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Motivation Articles  ›  Staying Motivated

5 Mind Games You Need to Stop Playing

These Common Tricks Never Motivate--Find Out Why

-- By Megan Coatley, Behavior Expert
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Motivation is like cold hard cash: You can never have too much! And when you’re trying to lose weight (for the umpteenth time for many of us) you know that you need a wealth of motivational strategies you can count on. But, with so many motivational tips and tricks to sift through, why are we so often losing our motivation rather than reaping the rewards?
 
One reason is that some of the most popular motivation strategies people use are mind games—games that don't really work for the long term. At first glance, they all seem helpful, but most are actually bound to fail. Instead of playing Russian roulette when you’re choosing a weight-loss strategy, read on to find out how you can beat the odds and pick a winner.
 
Mind Game #1:  Going for the Gold
You have your perfect weight and pants size in mind. With a big, bold goal to aspire to, you start biking to work, cooking lighter, packing your lunch, skipping that morning latte, and taking the stairs. Then, three busy, butt-busting weeks later…the scale hasn’t really budged and you’re trying on the same size in the dressing room. Deflated, you start snacking a bit here and slacking a bit there, and your dream of a whittled waistline slowly fades from view.
 
Motivation Makeover: Going for the gold is a great way to start your weight-loss plan; setting a long-term goal can help you to keep an eye on where you’re headed. But it’s also important to remember that your goal weight is far from the only benefit of incorporating healthy eating and exercise—and it could be a long ways off. Taking note of smaller, more subtle changes (more energy, better sleep, lower cholesterol, better mood, etc.) can help you stay motivated, even if the pounds aren’t coming off as quickly as you’d hoped. Setting some shorter-term goals (1 pound, 5 pounds)—especially ones that aren't based on the scale (like getting to the gym 5 days a week) can also help you stay on track.
 
Mind Game #2:  Starting Out Super Strong
It’s Sunday evening and you realize that you spent the weekend indulging on brews, barbeques, and binges. A twinge of guilt has you psyched to start speeding down the road to wellness first thing Monday. So you restock your pantry with healthy eats, download a hardcore training app to your phone, and plan out the next month's food and workouts. You figure that going full throttle is the way to reach your weight-loss goals as quickly as possible. And why not? You're excited for it! But two weeks into your overhaul, your muscles are so sore you have trouble rolling out of bed, you’re sick of salads and you’re already thinking about throwing in the towel.
 
Motivation Makeover: Maintaining motivation is like running a marathon. Instead of starting at full speed and running out of steam, it is better to focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other. Set small, achievable goals so that you can build momentum and feel successful in the beginning, and pat yourself on the back when you conquer each one. No matter how long it takes to reach the finish line, you’ll be reaping the rewards for years to come. Continued ›
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About The Author

Megan Coatley Megan Coatley
Megan is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis from Western Michigan University. As a health and wellness coach, she combines her passion for nutrition and fitness with her professional talents to help others creative positive, lasting change and live healthier lives.

