Most people will, at some point, experience difficulties with motivation. Even if you love working out, there will be some days when making it out of the house will seem like a success in itself. An even if you have all the motivation in the world, following through on a task is often the second great hurdle. So, how should we start?
For some, the desire to get fit stems from something as small as an unflattering photograph, for others, it could have been building for a while. Personally, I’ve always found that strong motivation – and subsequent consistency – arises from choice; in other words, when you decide you want to make the change, rather than when you feel you have to.
Nothing kills motivation more than the feeling that you are being forced to complete a task
Another essential aspect of motivation comes from believing your efforts are going to make a difference; that you can and will succeed. If you genuinely believe that making changes will result in you realising your goals, you are far more likely to be excited about the results, and thus far more likely to take the necessary steps to achieve them.
Rather than concentrating on the things you are ‘missing out’ on during a diet or fitness programme, try to concentrate on what you will and are gaining from making these changes.
Aside from mindset, one of the biggest mistakes people can make – and which can ultimately kill motivation – is setting unrealistic targets. Yes, set yourself ambitious goals, yes admit what you actually want to achieve in the long term, but then take a step back. What is realistic to achieve in the short term, say, 3 weeks? And what would you like to achieve in three months?
Setting these kind of targets can be difficult if you are new to weight loss and fitness, and is ultimately where a personal training can help guide you. However, spending money isn’t always necessary, especially if you get used to monitoring small changes yourself – like muscle definition, your waist measurement, how your clothes fit you, and your overall mood.
There are many ways to monitor your own progress, without being tied to the scales – which, in many cases, are not the best way to measure success. For women in particular, weight can fluctuate throughout the month as hormone changes lead to water retention and bloating. The former can often mean a few extra lbs added, which can be very demotivating.
Motivation is a complex topic. Research has explored its connection to the ‘pleasure hormone’ dopamine, with one study from Vanderbilt University suggesting that people who are willing to work hard for rewards “had a higher release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in areas of the brain known to play an important role in reward and motivation”.
Other studies have suggested that ‘willpower [the capacity for immediate self-control] is a finite resource‘ – one which can be worn down if an individual is faced with too many decisions which test their judgement in a day. Thankfully, this theory has now been widely disproved, in studies as recent as 2016.
What really seems to matter is that getting and staying motivated varies from person to person.
Over the course of developing my own programme, I have come up with a few simple techniques to bolster motivation and willpower, and have discovered that making small changes to your approach, can make a huge difference to its success rate.
Write a list about why you are making these changes
Try to keep your points positive and be as specific as you want (‘ I want to fit into a size 10 pair of jeans’, ‘I want to run a 5km race’, ‘I want to run a 10km race in 50 minutes’, ‘I want to lift a 80kg deadlift for 10 reps’). Once you’ve got your goals in mind, spend time visualising how you will feel when you reach that point. Remember that feeling.
Plan a weekly ‘cheat meal’
When you are really missing chocolate cake, remind yourself that you are never more than six days away from being able to eat some. Just don’t allow your cheat day to become a cheat week.
Fake it, till you make it
This can be hugely useful for both gym workouts and diets. When I was marathon training, I convinced myself (and it took a lot of convincing) that I was already a pro-marathon runner and that I was training for a faster time. It really helped to ‘get into character’ before my long runs. It may sound mad, but it helped. It can also work wonders with dieting. Instead of explaining your diet to people, instead of being a martyr by forgoing cake, pretend that you never wanted it anyway. Convincing yourself takes practice, but it can be done.
Record your successes
You should never underestimate the power of a success, in whatever form. How great did you feel when you lost 2lbs, or completed 10 reps of 8kg bicep curls? How great will it feel if you keep doing what you are doing and lose another 2? Making notes of your successes in a journal or via progress photos can be very motivating when done consistently over a long period of time. Remember to concentrate on the positives!
Remember, this is your choice
Remember the benefits you will get. Remember how you will feel – and then try and feel it now. Don’t worry about minor slips – don’t even worry about major slips in your routine. Learn the lesson, and keep moving forward.
Do you have any motivational tips and tricks? Share your ideas in the comments.
This post was originally published in October 2017 and has been updated.