10 Tips for Maintaining Your Motivation, #2: The One Thing You Should NEVER, EVER Do.


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Last week, in the first of 10 Tips on Maintaining Your Motivation, I talked about the importance of framing your healthy lifestyle goals in positive language.

There is, however, one very basic and important goal that everyone should have on their list, and it really needs to be expressed in the strongest possible negative terms: Do NOT do this, EVER!

So, what is this one thing you should never do? Read Tip #2 to find out...

The one thing you should never, ever do is tell yourself you’re not motivated.

I don’t care how unmotivated you feel, or how often you end up not sticking to your eating and exercise goals. None of this means you’re not motivated, and telling yourself that is what it means is really the only thing you can do that will actually wreck your motivation.

You can survive and overcome virtually any obstacle or problem you run into on your path to a healthy lifestyle–as long as you don’t talk yourself out of trying by saying you’re not motivated. The only time it makes sense to say you’re not motivated is when you really mean that you don’t want to lose weight, eat healthy, or get more fit. If you do want those things, then you’ve got all the motivation you need, even if it looks to you like you must not want them enough to do what’s necessary to make them happen.

You just have to figure out how to tap into that motivation at the right time. Telling yourself that you’re not motivated is really the only thing that can keep you from learning how to do this.

Feeling motivated is what happens when the decisions and choices you’re making are consistent with your goals. Feeling un-motivated is what happens when you’re not really making conscious choices at all–you’re just responding mindlessly to various triggers in your environment, or operating on “autopilot” based on old habits and conditioned behavior. To put it another way, you could say that the opposite of feeling motivated is feeling helpless, powerless, or unable to make the “right” decisions. But it’s hardly ever true that you actually are helpless, powerless or unable to make the choices you want.

What is pretty rare is for people to make choices that are truly inconsistent with their goals. Unless someone or something is literally forcing us to do something else, we normally do pretty much what we actually want to do. The problem is that we almost always want more than one thing, and sometimes one thing we want isn’t consistent with another one.

In practical terms, this usually translates into a conflict between immediate gratification (like eating what you want when you want it, or chilling on the couch instead of exercising) and delayed gratification (like eating and exercising the way you know you need to if you want to lose weight and feel better down the road).

The big mistake people often make is thinking that, if you’re “motivated,” it will be easy to say “no” to the immediate gratification and “yes” to the delayed gratification, because that’s what you “really” want. That’s nonsense. And it’s also a mistake to assume that delayed gratification is inherently superior to immediate gratification. We all want both our immediate satisfactions and the satisfaction of achieving a longer term goal–that’s the way we’re built, and we need both types of gratification to stay sane, healthy, and functional.

Getting down on yourself for wanting the immediate gratification is to deny half of who and what you are–and that will always cause more problems than it could ever solve. But that’s exactly what you do every time you tell yourself that you’re “not motivated” when you go for the immediate gratification at the expense of your longer term goal. You are motivated, you've just made a choice between two different things you want.

The great irony here is that telling yourself that you’re not motivated is really the only thing you can do that will actually keep you from making the choices you want . If you simply admit that you want two different things, and will usually have to make a choice between them, you give yourself the ability to actually make that choice. You might decide to make one choice now, and the opposite one later, but that’s fine. You’ll know that it’s you making the choice, not some character defect or some mysterious problem called “lack of motivation.” And you’ll know that you can make the other choice any time you want to do that. No more wasting time and energy wondering what’s wrong with you or your motivation.

So, here are your assignments for this next week:

  • Take “I’m not motivated” out of your vocabulary.
  • Refuse to put yourself down for going for the instant gratification when you do that. Instead, ask yourself whether you stopped and gave yourself time to make a real decision, or whether you were on autopilot.
  • Do some thinking about how you can keep yourself off autopilot and in decision-making mode more of the time.

    In next week’s blog, we’ll talk more about switching off the autopilot and being more mindful.

    Do you feel unmotivated a lot? Do you think that’s really true, or could you be sabotaging your own motivation by expecting that “being motivated” means it will be easy to make the “right” choice all the time?

