Presenting evidence, both from research and social proof is a great way to counter act this. For example, for those who have fallen victim to the myth that they are too old to get stronger, I show them a video of of my 70 year old client, Carol, lifting 300 pounds, and my 91 year old patient, Peter, doing pushups off the floor! Seeing is believing, and this can be a very powerful force to breakdown false beliefs.
However, someone may feel that they can’t exercise consistently because they have tried in the past many times but failed, so therefore they must have low will power and can’t stay with it. However, when they are presented with the evidence behind the need for accountability in order to succeed, they may realize that their problem is not whether they are capable, but rather they simply need some structure and strategies, just like a student a law student needs tests and teaching, or a business person needs training, quarterly reviews, and bonuses to succeed.
Do you believe diet & exercise Works?
Some simply don’t believe that exercise or eating right will work. Most believe it will work, but at a cost that they are not willing to endure. For example, they believe that exercise will take too much time, or require extensively restrictive diets, or a certain amount of pain. In short, the risks are not worth the benefits. Again, these beliefs can be counteracted by research and social proof. For example, cases of those who achieved significant benefits by only exerting 3 hours a week would be helpful in motivating a busy person who believed that exercise will only work if they have 6 hours a week to spare. By reframing the risk to benefit ratio reflecting the science and real world results, this person’s motivation will now haves significantly improved.
Do you believe you are worth it?
Related to this, however, may also be they believe that they are worth it. Specifically, do they believe that their health and well being worth the sacrifices and investments of taking action? Even if they believe the intervention is effective, and that they can do it (because they’ve done it before) there are simply more things worth their effort and time. Although a hard pill to swallow, this is simply reflective of the fact that you don’t believe your health and feeling good about how you look is that important. It is certainly taboo to admit this so people will often reject this. But in the absence of the other issues affecting motivation, the only rational conclusion to make is that you don’t think you are worth it.
Solutions for this are very tricky, but they most certainly relate to your environment, relationships, and self esteem. I have seen in many cases the positive impact therapy has on helping folks with these issues. Send me an email if you’d like some valuable resources to help with this.
Do you believe you need it?
Many people are oblivious to their current health risks, and the risks of not exercising or eating right. Accordingly, they have little motivation to act. Usually a bad test result or a heath scare quickly triggers the awareness of their risks. Surprisingly, multiple media attempts to raise awareness may not be successful. Information from multiple sources of their social environment of trusted professionals is a simple solution to this.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you exercise and “eat right” you aren’t victim to this. For example, let’s say you are a runner who always eats healthy food. However, you don’t perform any resistance training and don’t eat enough healthy fats or use a peri-workout nutrition supplement. A very basic assessment would likely reveal a risk for bone density issues, muscle imbalances and injuries, and impaired performance. Awareness of this would change your motivation to make more time for resistance training a few days a week or increase fats and add a carbohydrate/protein supplement for longer distance runs.
Is it really a motivation problem?
If the above are not issues for you, then you likely need to consider something else as a barrier to your goals. Even if motivation really is a problem, looking at the other factors is important, as they will also have an impact on motivation.
My WPD Model
My WPD model (Want – Plan – Do) of changing exercise and nutrition behavior is helpful to understand this. I have revealed this in more detail during my semianrs, but here is a brief overview:
The Want phase addresses the above regarding motivation.
The Plan phase addresses the determination of what you are going to do to achieve the want. An important component of this phase is addressing a contingency plan, and how capable you are at devising a plan (can you come up with a plan or do you need an expert to do so?). This described what to do when “life get’s in the way” of your ideal plan.
Finally, the Do phase is where you take action on your plan to accomplish what you want. This involves the understanding how to actually do the plan. When exercise is the action, an essential component here is skill, which requires knowing the purpose, practicing it, and getting feedback. Thus, coaching is critical here to assure proper technique and execution.
Perhaps the most important part of the Do phase is accountability. The fitness industry has done a great job demonstrating the fact that getting to the Do phase is not the hardest part in getting to your health and fitness goals (look at any gym from jan-feb), rather it is staying in the Do phase (look at the same gym feb –march). Staying there requires a process of continued re-assessment, rewards, punishment, modification, social support, education and instruction. This constitutes Accountability, which is sorely and inexplicably lacking in the health and fitness world. Although it is well established in nearly other aspect of society where success is desired, including business, academics, and athletics, accountability is rarely emphasized in fitness and health care.
Where Are You?
Whether you are struggling with consistency or trying to get to the next level, assess where you are in the WPD model. If you are truly unmotivated and stuck in the Want phase, now you have the tools to address that. But don’t default to assuming you aren’t motivated – maybe you need to look at the Plan or Do phase more closely for you solution. The hardest problems to solve are the ones you don’t know you have.