Motivation and Thought Processes

Susan and I talk a lot about changing behavior and motivation.  Despite my training in psychology, motivation is something I understand very poorly.  I can spout a lot of academic jargon and quote theories, but in terms of actual, practical application, I got nothin’.  I have no idea how to motivate someone else to do something, particularly somethings that I just DO because they need doing.  I happen to be good at that.  At least when it comes to most stuff (the calorie budget tends to be my failing).  Most folks tend NOT to be good at the whole Nike attitude of Just Do It.

She’s made a massive lifestyle change over the last few years, dropping nearly 40 pounds and getting healthier than she’s been in years.  And she did it by making small changes.  Not ordering french fries.  Having smaller portions.  Stopping with the emotional eating, among other things.  She has very much changed the way she thought about food.  I’m really impressed by the changes she’s made, and I’ve tried to incorporate some of them in my own life, with less success (portion size continues to be an issue for me).

On the flipside, I’ve made a lot of my own changes, not so much on the food side of things but on the exercise side.  Over the last five years, I have made a concerted effort to become an active person.  This started s a challenge.  I didn’t like exercise.  And I have a serious issue with sweat–that it’s gross and smelly…  I was not raised that exercise is or should be an important part of normal life.  It was a chore.  I started by using the crap out of my Wii Fit Plus game.  I added in other games.  Got back to weight lifting.  Walking.  Yoga.  Stationary biking.  Until I worked my way up to 60-90 minutes of exercise a day, split between several workouts.  I found exercise I LIKED.  I surrounded myself with fans.  And I stuck with it.  I’ve dropped some weight and done a bit of the yo yo thing, but my steady weight is 10 pounds less than it was when I started.  And I am physically FIT.  I’m healthy.  When the zombies come, I’m going to outrun a lot of people.  Which is the thing that has come to matter to me.  And that’s been my big mental shift.  It’s not about being skinny, it’s about being fit and healthy.  And able to run faster than the other guy.

Perhaps the biggest mental change I’ve made in regards to running.  Running was, for most of my life, a great big “I can’t”.  It’s too hard.  It’s bad on my knees (due to an old injury).  It’s too hot.  It doesn’t burn enough calories for the effort.  It sucks.

I can’t say that I know how or why this attitude changed.  I tried it on a whim when I visited one of my BFFs and we were at her gym.  It didn’t kill my knee.  It was something different.  When I started it, it was dead of winter, so being too hot wasn’t an issue.  I finally got GOOD SHOES and inserts, and lo and behold, my knees aren’t bothered a bit, even the old injured one.  And I finally learned that it’s not 100% about the straight number of calories burned.  Running is hard.  It challenges my body in ways that the other things I was doing really don’t.  And I get something out of it.  Something that I really can’t define, but something that’s motivating enough that I’m still running, even though it’s JULY and a frigging steam bath, even at 6 AM.

So much of what we do or don’t do is purely in our heads.  If you can make those mental switches, then suddenly the things that we find hard to do become easier.  The key is making that switch, and sadly, I don’t know the answer to how to do that.  But this is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

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4 comments

  1. Motivation is a challenge. People are going to ultimately do what they want to do. I took a course on this in college, and we learned that even research supports that extrinsic goals do not make as much of an impact on this. For example, you can tell me over and over again how important strength training is, but I will do hours and hours of more cardio, simply because I enjoy it more. It is really tough, and it has been something I struggle with as well!

  2. It’s HARD to motivate yourself to do what you don’t want to do. I’m practicing portion control, and I HATE it. I want that side item (fries or whatever) with my burger. I want to eat the whole plateful of lasagna, even if I’m miserable afterward. But I’m learning not to. I think the key is like what you said about Susan. Small changes. I think the people who try to do everything at once and be perfect at all of it are the ones that tend to fail the most. I decided I would rather give up some of the amount of food I eat rather than give up what I eat. Exercise is still a struggle for me, because I want to be doing something else. It takes up time I could be doing something I enjoy. But the bottom line is, I think, that you enjoy life more if you feel better.

    I used to run. But if I decide to work myself up to it again, I’ll probably do it on the treadmill. I have nowhere close by to run, and the terrain around my house is a turned ankle waiting to happen. If we really want to exercise, we’ll find a way.

    Good for you for keeping up the running. I know there will be times where you slack off due to other things getting in the way, but you’ve started a good habit, and it’s good to know that if we’re under zombie attack, you can outrun them all!

  3. No matter how much I have studied theories on motivation, it’s like capturing a tornado in a jam jar! All I can compare it to is time of readiness. “There is a theory in psychology called the “time of readiness,” which states that unless a child has reached a point in their physical development where they can try a new skill, such as crawling or walking, no amount of of pushing or imposed practice will get them there. They just won’t get it! There are some things in life you just can’t rush. Any kind of growth takes it’s own time.

    I believe that the same principle works in a similar way in many areas of our lives as we continue to challenge ourselves to achieve in new areas. Personal growth is the key, whether that growth is of a mental, emotional, physical or spiritual nature.

    We are often not able to make certain forward jumps until something clicks in our hearts and heads. Of course, the underlying problem may actually be writer’s block generated by feeling unsure or fearful that is holding you back. Even so, perhaps there will soon be an optimum time where you can overcome that hurdle. Just as long as you aren’t using fear as an excuse and you are actively working on trying to advance.”

    What do you think?

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