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    • 186
      I really like this article! - 2/17/2018   12:27:32 PM
    • 185
      This set of 10 articles are my favorite ones! I refer back to them a lot! - 11/5/2017   7:34:20 AM
    • SANDRALEE471
      Boy. Oh boy. This is what I needed today. I was saying to self just this morning. I am not motivated..but your sharing re this thought is inspiring or itself. Thank you. I know I will make better choices today . - 6/30/2015   8:54:56 AM
    • 183
      You have really made me think through this process i struggle with, and then gave us the tools to be successful. Thanks for a great blog! - 5/27/2013   10:44:12 AM
    • JULIA1154
      You've published some terrific articles on here, Dean, but this is one of the best. I really appreciate your analysis of the conflicts we encounter in working through life's challenges (of any sort). Understanding and awareness are at least half the battle and you've provided excellent tools for both. - 6/29/2012   7:39:44 PM
    • 181
      AWESOME! Thanks for helping me to close a huge loophole in my program! I love that perceptual shift from "not motivated" to "not realizing I'm experiencing a conflict between delayed and instant gratification. Wow, 2012 IS going to be an amazing new year. Everybody, read this blog! - 1/3/2012   4:56:51 PM
    • 180
      Thank you, this blog comes at such a good time for me. All along I've used "Im just not motivated" as my crutch. It has been however, a bloody excuse. I am motived, and I will make better choices. Thank you :) - 2/7/2011   2:15:40 AM
      As Gru from "Despicable Me" would say, "Lightbulb." - 2/6/2011   10:36:49 AM
    • 178
      Thanks for this! It was well timed for me. I can make choices and enjoy them, for instant and delayed gratification without beating myself up! I don't lack will power or motivation, I just lacked conscious choice making! - 2/5/2011   12:56:04 PM
    • 177
      AHA-FRACKIN-MOMENT!!!! I always considered myself an emotional eater because I thought I was eating when I was bored but that never felt quite right. Reading this article I realized that is NOT IT AT ALL! I'm an autopilot eater. I turn off the decision making part of my brain because I want instant gratification but don't want to own that. According to Maya Angelou 'you do what you do when you know what you know'. I can do better and now I know how. Thank you so much! - 2/5/2011   9:09:44 AM
    • 176
      Each time I said I was struggling to feel more motivated, I felt like such a failure, which just compounded the problem. At the same time, I do a great deal of reading about the laws of attraction and the power of words - that what I put out into the universe was going to be my reality. Thank you for a fresh way of looking at motivation that can help me to remember to be in charge & stay positive! - 2/5/2011   8:55:40 AM
    • 175
      I just posted my status as I'm not ... Guess I need to go change that. Now to go get moving. :) - 1/7/2011   1:00:09 PM
    • 174
      That's a good point about being on autopilot. It's so important to realize that we are, in fact, continually making choices. This blog made me more aware of the choices I make, and why I make them. Thank you. - 6/30/2010   7:42:02 PM
    • 173
    • 172
      Since joining SP and faithfully checking in, there hasn't been a single day I have NOT been motivated by something on the site or by my own progress. I can't believe it took me this long to discover the perfect maintenance program! - 6/3/2010   11:11:45 AM
    • BUDRFLY31
      Coach Dean, you are a genius. You can take a topic like motivation and make us understand that we really are in control and not a bad person, or some kind of a reject for giving in to temptation. We are in control! Next time I decide to have that yummy piece of cheesecake, I am going to self talk, ask myself if I really want it, then make "my" choice. No negative talk after. The next time I have a choice, I may say "no", its not worth it. Again that is my choice!
      Thanks Coach Dean, I am one of your biggest fans! - 6/3/2010   8:10:05 AM
    • 170
      Good article. It's so much easier to say 'I'm not motivated,' because somehow that seems to be somebody else's fault. To actually clearly understand that in this moment I am making a choice between two things means taking on full responsibility for my own actions, and that's something I've been avoiding for my whole life. It is so much easier to think of myself as being a slave to some internal drives that I have no control over, rather than seeing it as me making choices.
      Spark is helping me keep those two things clear in my mind. - 6/2/2010   10:14:15 AM
    • 169
      Thinking on good things...I can and I will. - 6/1/2010   2:23:06 PM
    • 168
      Great blog! Thanks for motivating all of us! - 3/29/2010   1:51:27 PM
    • SUNSET09
      Speak motivation into your work out, job, diet, relationships, whenever it may be. Remove the negative words and know that you can do all things through Christ, who strenthens us! - 3/10/2010   9:39:37 AM
    • 166
      I used to think all of this "only talk positive" stuff was crazy talk, but I'm beginning to get excited about the possibility of its truth. I'm the kind who makes a poor choice and then feels like an idiot afterward (did it just this afternoon). I really like this article because it reminds me that I really am in control (I know when I'm something I shouldn't...I mean not eating more things that I should). I need to remember that it's "nonsense" to think that making poor choices makes me a failure. That's probably the biggest reason I haven't been able to stay motivated long enough to finish the job I've started so many times.

