Motivation Articles

Mastering the Mysteries of Motivation

Understanding Motivation

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Motivation Killer #1: Unrealistic Expectations
The most common cause of disappearing motivation is unrealistic expectations. When you have your hopes set on one thing (like seeing the number on the scale go down), but something else happens instead (the number doesn't change or it goes up), of course it's difficult to keep on doing what doesn't seem to be working for you. That's normal, and it's exactly how you're supposed to feel. These feelings help you avoid doing the same thing over and over again, expecting to get different results.

But this natural reaction becomes problematic when the result you're hoping for isn't likely to happen, like seeing predictable and consistent changes in your weight every week; or expecting to go from confirmed couch potato to exercise maven by sheer force of will, without paying your dues.

So, if your motivation is lagging because you're not getting the results you expect, check to see whether your expectations are realistic or not.

Here is what you SHOULD expect when it comes to weight loss:
  • Weight loss is NOT orderly or predictable. Shedding pounds is only one of many healthy changes your body undergoes when you decrease your caloric intake and/or increase your activity level. A lower number on the scale may be the least important of these changes, even though it may seem to be the most important. Every body will respond differently. You may lose weight easily and quickly at first while your friend will have to wait weeks or months to lose that first couple of pounds. For others, weight loss may come in waves. All of this is perfectly normal. 
  • Weight loss is NOT a simple calculation. Although we talk about weight loss in terms of numbers—calories in versus calories out—your body is not a calculator and it doesn't operate like a checking account. It is a complex, living organism with many needs and priorities to juggle, and difficulties to overcome (poor habits and thought patterns). A classic example of this complexity is how the stress you experience when your body doesn’t meet your weight loss expectations actually increases fat storage. There is a connection between your mind and your body. Instead of solely focusing on the scale, you need to take a comprehensive view of this process of change and work hard to keep your mind from getting in the way.
  • Focus on what you can actually control—what you eat and how much you exercise. You will lose weight if you do your part, and it will probably occur at the expected rate. (When you get to your goal and look back at the process, you probably will have lost at the rate of 1-2 pounds per week, on average.) That's what happened for me, over the 18 months it took me to lose 150 pounds. Those weeks where nothing changed, or I actually went backwards, drove me crazy and sapped my motivation until I finally realized I was focusing on the wrong things. When I started focusing on the small, positive changes I was making in my diet and in my capacity to exercise, life became easier and more rewarding. That, I believe, is our role in this process. The rest is not up to you, and trying to control what you can't control is a prescription for failure.
Motivation Killer #2: Perfectionism
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • Perfection was always my problem; expected perfection and when that didn't happen it would demoralize me. This time I realized that perfection would never happen and the way eat to lose weight now maintain would be like life with some ups and downs. Ready a great Spark quote "Persistence not perfection." - 5/8/2016 9:16:16 AM
  • I see the operative words here are: choices, decisions, & responsibility; and do apply in LIFE. - 2/9/2016 4:42:13 PM
  • I think I get it!!!
    Don't get hung up on mistakes, get over it and carry on! Focus on all of the great things you have done, and take responsibility for the good and bad. - 2/8/2016 8:14:20 PM
  • Great article! Both unrealistic expectations and an all or nothing approach to perfectionism has been the cause of so many failed attempts at weight loss for me. Trying to keep a realistic goal in mind with progress, not perfections, is really my focus this time around and will hopefully be what it takes to reach my goals. - 2/5/2016 10:29:27 AM
  • Wow! I really needed to read this today! I have felt so defeated this weekend. It has been a celebration weekend for me and the scale has shown it. I felt like such a failure for eating a nice meal and having a piece of cake. I thought if I can't indulge occasionally without the scale reflecting 4 pounds, how will I ever be able to do this for the long haul? Thank you for the new motivation! - 1/31/2016 9:03:20 AM
  • This post REALLY nailed it. I was just writing a blog about the 'end of the week' desperation and stress that is killing my motivation. Thursday and Friday are killers for me. Great information - 1/30/2016 12:09:26 PM
  • Thank you for the wonderful information. I have been doing evertyhing in the article and it nice to re-read the information! - 1/24/2016 9:14:34 AM
  • I find that I am more successful when I am held accountable. Which is why I am here! - 1/1/2016 11:09:30 AM
    Hapless victim no longer!!! I WILL do 10 minutes of exercise every day!!! - 12/28/2015 8:42:55 AM
  • I was advised a couple of weeks ago that there is evidence of an old stroke on a cat scan that I had in July. This was confirmed on MRI last week. Doctor told me yesterday that the stroke was caused by hypertension. Needless to say, I've been highly motivated the last couple of weeks and I've brought my blood pressure down to normal range with medicine, diet and exercise. I'm putting sticky notes on my monitor, refrigerator and cabinets with the word "STROKE" in large, bold, capital letters, Perhaps this will serve to keep me motivated when I feel like I'm losing control. - 12/5/2015 4:22:35 PM
  • Being retired - it is so easy to just say "tomorrow I will........" But, as the saying goes, "tomorrow never comes"! So, when I want to wait until tomorrow, I just tell myself to just do it today, while I still have a today!!

    Great article, Dean. Thank you so much for sharing with the rest of us.
    barb - 12/5/2015 1:06:49 PM
  • I really needed the reminder that "being motivated" does NOT mean "never being tempted." I tend to perfectionism, and this was a fabulous check-in with myself. Thank you, SparkPeople. - 11/10/2015 10:56:41 PM
    I needed this! - 11/7/2015 11:55:32 AM
  • IDIC0101
    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I lost my motivation when the scale didn't move last week so... But I'm back now! - 10/21/2015 2:54:20 PM
  • Wow this article was just for me. Been beating myself up for both not exercising this week even through the pain and the scale not going down. WELL NO MORE Back on track. - 10/21/2015 2:13:04 PM

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