Member Comments

  • I am guilty of all of these!! I have been trying to break the starting strong one. I am so bad about that.
    Unfortunately, for me, I have reached a place with my diet/thyroid where there are no more "little changes" I can make to improve my overall health. I eat very healthy and base in on the glycemic index, but I still can't lose weight. It is pretty frustrating, but I won't quit! My body is too important. - 3/11/2014 2:27:41 PM
  • Great article - 2/11/2014 7:13:32 AM
  • Thank you! Really enjoyed this article!
    I definitely play mind games on myself.
    - 12/20/2013 9:16:18 AM
  • I READ THE ARTICLE RECOMMENDED BY THE MOTIVATION GROUP AND I ENJOYED IT AND LEARNED FROM IT. I CAN SEE ALL OF THE 5 MISSTEPS IN MY OWN DIETING ATTEMPTS. NO WONDER I FAIL! THANKS FOR REMINDING ALL OF US READERS THAT SLOW AND SMART IS THE ONLY WAYS TO REALLY LOSE FOR GOOD. - 8/31/2013 12:49:53 PM
  • ******Motivator**
    ** : ) Good write!! - 8/24/2013 11:25:43 AM
  • HAIER731
    I enjoyed reading this it has given me many ideas and has shown me some reaons why I had failed in the past. - 8/6/2013 1:44:13 PM
  • Great article, but I have to say I have better success when I don't talk to others about my weight loss program/plans. I'm also more of a loner, but would not give up going out with friends....I just make sure I make good choices. If I'm going out for happy hour and have a couple of glasses of wine, I'll give something else up during the day. Then I don't have to discuss what I'm doing or answer a lot of nosy questions from people. - 8/4/2013 3:07:30 PM
  • 2MGIEBER3
    My biggest downfall #5 - the scale. Glad I read this article. Will gauge doing other things. Gosh, this is such a struggle. - 7/25/2013 12:09:04 PM
  • #5 is my big problem. I go to the gym, I eat right, I focus on being healthy, and then I step on the scale, don't see the results I was hoping for and lose all motivation. So I'm looking for ways to gauge my improvements (which helps cheer me along), without setting myself up for a plateau depression. - 7/5/2013 1:06:58 PM
  • Great article. Loved it I saved it. - 7/2/2013 9:18:56 AM
  • I think this is the best article I've read on here so far! Love it! Thank you! - 6/28/2013 12:55:20 PM
  • I love this!! :) Keep em coming. - 5/31/2013 10:05:25 PM
  • JENNAAW
    Good article to reread when motivation starts to flag. Inspiring! - 5/1/2013 8:53:53 AM
  • PTANGELES
    This is a great article. For years I wished for someone to find a way to bottle motivation. We all have it when we start but it does fade. I've been on many, many diets. Most were successful but maintaining the weight loss wasn't.
    Since starting my current effort a year ago, I've managed to stay motivated by changing a few things. Decided that a "diet" wasn't what was needed -- a "change in lifestyle" was what I needed was on top of the list. Believe me, I thought about that a lot.
    The second thing that helped me greatly was not weighing in on a daily or weekly basis. Sometimes I waited six weeks. This meant that I didn't look at the scale and think, I ONLY lost 2 lbs (or whatever the amount was). Instead I was thrilled -- I lost 10 or more lbs. I expected to see a good loss because my clothes were getting baggy but It was always more than anticipated and helped me feel great and stay motivated.
    One additional thing that has helped me is to drink flavored water (no cal Chrystal Light). Always wished I craved plain water but it didn't ever happen. I've read for years that people often mistake hunger for thirst. In my case it was true and adding flavor to water has been a huge help in controlling my appetite. By the way, I happen to have one of the must supportive husbands in the world and without his constant encouragement doubt I'd be writing this. I feel so fortunate.
    Good luck to all of you who are working toward a weight loss goal. It's tough. - 4/30/2013 8:18:55 PM
  • COACHMEGMABCBA
    Thanks for all the great comments, everyone! I’m excited to hear that you’re done playing these mind games! I want to apologize so late in responding - I wasn’t getting the updates from this article’s thread. I hope that you’ve all made even more great strides in your healthy habits since this post!

    RUGGER611 - Careful with that scale! Try hiding it for a while and find other ways to ‘weigh’ your success. You’d be amazed at all the tally marks you’ll rack up by tracking a week of healthy habits (instead of just your weight). Those numbers are what counts, and they’ll keep you more motivated than the fluctuating digits on the scale.

    VELVET MERLIN & CHANTENAY - Yes, going stealth can work for a while, especially if you’re surrounded with negative nay-sayers. And it’s great to make healthy change for yourself, without worrying about judgement! But, as a rule humans thrive on positive reinforcement from others. Isn’t there someone in your life who pats you on the back (maybe even here on Sparkpeople’s forums)? If you want to really ramp up your results, find someone awesome and spunky who can be your personal cheerleader! Having someone in your corner to share your goals and struggles with is a proven way to build wellness success.

    SKOEPFLER - I'll have to check out The WIllpower Instinct - sounds like an interesting read!

    Keep up the great work everyone! And don’t let your mind games get the best of you!

    Cheers & Be Sparked!
    Coach Meg, MA, BCBA - 4/30/2013 9:24:26 AM