      -j - 1/21/2010   2:14:42 PM
    • 165
      Thank you for explaining instant and delayed gratification vs. motivation. I now know that I AM motivated all the time. Your distinction between instant and delayed gratification was an "aha" moment for me because I have been working so hard to explain to other Sparkers that there is no need to beat yourself up for one misstep, mistake, or step backwards--even if it is all in one day. It truly is a learning experience but only if one learns something about each step backwards and learns how to figure out what can get them back on track. At first it was a lot of work for me, and now it is fun learning what makes me stay on track (or go off track). It's like becoming my own best friend--truly a joyous journey! - 1/17/2010   1:44:10 PM
    • 164
      Thanks for the blog. I have to learn to be more positive and thinking more positive for sure. i think i can, i think i can. - 1/11/2010   10:43:12 PM
    • 163
      I hear people say that they are quitting smoking, exersizing more and dieting all at the same time. And I want to just yell at them. Take one thing at a time or you will never stick with your program. - 12/18/2009   11:34:16 PM
    • 162
      Just found this, and it really comes at an opportune time for me. I've been telling myself I'm unmotivated for MONTHS now. I really needed to read this right now. Thanks for such a great blog! - 10/27/2009   10:04:59 PM
    • 161
      Coach Dean, you seem to be reading my mind. This is the second article of yours I've read the past two days that fit perfectly into a blog I recently wrote. You do a wonderful job of explaining how we can let our thoughts control us or we can control them. Thank you! - 10/10/2009   11:05:37 AM
      Indeed it's a very good article. Change isn't easy, but it will be well worth in the long run. If I look at the big picture (the amount of weight I need to lose) it's too overwhelming (actually it depressing). So I choose to look at each simple win or change as a piece of that picture. And when it all comes together, I'll have a picture of a healthy, energized, confident individual. - 9/29/2009   11:59:45 AM
    • 159
      I do feel unmotivated often, but I attribute that to extremely hot weather in the summer and harsh winds all other times. Also, depression does not help. - 6/25/2009   10:50:44 PM
    • 158
      Thanks for the article, I really needed this. - 6/25/2009   9:03:34 AM
    • 157
      That is me at this very moment (and for at least a month's worth of moments so far)! I have been a huge proponent of "Don't Over think It, Just Do It" but seems I'm my own worse patient. I have to just stop being so lazy. Oops... there it is again, saying the same thing but using different words. STOP IT. - 5/29/2009   1:42:58 PM
    • 156
      COACH DEAN RULES!!! everything you say makes so much sense to me. you are my rock. nancy - 4/14/2009   2:05:20 PM
    • MMORGAN317
      Thanks for the blog/article! It made a lot of sense to me and really "spoke" to me for how I'm feeling today. It would be nice to be able to turn off the auto-pilot for belittling yourself for going for the Instant Gratification.... :o) - 4/6/2009   12:51:08 PM
    • 154
      Well ... DUH!!! This article makes so much sense, if it had been a snake it would have bit me! (Freudian finger slip made me type "snack" instead of snake. Oops! LOL) - 3/21/2009   12:24:09 PM
      I had to read the article a few times to figure out how it related to me, which was a very useful exercise. Interestingly, when I tell myself I'm unmotivated its when I literally just don't think eating right/exercise is worth the effort and want to quit. I try to use telling myself that as a trigger for trying to figure out WHY I feel that way though, usually there is a deeper issue than not wanting to exercise of course. On the flip side, I feel like being motivated means that whatever choice I end up making, I am making it with some sort of conscious thought to the choice and its being made with the knowledge that I DO want to be healthier and I am working that way.

      Luckily, I have had very little problems with auto-pilot choices, so that doesn't really factor into my motivational issues. - 3/4/2009   4:49:06 AM
      Yikes, you were describing me when I'm on autopilot and shove food down whether I really am hungry or not. I never gave it too much thought but I will now. This was an article that needs to be read frequently. Thank you. - 2/10/2009   10:03:04 PM
    • QUASAR7
      Thank you! I have been questioning my motivation lately, as I have been repeatedly succumbing to emotional eating. I DO want this, badly. But there are times that I just want to make the pain go away. I KNOW it's a bad idea, that it won't help in the long run, even as I do it. Yet logic is a blunt weapon against emotions.

      This has given me a new perspective. Perhaps I can now better apply my energy to figuring out better ways to deal with my demons. I waste too much questioning myself. - 2/10/2009   12:29:25 PM
    • 150
      Great article...thanks - 2/10/2009   9:57:00 AM
    • 149
      Coach Dean comes up with such great blogs! Thanks Dude!
      I totally relate to what he is saying here. For so long I have "felt" like such a failure and so "unmotivated".. but the fact that I am STILL HERE, STILL WORKING at overcoming this addictive behavior is proof positive that I am totally motivated. Because I, at times, revert to the creature of habit I have become accustomed to being for a lifetime, that in itself doesn't mean I am a failure. Never again will I believe that lie. Each time I fall, I will get right back up and someday I will win this race!
      The fact that I (or you) are here today, reading this is PROOF that we are winners! - 1/28/2009   10:49:48 AM
    • NIKI778
      Wow this really hit home with me, when ever I make good progress and then have a string of weak instant gratification momments I tell myself that I have lost motavation and then I never start making the right choices for me to be healthy. I am taking that phrase out of my vocabulary forever. I really needed to hear this today, as I start day 2 of making choices that will help me achieve my weightloss goals, after months of telling myself I'm not motivated. Next time I want to go on a junk food eating binge I will take the time to stop and ask myself if I really want it or if I am just on "autopilot". Thanks so much!!! - 1/15/2009   9:18:13 AM
    • 147
      What is Focus, prioritizing, changing your way of thinking if not to re-assign your values and wants? To make staying motivated less stressful by making choices that are inline with goals...EASIER...via Short term goals with their own satisfaction or reward of immediate gradification...to outweigh ...temptation of other means of immediate gradification. Because thats what you REALLY want.

      DEAN IM SO CONFUSED!!!!! - 1/14/2009   2:45:50 PM
    • 146
      The point that you make about "lack of motivation" really meaning that you are on auto-pilot is a pretty big point! I like the idea of asking myself - am I making a conscious desicion or am I just doing what I have been doing without any thought? This is a good one Coach Dean - thanks!! - 1/14/2009   1:33:20 PM
      I personally do not feel motivated when I first start a "diet". After I have stuck to a program for at 2 days, my motivation kicks in. I also work out in the morning to keep my motivation throughout the day. Great article! - 1/12/2009   10:38:14 AM
    • 144
      This article helped put things in perspective. This web site is awesome and there is so much in it to keep your engaged. This week I made an effort to get a min. of 7 hours sleep - I had 3 nights, exercise at least 3x and I did 5, make good food choices which I feel I did all week. Today we went out with friends and I cut my portion in half as soon as I got it. I've been temped especially at night to cheat but I drank water or had a diet Dr. Pepper....I know this isn't great but it worked for me, and I only had one day over 1700 calories. A good week for me and I feel I'll keep taking one day at a time. - 1/11/2009   9:39:43 PM
    • 143
      Thank you for this article. It makes me feel so much better about myself. - 1/11/2009   7:57:16 PM
    • 142
      I can't even begin to describe how motivated I am to lose this extra weight, get fit and feel healthy again! this is such a terrific article. - 1/11/2009   10:47:18 AM
    • 141
      Thanks so much! - 1/11/2009   9:57:06 AM
    • 140
      Great article, thanks for sharing. - 1/11/2009   8:09:45 AM
    • 139
      This article helped me to separate motivation vs autopilot........ very insightful and a different way to look at getting things done. LIGHTBULB moment as Oprah would say! - 1/11/2009   12:17:40 AM
    • 138
      I am always about instant gratification - I even chose photography over painting because I could take a photo, develop it a voila! Instant art! (OK, this WAS before digitial cameras everybody!)

      I try to do this: when I'm thinking oh, I just want to lay on the sofa or sit in the recliner I TRY to say "I can do that when I've finished my workout (or cardio whatever)." Usually when I do it that way, when I finish the workout/cardio, I have a bit extra energy to tackle a household project I've been putting off! So it works great ... But I too am guilty of often saying "Oh, Im so UNMOTIVATED today!" - 1/10/2009   11:46:19 AM
    • 137
      wow... what an eye opener... I am totally guilty of this!! I've always had a negative inner voice but then sometimes I shock my system and do something that I would never have thought of... I will work on changing my thought process and hopefully that will get me out of this rut... - 1/10/2009   10:26:54 AM

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